• Karina Inkster

Review: "The Game Changers" topples many anti-vegan arguments, but it ain't perfect


If you’re curious about athletic performance on a vegan diet, it’s worth watching The Game Changers – out on Netflix today! Just keep in mind that a documentary is not a replacement for scientific research, or doing a thorough review of peer-reviewed literature.

As vegan documentaries go, The Game Changers is one of the better ones. (It certainly beats What The Health in the accuracy department, but that’s pretty easy to do.) But again, you’ll never get a well-rounded picture of the state of current research by watching a documentary. Case studies make up the bulk of documentaries – like professional athletes in The Game Changers discussing their performance improvements after going vegan – but case studies don’t automatically translate into legitimate scientific research.

The Game Changers follows former MMA fighter and Special Forces trainer James Wilks as he recovers from an injury and learns about the benefits of plant-based eating. He’s initially very skeptical, which makes it easier for equally skeptical audiences to relate. Instead of being bashed over the head with “vegan propaganda”, as it’s often labelled, we follow along as Wilks asks questions, learns, and changes his beliefs.

Directed by Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos and executive produced by a host of big names including James Cameron, Jackie Chan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Game Changers addresses many of the most common anti-vegan arguments – especially those coming from dudes.

“You’re not masculine if you don’t eat meat!”

“You’ll lower your testosterone levels!”

“If you eat soy, you’ll grow man boobs!”

“You won’t be able to get ridiculously jacked!”

…and more. Indeed, this film is extremely dude-centric, featuring many more male athletes than female, and focusing on vanity metrics like male virility.

A noted urologist even conducted a small experiment with 3 college guys, fitting them with schlong-measuring devices they wore each night while sleeping. While it’s extremely fascinating to learn that eating just a single plant-based meal will greatly increase the girth and frequency of nocturnal erections compared to eating a single meal including animal products, this little experiment still furthers the harmful gender stereotype that bigger, harder erections are better, and you’re somehow not a “manly man” if you have a smaller penis.

I appreciated the discussion of why humans, especially those in the West, are so obsessed with eating meat. Most if it comes down to shady marketing practices, which anybody who’s been vegan for more than 4 minutes knows. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, who is now mostly plant-based, makes a brief appearance to concur.

However, here’s something this 17-year vegan has never before considered: We have greatly overestimated the amount of meat ancient humans ate (I’m lookin’ at you, Paleo dieters!) Because bone and stone tools, which were often used to prepare meat, survived for millennia before being found by archaeologists, we all just assumed that ancient humans ate a lot of meat.

Not so. You don’t need spears and saws and stone skinning implements to prepare plants for eating, so we just don’t have any remaining obvious tools. But we know now that ancient humans ate mostly plants, which is backed by looking at our physiology, including our long digestive tracts and flat teeth.

“But what about protein?!”, wails the bro target market audience of this film. As the most common nutrition question ever asked about veganism, Wilks does a great job at busting the B.S. We learn why it’s a myth that plant-based proteins are inferior to animal-based proteins, and we’re urged to consider what “package” our protein is coming in. Does it come packaged with inflammatory molecules (in animal products), or does it come packaged with fiber and micronutrients (in plant foods)?

The Game Changers touches on the environmental harm of animal agriculture, but doesn’t go into much detail. It also doesn’t tackle the ethical side of veganism. Granted, these are beyond its scope as a mostly athletics-focused film. Oh, and bonus points for using minimal scare tactics like those in What The Health.

Overall, good inclusion of medical and dietary experts (and not just the usual suspects like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Neal Barnard) and a range of athletes from different disciplines. Great coverage of the most common anti-vegan arguments, and I learned a few new things even after being vegan for 17 years. I would have loved to see more female vegan athletes represented (Fiona Oakes, who holds 4 marathon world records? Tennis phenoms Serena and Venus Williams? Powerlifter Alison Crowdus, who’s the tenth woman in the world to have bench pressed 500 pounds?), and a more well-rounded discussion of the benefits of plant-based eating that didn’t focus on just dudes.

4 stars from me!

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