“The Game Changers” is a feature length documentary film that makes compelling arguments in favor of the health, athletic performance and environmental benefits of switching to a plant based diet.
The movie is the brainchild of James Wilks, a British UFC champion who, in 2011, was rendered inactive for six months by torn ligaments in both knees.
Wilks used his time away from his sport to research recovery methods for elite athletes. He was surprised to find out that switching to a plant based diet would not only jump-start his recovery, it would also yield other significant health, performance and environmental benefits.
Here is GreenSportsBlog’s review.
A strong majority of hands shot up among audience members in response to a simple question during the Q&A at the conclusion of a screening of “The Game Changers.” The documentary feature film by UFC fighter-turned-vegan-movie producer James Wilks extols the health, athletic performance and environmental virtues of switching to a plant-based diet, with a particular focus on world class athletes.
That question was: “Will you switch to a vegan diet?”
If that robust response is typical of most other “Game Changers” audiences and if a sizable percentage of the hand raisers make good on their switch-to-plant based diet pledges, then Wilks’ eight year project will be a major success, no matter what film reviewers say.
James Wilks (Photo credit: The Game Changers Movie)
That project started when Wilks, who taught fighting techniques to members of the U.S. military, suffered a serious injury while training for a fight against the UFC heavyweight champion in 2011, tearing ligaments in both knees.
Most injured world class athletes would simply have gone through a rigorous rehab regimen in the hopes of getting back to their prior level.
But Wilks took a different tack.
As he contemplated his long rehab, the UFC fighter decided to research the best ways for elite athletes to recover from injuries. His research unearthed some fascinating learnings.
“I dug into the peer reviewed science on the subject, specifically about bone strength,” Wilks told GreenSportsBlog. “I came across a story about archaeologists who had discovered, by looking at recovered bones, that the Roman gladiators had eaten a plant-based diet.”
More digging revealed that the accepted truth of “you need to eat meat to get protein and become strong” was largely a myth and not based in fact. That led him to switch to a plant-based diet and to find other world class athletes who had done the same.
Wilks bought a used video camera on Craigslist in 2011 and started filming his plant based diet fueled rehab and his much improved athletic performance.
Then fortune intervened in 2012 when Wilks met Joseph Pace, a writer and a vegan. The duo began working on a documentary film about the benefits of a plant based diet, especially for elite athletes.
Pace became a co-producer, the duo raised some money and shot some footage in 2013 of elite vegan athletes. Eventually David Cameron of “Titanic” fame joined the team as an executive producer and Louie Psihoyos, director of “The Cove,” about mass dolphin kills in Japan and winner of the 2010 Oscar® for Best Documentary Feature, signed on and they were off and running — fueled by plant-based foods, of course.
The result is “The Game Changers,” a feature length documentary narrated by Wilks. It features a disparate team of elite plant-based-eating athletes including ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, cycling champ Dotsie Bausch, sprinter Morgan Mitchell, powerlifting record-holder Patrik Baboumian, and former Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan.
Powerlifter Patrik Boumanian lifts James Wilks and other members of The Game Changers film crew (Photo credit: The Game Changers)
A one-night release in in 1,500 theaters around the world in mid-September gave “The Game Changers” a great deal of buzz. In short order, it became the biggest selling documentary on iTunes and is now available on Netflix, Google Play, and Amazon as well as on major cable outlets’ On Demand services in the U.S.
The film’s many claims about the health, athletic and environmental benefits of a diet solely sourced from plants are buttressed by an impressive array of factoids from a myriad of scientific studies and input from physicians and academics.
The gist, per Wilks, is that “Science has shown that animals are the ‘middle man’ in terms of protein for humans, meaning that animals get their protein from plants. Substances that are unique to animal proteins have been found to be significant contributors to inflammation. And inflammation leads to some of the most serious human ailments: heart disease, strokes and some cancers. Plant-based diets also resulted in better blood flow, higher oxygen levels in the blood, which all accelerated recovery.”
Wilks & Company made a very strong case for this lay viewer but “The Game Changers” did not convince everyone.
Not surprisingly, criticism of the film’s pro-plant-based, anti-animal protein thesis came quickly. It is exemplified by “This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You; Here’s Why It’s Wrong,” a much-read article by Paul Kita which ran in Men’s Health. Kita, it must be said, has written two books that promote a meat-based diet.
The piece was disputed by former St. Louis Rams physician Dr. James Loomis, who appeared in the movie. He wrote a rebuttal, My ‘Beef’ with the Men’s Health Review of ‘The Game Changers’, that also appeared in Men’s Health. Wilks also took on Kita’s story in an interview with Plant Based News.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
GreenSportsBlog’s main interest in reviewing “The Game Changers” comes from its claims about the environmental and climate benefits of a mass switch from animal-based to plant-based diets.
Wilks did not go into “The Game Changers” with the environment in mind.
“I hadn’t given much thought to the environment when I started my research,” admitted Wilks. “But, as I got deeper into it, and as the myths I grew up with — that you had to eat meat to be strong, to be a great athlete, to be a man — started to fall by the wayside for me, I also started to learn about the significant carbon footprint benefits that would result from switching to a plant based diet.”
“The Game Changers” made numerous citations detailing the massive environmental and carbon impacts of meat production. These three, mentioned by Wilks in our conversation, resonated with me:
- “Only four percent of humanity’s water use comes from the home but 27 percent is used to produce animal foods.”
- “In the US, farm animals produce nearly 50 times more waste per year than the human population”
- “According to the UN, livestock accounts for roughly 15 percent of all global GHG emissions, which is about the same amount as the entire transportation sector.”
Of course there is some nuance needed for this discussion.
After all, “Big Agriculture”, the source of most of the plant-based food in the U.S. and elsewhere, does much environmental and climate harm through its farming practices.
Is it better, from a climate perspective, to eat a veggie burger produced from Big Ag or a beef burger produced from grass-fed cows? Is it better to eat grass-fed animal food that is locally produced or a plant-based meal that was produced thousands of miles away?
These questions were not dealt with in “The Game Changers.” Nor was there a discussion of the benefits of regenerative agriculture, with its emphasis on capturing carbon in soil and aboveground biomass.
It says here that delving into these topics would make for a compelling documentary. How about this for a title: “Winning The Climate Game Through Regeneratively-Farmed Veggie Burgers.” OK, it needs some work but you get the idea.
Of course I digress.
SEE “THE GAME CHANGERS”
Despite the questions raised in the “Men’s Health” article and elsewhere, and despite some nitpicks from yours truly (how come producers Novak Djokovic and Chris Paul, athletes with worldwide followings, were not featured), I believe “The Game Changers” is well worth your time.
It de-stigmatizes plant-based diets, especially for young men. This is especially important when one considers that, according to a 2017, 59 percent of U.S. vegetarians and 79 percent of U.S. vegans are women.
After seeing it, you may well raise your hand if you are asked “Would you shift to a plant-based diet?” Even if you keep your hand down, you will likely add more fruits and vegetables to your diet and reduce your animal intake. And that would most certainly be a good thing.
Especially if said fruits, veggies and even your remaining animal consumption comes from local, regenerative sources.