from Gladiators to Olympians, meat is losing favor
In recent years, you may have noticed plant-based diets becoming a growing trend in the United States. A plant-based diet is a diet centered around foods originating from plants—essentially vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts. The term has become somewhat of a buzzword as it broadly encompasses both vegetarianism and veganism in its liberal definition.
These meatless dietary choices are particularly topical nowadays, for studies have shown that they have significant health benefits and that avoiding meat can hugely reduce one’s carbon footprint, thus making it a powerful weapon against climate change.
Unfortunately, even though plant-based diets seem to have become increasingly popular in the past few years, polls suggest that the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the U.S. has hardly changed in the past decade. Only about 5% of the country identify as vegetarians and only 1-2% call themselves vegans. Compare that to the nearly 10% of Canadians who avoid meat products.
Despite the hype, the actual numbers may be less optimistic sounding than you’d expect. However, the widely talked about benefits that come from meatless diets remain true, and now, those who have decided to go the plant-based route have some strong allies in their corner.
For years meat products have been marketed as the quintessential food group for creating toughness and strength, making the word “beefy” a literal synonym for “muscular.” As Arnold Schwarzenegger makes clear in the new documentary “The Game Changers,” though, “you have to understand that that’s marketing; it’s not based on reality.”
“The Game Changers” screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and it got a larger release earlier this week. The film focuses and deconstructing the myths that meat is essential to fitness and that plant-based diets are detrimental to athleticism.
To prove this point, “The Game Changers,” turns to some of the world’s best athletes, all of whom have benefitted from cutting meat from their diets. On top of former Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing in the movie to talk about these meat-eating-myths, the documentary also features track athlete Morgan Mitchell, strength athlete Patrik Baboumian, cyclist Dotsie Bausch, surfer Tia Blanca, and Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Harris among many, many others.
These are some of the fittest people on earth, and they all managed to attain their impressive physiques and athletic accomplishments without meat. In fact, as the documentary shows, many of them even found that their performances improved when they switched to plant-based eating.
The film looks to more than just these contemporary athletes for proof, though. It also investigates plant-based eating from a historical perspective, looking all the way back to gladiators. Based on scientific records, gladiators—some of the world’s earliest and most renowned athletes—were vegetarians. This shows that the meat-toughness correlation in our culture is not just biologically inaccurate, but the fundamental ideology that conflates animal products with manliness is based on a farce. Gladiators are symbols of strength in Western culture, but notions of them wolfing down meat at every meal could not be further from the truth.
“The Game Changers” also has a lot of fascinating, environmentally-minded folks on the other side of the camera. Louie Psihoyos directed the film. Known for his ecological documentaries, Psihoyos created the climate-focused“Racing Extinction” in 2015 and won an Academy Award in 2010 for “The Cove,” which exposed animal abuse in Japanese dolphin coves.
Recognizable names also come up in the movie’s long list of producers. In addition to appearing in the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger is also serving as an executive producer alongside fellow action movie star Jackie Chan. A familiar collaborator with Schwarzenegger, director James Cameron, is also helping produce the film.
Blockbuster Talent and Athletic Luminaries Join Forces
Cameron may be better known for blockbuster spectacles like “Titanic” and “Aliens,” but his short list of documentary directing credits include “Aliens of the Deep,” in which he explores the ocean’s uncharted depths. Clearly, the man has an interest in the natural world, and thus its preservation. Even some of his feature films can be viewed through an eco-critical lens. After all, both “The Terminator” and “Avatar” are essentially about organic beings combating industrial entities. It is not a stretch to see how they could be read as environmental narratives.
Louie Psihoyos’ picture may not be as enthralling as a war between man and machine, and it may not be as sublime as a journey to the bottom of the ocean, but as a documentary with a mission of deconstructing expectations and promoting a positive change in the way people see the world around them (and the food inside of them), it is effective. The project is powerful and passionate, and although it is only one in a long line of docs before it to champion environmentalism through sustainable eating habits, it offers an original angel, focusing on athleticism to tear apart the meat-myths and maybe inspire a few people to change their lifestyles for the betterment of all.
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