Powerful forces in our society would like to create confusion about diet and health. These forces try to create doubt about the overwhelming evidence linking meat, dairy, and animal products, with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. The behavior of these “confusionists” is very similar to that of the tobacco companies arguing that smoking doesn’t cause cancer, or to that of the fossil fuel industry trying to create doubt about human-caused climate change.
There is now an important new web site, PlantPositive.com, devoted to bringing the truth to light about diet and health. It is a collection of over 100 videos, each one about 4 to 20 minutes long. But what makes PlantPositive really different from most vegan nutrition web sites is that it is polemical. A “polemic” is a controversial argument specifically directed against another point of view. For the most part, PlantPositive targets Gary Taubes and fads such as the “Paleo” diet, but he also discusses other groups such as the Weston A. Price Foundation.
PlantPositive looks at the specifics of these groups’ most common claims, and shows why they are wrong. So if someone comes up to you and makes some strange statement, like “the Masai in Africa eat lots of meat and yet they have low cholesterol,” or “studies have shown that you can lower your cholesterol on an Atkins diet,” you’ll know what the truth is. (The Masai also have parasites which keep their cholesterol low; even an Atkins diet can lower cholesterol if the person starts out overweight and the diet is sufficiently low in calories.)
PlantPositive gives you this information in a very innovative way compared to other “documentary” efforts: by showing you screen shots of actual journal articles, juxtaposed with the opposing point of view, so you can see for yourself what the underlying problem is. It’s like being taken straight to the library and being handed the journal article, with the key parts underlined in red.
A key insight for me was understanding the way that Taubes and company create doubt. In video 7 of the “Nutrition Past and Future” series, PlantPositive goes into depth about one of Gary Taubes’ many distortions, by looking at every single one of the many references Taubes uses to defend his statement.
As I do this, I want you to contemplate how little effort it took Taubes to write that one sentence, and how much work I had to do to fact-check him and bring the truth to you.
Because people assume that Taubes is a sincere researcher, they assume that there “must be something” to his outlandish claims. Big mistake! PlantPositive then goes through Taubes’ references for his one statement, one by one, taking them ruthlessly apart, showing you screen shots of the actual journal articles, illustrating how utterly false Taubes’ insinuations are. As PlantPositive says at another point: “It’s easier to make a mess [with lies and distortions of the evidence] than it is to clean it up.” This is how the confusionists work; they assume that people are too lazy to be interested in actually doing the research and investigating their claims.
I have seen plenty of “documentaries” (like “Forks Over Knives”) which follow a straightforward expository line. They are not polemical; they mostly assume that you know nothing about the subject and have heard nothing much either way. These documentaries are well done and entertaining, and would be great for nonvegans to watch, and even for many vegans.
But while these documentaries were inspiring and entertaining, I don’t feel that they increased my personal knowledge by all that much; I already knew most of it. PlantPositive is not like that. Its polemics alternate between contrasting points of view. It gives you information and a depth of knowledge about not only the science, but also the history of nutrition.
Countless times PlantPositive will say something like this: “Let’s look at the actual study” (with a screen shot of the journal article, right there!). “Pause the video and look at the data here,” and he will point out some problem which is obvious once it has been pointed out to you. You can see the primary evidence right before your eyes.
Because of this back-and-forth, by the time you’re finished, PlantPositive has really given you a history of modern scientific nutrition. It’s like extending NutritionFacts.org back in time to 1950 or even 1930. As a final plus, the whole series is well-produced; his voice is clear and very easy to understand.
I hope that vegan activists will be aware of PlantPositive and that the more curious of them will actually go through this informative and important web site. (Thanks to the January 2013 McDougall newsletter for bringing this web site to my attention.) By the way, no one in the general public (including me) yet knows who PlantPositive is. So far, he is being completely anonymous, but the person or persons putting these videos together are very well informed.
PlantPositive is hardly the only person to challenge Gary Taubes and the other Paleo and low-carb promoters. But now everyone who questions the message of Taubes, the Paleo diet, and the other low-carb promoters has a resource and an advocate in PlantPositive.