Opinion: What is Netflix Feeding Us?

Ian Roberts

Netflix’s new series on diet and nutrition shows balanced programming is as important as a balanced diet says Ian Roberts.

A new Netflix series released New Years Day 2024 titled “You Are What You Eat: The Twin Experiment” follows the recent trend of documentaries and reality TV shows that push aside medical health experts and balanced discussion in favour of an agenda-driven campaign to help persuade viewers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

While promoted as a show offering science-based nutritional advice based on a clinical trial that compared the health of identical twins fed a vegan versus omnivore diet, the opening 30 seconds of the new Netflix series should be cause for concern, given its disclaimer: “The following series is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor.”

Ian Roberts is the chairperson of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA). Photo: LinkedIn.

The second red flag – arguably the most concerning yet discreet – also appears in the opening credits: “In association with the Vogt Foundation,” it reads. This is the first and last time we hear about Vogt.

Viewers may be interested to learn that the clinical trial conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine and the basis for this Netflix series was funded by the Vogt Foundation. This is quite a strong “association”.

Charley Vogt, Secretary-Treasurer at Vogt, says the Foundation funds “organizations that protect animals and promote plant-based products.”

The Vogt Foundation had also funded the ‘Game Changers’ documentary with a $250,000 (USD) grant to “challenge the key myths underlying the consumption of animal foods while promoting a strong, just, and sustainable plant-based lifestyle.”

“A shocking new documentary that will change the way you look at meat,” Vogue said of Game Changers.

The Vogt Foundation also funds the Oceanic Preservation Society. Preservation the ocean apparently includes Kyle Vogt investing in “Wildtype” – a cellular agriculture startup that recently launched “sushi-grade” cell-based salmon. Kyle Vogt is also Executive Producer of the Netflix series.

The trouble with twins

The study’s headline published on Stanford University’s website reads “Twin research indicates that a vegan diet improves cardiovascular health.”

The clinical trial did, however, acknowledge its limitations, including the small sample size, a short trial period (8 weeks seems to be a made for tv, not science), and muscle and weight loss associated with the smaller vegan meal portions consumed that may have contributed to the cardiovascular results, rather than the composition of diet alone.

However, the tv show doesn’t acknowledge these limitations.

Rather, the Netflix series leaves viewers at the mercy of a variety of campaigners and vegan food marketeers offering unchallenged opinion and feelings about poultry, dairy, beef and pork.

Seafood also gets attention – criticizing both wild-caught and farm-raised seafoods. Three activists – none with nutritional or dietary qualifications – offer their opinions on the nutritional value of salmon. As expected, their seafood consumption advice (that is, not to consume) contradicts the professional health advise from national authorities and clinicians worldwide that are based on long-term nutritional studies.

Balanced take?

What could have been an interesting show that discusses the benefits and risks of diet choices, eating in moderation, reducing food waste, nutritional profiles of meat alternatives, and understanding the environmental impacts of all foods, is disappointingly lost amongst vegan products marketing and other vested interests dominating the conversation. There is little, if any, balance of perspectives provided for the audience.

We will likely see more of the same from Stanford University in the future. In 2021, the meat-alternative company Beyond Meat, Inc. announced its five-year sponsorship of a Plant-Based Diet Initiative Fund at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Heads up Netflix. Based on the online feedback to “You Are What You Eat”, Netflix subscribers are growing weary of marketing disguised as entertainment. Start feeding your audience a healthy serving of transparent, factual, and balanced programming.

Ian Roberts is the chairperson of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) and director of communications for Mowi.


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