Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

ByCrossFitMarch 21, 2020

Zoë Harcombe, Ph.D., concedes The Game Changers tells “a good story,” but that’s as far as the 2019 documentary’s accolades should go, she suggests. In this presentation from Dec. 15, 2019, Harcombe offers an incisive and often humorous critique of the arguments the film makes in favor of a plant-based diet.

The Game Changers bases its support of plant-based eating on three common arguments, Harcombe explains:

  1. It’s healthier than non-vegan diets.
  2. It’s better for the animals.
  3. It’s better for the planet.

Since the majority of the film is devoted to the nutrition argument, Harcombe focuses her attention there as well.

After noting that, despite the movie’s claims, there is a dearth of scientific evidence for going plant-based, Harcombe turns with wry humor to the film’s burrito experiments. The science in these and the movie’s other experiments is deeply flawed, she claims.

One experiment, which follows the Tennessee Titans as they turn to vegan eating, “is a great example that the standard American diet is rubbish,” Harcombe says. She argues any apparent benefits experienced by the athletes were probably attributable to their trading of junk food for whole foods. “Now the whole food just happens to be plant-based,” she notes, but “how good could they have been if their whole food diet had been animal-based?” she asks.

Finally, Harcombe argues the film tries to gloss over the nutritional deficiencies in a vegan diet by suggesting everyone should take supplements, not only those who have gone plant-based. But those who follow a healthy diet of whole foods that include animal products do not need supplements, she claims: “A healthy diet provides the nutrients that we need. A healthy diet does not require supplements. A vegan diet requires supplements. De facto, a vegan diet is not healthy.” 

To read a complete transcript of the presentation, click here.

Comments on Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument


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Matthieu Dubreucq
March 29th, 2020 at 1:51 am
Commented on: Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

Thanks Dr Harcombe for giving us the 3 simples questions to ask a vegetarian.

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Veronique Oomen
March 25th, 2020 at 2:55 pm
Commented on: Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

I agree with everything Zoe Harcombe says. However, what she is leaving out is that we probably don't have the space to put all animals necessary for a animal-based diet, into a healthy pasture in the hills. The problem with the game of trying to win the argument is that we don't get to talk about solutions that are truly sustainable for the health of all 8 billion people on the planet, while providing animals with a decent life and not destroying the planet.

Right now the total weight of all livestock dwarfs the total weight of all wild animals in the world by a factor larger than 10. (source: https://thecorrespondent.com/336/climate-change-is-only-half-the-problem-were-destroying-the-earths-layer-of-life/360326469888-858a1999) Think about this. In terms of weight, we have 10 times as much in cows, pigs, chickens and the like on earth, then all the deer, elephants, rabbits and so on combined. All animals need to eat, and there is only so much land available to grow their and our own food. It's a real problem.

I totally concur with Harcombe that we need to go back to integrated agriculture, where livestock is combined with cultivation of plants. This is more labor-intensive, and all food will be more expensive. We cannot expect everybody to be able to afford this, if we don't change the perverse system of incentives that has subsidies for high-fructose corn syrup but not for vegetables and assigns zero value to the health of the soil. A healthy ratio of plants vs livestock on the land will mean that we can eat some meat, but probably not as much as we may want. And that's OK. As omnivores, we can thrive on a wide variety of diets.

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Jonathan Firmin
March 23rd, 2020 at 5:17 pm
Commented on: Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

Amazed that CrossFit is still peddling this stuff. Absolutely behind GG in his pursuit of the sugar/soft drinks industry but why oh why aren't they now accepting that in order to create a better more sustainable, more compassionate world for us all to live in we need to adopt a whole food plant based diet. Animal agriculture is a massive contributor to climate change and with a growing global population, if we don't change our ways there will be no planet left. That's of course unless because of our meddling with animals a virus doesn't wipe us all out first!!

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Tyler Hass
March 22nd, 2020 at 6:21 am
Commented on: Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

I agree, Zoe is a terrific speaker. She packed a lot of content (and jokes) into this 20 minute presentation.

She’s spot on with regards to the nutrient content of the vegan diet. Getting the full spectrum of amino acids requires combining various plant sources (pea,rice,bean,etc), but the ratios are not optimal. She also mentions how the movie demonizes heme iron.

The Game Changers website cites this study to back its claim: sci-hub.tw/https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-013-0535-5

-It states that the highest consumers of heme iron had a 31% higher relative risk of heart disease than people with the lowest intake. The overall rate of CHD of all participants is under 2%, so the absolute risks are still very low. It skirts around this by only mentioning the relative risks, which make heme iron sound much worse.

-They dismissed a Japanese study because their heme iron came not from beef, but shellfish, which contain vitamin D and omega-3 fats that might be protective.

-Conversely, they don’t mention a possible healthy user bias in the Americans and Europeans. We’re so often told that red meat will kill us that many health-conscious people avoid it, along with sweets, alcohol, smoking… The people who eat the most red meat might be the ones most likely to disregard other health practices.

-Also, they don’t address overall mortality, only CHD. It could be that people who are iron deficient die earlier of other causes. I’m not saying they do, but the study doesn't consider the possibility.

-And lastly, the studies were based on food frequency questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable.

That's pretty flimsy evidence to vilify something as delicious as red meat.

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Jason Fernandez
March 22nd, 2020 at 2:53 pm

She was a Vegan for 20+ years. She's pretty well informed

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Chris Sinagoga
March 22nd, 2020 at 2:53 am
Commented on: Zoë Harcombe on The Game Changers: Good Story, Unconvincing Argument

Dude... Zoe Harcombe swears! This is fantastic!

For real, though. Great work as usual Zoe. Can't say I've ever watched Game Changers, but quite a few people have told me to. Needless to say I won't be caving into their requests.

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John Gorman
March 22nd, 2020 at 4:41 pm

It has surely not gone unnoticed that this terrible virus originated in an animal market in China.

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