Question: Let’s say you’re at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, watching the premiere of a documentary about the power and promise of veganism. “A shocking new documentary that will change the way you look at meat,” reads one of the reviews.
Immediately after exiting the film, do you:
- Vow to swear off meat forever. It’s killing the environment! And my arteries!
- Head straight to the Wasatch Brewery for a delicious bison burger.
- Go home. I already eat a plant-based diet!
You guys. I was 100% that B.
I know. I’m so weak. But even while devouring that burger—at a table filled with colleagues also happily eating their bison burgers—that film, The Game Changers, and veganism, was all we could talk about. And those conversations lasted long after we had left Sundance.
The Game Changers, directed by Academy Award winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) and executive produced by James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, seeks to prove that everything we’ve been told about meat and protein has been a big, fat, juicy, grass-fed lie. The film—now the best-selling documentary of all time on iTunes—is narrated by James Wilks, a former MMA fighter who goes looking for answers after suffering extensive injuries in the Octagon. He finds them in veganism, and throughout the film uses the experiences of elite vegan athletes to deconstruct one of our most deeply held beliefs: that we cannot live—nor be physically strong—without meat-based protein.
For months after that trip to Sundance, my friends at work traded recipes and discussed various plant-based weight-loss strategies. Meanwhile, at home, I actually did give up meat for a couple months. That experiment, while a failure in the short term, set me on a two-year-long (and counting) journey to eliminate meat and dairy from my—and my kids’—diet. What I’ve learned is that transitioning to a primarily plant-based diet is not something you do overnight. It’s a process, like watching your 4-year-old dress herself. It takes a while.
And that’s OK; kale wasn’t grown in a day.
I see a lot of documentaries that make me cry. I see a lot that make me think differently about important social issues. But truth be told, I’ve seen very few that have persuaded me to act. I’m acknowledging this because, as funders grapple with how to best to support efforts to combat the climate crisis, The Game Changers offers a refreshing take on an increasingly urgent question that people everywhere are struggling to answer: What can *I* do about climate change?
To coincide with the film’s release on Netflix this week, I caught up with a couple of the film’s co-producers to talk about their impact campaign and why they’re setting their sights on men around the world.
Media Impact Funders: Can you describe the main objectives of your impact campaign?
The Game Changers Team: Like all filmmakers, we made a film in hopes of sharing a story that could change the world: specifically, to challenge society’s most pervasive and damaging stereotypes about food, gender, performance and health. We have witnessed an overwhelming response from communities who have failed to be reached by previous efforts. It is these communities we will focus our impact efforts on to ignite widespread, lasting social change around food. We’re pursuing this by:
- Putting the film into the hands of as many people around the world as possible, especially in communities that have been resistant to this messaging;
- Providing communities with tools, resources and the support they need to incorporate plant-based eating into their lives in a long-term, sustainable way; and
- Serving as the tipping point in the cultural conversation around animal foods, and in doing so, permanently shape the food landscape and drive change from the “top down.”
MIF: One of your main goals is to reach people who have historically been ignored, unreachable, or ostracized from the conversation about plant-based eating, particularly men aged 18-54. How exactly are you tailoring your impact strategies to reach this group? How is this approach different than if you were only trying to reach a general audience?
GC: The key way these approaches may differ from a more traditional impact campaign is that we are heavily committed to reaching a previously unreachable demographic. And therefore, the role that identity/cultural pressure play in food choices is always top of mind.
In making our film, there were two main reasons why we wanted to address this particular demographic. First, research shows that men in this age range are significantly more resistant to plant-based eating than women (men aged 20-39 eat almost twice as much meat as women of the same age). The plant-based space is currently skewed heavily female, with studies showing that 70-80 percent of plant-based eaters are women. Second, men have a disproportionately high influence over how the rest of the population eats, and male preferences shape the entire food sector.
In short, getting buy-in from men is critical if we hope to end society’s obsession with animal foods and drive a tangible shift toward plant-based eating. The film successfully engages the male demographic by showcasing traditional male role models (including athletes, soldiers, and firefighters) who follow a plant-based diet and feel stronger, tougher and fitter as a result. We also showcase groundbreaking science on topics that matter to men the most, including protein, strength and sexual performance.
With regard to our impact campaign, nearly every element is carefully considered with the male audience in mind. For example, our newly launched website includes myth-busting around protein requirements and meat-eating, and a recipe database that includes dishes with macronutrient profiles optimized for male body composition and athletic performance.
MIF: Can you give us some examples of impact so far?
GC: Throughout the release of our film, we have seen success we only dreamed about: becoming one of Fathom Events’ top performing titles (including No. 4 overall at the box office in the U.S.), and becoming the best-selling documentary of all time on iTunes in less than a week.
Also, while it is notoriously challenging for Western films to gain access/traction in China, we are finalizing details with one of China’s largest streaming platforms—which has more users than all of Netflix globally. With a population of 1.42 billion, China currently consumes 28 percent of the world’s meat—twice that of the US—with increasing “Westernization” of their diet resulting in projected doubling of meat consumption by 2030. If we want to impact meat consumption globally, China must be a central part of the conversation.
The Game Changers has already been recognized by several health organizations as an outstanding resource. For example, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) — whose 3000-plus professional medical members care for more than 10 million patients in the U.S. alone— approved the film as an accredited education resource, allowing every doctor, nurse and dietitian in the United States to fulfill ongoing professional education requirements by viewing the film and passing a related test.
Getting more specific about our target impact demographic, we have been overwhelmed by thousands of personal stories from people around the world who have watched the film and felt inspired to make changes to their diet.
On Instagram, 53 percent of our followers are male, with the overwhelming majority aged between the ages of 25-34. These are unprecedented numbers in the plant-based space.
We have also received thousands of screening requests, including from elite athletes and numerous NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and UEFA Champions League franchises.
MIF: There’s a lot of information in the nutrition space—it’s probably more accurate to call it an overabundance of information. And it confuses people. It seems like no one knows who to listen to anymore. One day, I’m following the Mediterranean diet, the next I’m preparing for a 30-day keto cleanse. Case in point: In a recent New York Times article, scientists now say that the evidence is too weak to justify telling people to eat less beef and pork. How can you confidently say, “Eat this, not that” in the face of so much information?
GC: This is such an important issue, and one we address in the film. We explain that much of it is actually carefully constructed chaos, disseminated into the public via industry-funded studies, the findings of which are then fed to the media who, as Dr. Katz explains in the film, “get to tell a new story about diet every day.”
We walk viewers through this process, arming them with a new understanding so that hopefully, the next time they turn on the news and hear that some new study says red meat is not bad for them, they reflect back on the takeaway, which is: Despite the confusion in the media, there is massive global expert consensus that the optimal diet for humans is a plant-food-predominant diet.
MIF: This isn’t a climate change film, per se, but it does address the negative impact livestock production has on the planet. Of all the entry points into discussing the climate crises, food seems like an easy way in for people. Will you be approaching impact through this lens at all?
GC: Absolutely. We’ve been contacted by numerous environmental organizations who see the film as a powerful tool in their own advocacy efforts because it contributes to the conversation in a way that is totally fresh and ideal for engaging young men—often the toughest people to get on board with environmental initiatives. In the film, Damien Mander, founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, and basically a real-life GI Joe, explains that the biggest threat to the endangered species he protects is not actually poachers—it’s the meat industry, and the habitat that they are continually taking. This tees up the climate conversation in a way that is disarming to folks who may otherwise be polarized by the traditional approaches.
MIF: Studies show that 70 percent of people who begin a plant-based diet go back to eating meat within three years. Why do you think this happens so frequently? What are you doing to help support people in making long-term changes to their diets instead?
GC: The science on behavioral change shows that a one-way flow of information typically doesn’t work for people in the long run. People typically require ongoing supportive engagement and meaningful community. This is built right into our impact plan, in a plethora of ways.
While our website currently houses plenty of valuable information, we have significant plans to build out our offering of tools and resources. This includes straightforward things like building out our database of recipes to eventually become the largest available, free collection of nutritionally sound, delicious and simple plant-based recipes. But we also plan to continually engage our supporters in a number of creative ways, including creating a forum where people can interact with The Game Changers team, discuss challenges, ask questions, and more. We want people to share their own success stories, and by highlighting them, we are expanding the “cast” of The Game Changers to include everyday people and their impressive accomplishments. We believe that by taking these initial steps, we are on our way to building out a robust, global base of motivated, engaged and committed supporters.
The Game Changers—supported in part by the Avatar Alliance Foundation, the Roddenberry Foundation, the Quinn Foundation and the Shared Earth Foundation—is now available on Netflix. Go to gamechangersmovie.com to learn more.