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I’m going to confess something – I think…which is to say, I’m pretty sure….that I’m coming as close to a midlife crisis as I will get. I don’t feel the urge to buy a sports car or go skydiving naked in South America (although, that does sound pretty interesting) – but more than ever I’m aware that I’m not going to feel as healthy and energetic as I do now without continuing to make healthy decisions and to make taking care of myself physically and mentally a priority.

As such, I’ve been evaluating a lot of different areas of my life to see where I can make changes (improvements?) and as part of that, I’ve been watching a lot of different documentaries on food and nutrition. Yesterday, I watched “Hungry for Change”, a relatively well-known and acclaimed documentary by the same people that created the documentary Food Matters.

I enjoy documentaries that make you think – even if it that thought is “Is that true? I need to find out more.” Hungry for Change certainly fits that bill. From a purely technical stand point, it could be a few minutes shorter as there is a noticeable amount of recycling of sound bites and a pointless fictional story that, in my opinion, detracted from the information I was really interested in learning.

The Good

There is definitely a lot of (well deserved) criticism aimed at our society’s dietary habits. Refined sugars, processed food and the over-abundance of convenience foods are all things that are all repeatedly hammered in the film, from a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional experts. The film is really at its best when it backs up claims with solid, peer-reviewed research. As a naturally sceptical person, I appreciate when sources are provided and enough information is given that I am able to also supplement what I’m watching. This film can certainly provide a lot of starting points for conversation or even debates about nutrition but also about the danger of presenting opinion or even personal experiences as “fact” or “universal truths”.

The Bad

Maybe it’s entirely the sceptic in me or maybe it’s my background as a sciencey-type person, but I’m always very wary of “experts” who repeatedly use vague terminology or who use manipulative language. As an example, the word “toxin” is used a lot in this film. Our food is full of toxins. So is our water. Our bodies are constantly at war with the toxins that have invaded and the battle is constantly affecting our mood, mental and physical health. I’m not disputing these claims – there are certainly many example of toxins causing physical and neurological problems that are documented. But they are specifically named and documented.

A phrase that kept popping into my head while watching this film was “correlation does not mean causation”. If I wear my blue sneakers on two separate occasions and get violently ill, it doesn’t mean it was the sneakers making me ill. I would need to look at all of the surrounding factors and, preferably, find the mechanism by which it was happening before I could state “my blue sneakers make me ill”. Maybe a lot of the claims made in this movie have withstood this level of scrutiny, but if so, it would be really great to provide that information.

A good example of the manipulative way language used occurs when one “expert” claims that it is well known by “pilot’s associations” that commercial airline pilots avoid diet drinks with aspartame and caffeine because the combination is so toxic that it can cause visual disturbances that may affect their ability to fly a plane safely. Is a specific association of pilots named? How about the study that verified that claim? Any reported incidences with pilots having this happen to them ever? By stating that an unnamed professional association “know” this, the viewer is subtly being told that 1) they know less than this group and 2 if you didn’t know this, you’re ignorant of the facts. Fear, sensationalism and manipulation are NOT necessary when what I really want is factual information.

Overall, I do think that this is a worthwhile documentary and I do think that there are some very good points that the filmmakers have made about the food and diet industries in particular. I believe watching it with an open mind but also a critical eye, questioning some of what is claimed and continuing to search for more information will provide the best experience from this documentary.

Happy running (and eating!)