If I hesitate to criticize the new Netflix hit, You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment, as bait-and-switch propaganda—exploitation of audience trust in “science”—it is only because…well, what’s new?  Aren’t most “science” documentaries riding some hobby horse?  Attacks on virtually all companies in the natural resources field?  Attacks on “big” anything—except, of course, government?  Aren’t almost all “nature” shows, today, vehicles for climate alarmism?

Is this documentary series, then, egregious? I would say, yes. Is it not just “more of the same,” but an exemplar of a “latest science” report filmed through the lens of ideology? I would say, yes. Let’s have a look.

Results of the Stanford University twin study of a vegan diet, hailed as the first of its kind with 22 pairs of identical twins, was published in November 2023 in “Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.” (Its director, Christoper Gardner, Ph.D., has been a vegan for 25 years.) The study’s premise seems straightforward: a randomized controlled trial to measure the results for health (or biomarkers of health) of eight weeks on a “healthy” omnivore diet versus a “healthy” vegan diet. To control for as many “confounding factors,” or variables, as possible, it selected 22 pairs of identical twins, with no current indications of cardiovascular disease, and randomly assign one twin to the omnivore diet and one twin to the vegan diet.

The results were reported in November and two months later (January 1, 2024), a four-part documentary series on the study was ready to premier on Netflix. The amount of information from the Stanford study that made it into the documentary- almost none. In its organization, the four-part series bears no resemblance to a scientific report. No outcomes are reported, even hinted, until the fourth and final part. The series nevertheless rapidly became a Netflix U.S. hit show.

Omnivore? Vegan? Undecided? Tune in for this report on a controlled study by a prestigious academic medical center. What is the unbiased verdict of science on the diet controversy of our time? (More than half of Generation Z’ers, for example, are mostly vegetarian and 21 percent are vegan. Consumption of meat substitutes is expected to see exponential growth.)

For the Netflix series, producers selected four of the twin pairs. For the first four weeks, the menus of the omnivores and vegans are delivered in their entirety ready to heat up. For the second four weeks, the twins prepare their own meals according to basic principles of each diet. The series begins with the battery of tests on the twin pairs to establish the baseline of biomarkers. It is important to emphasize biomarkers, because the study- but not the documentary- emphasizes that eight weeks is far too short a time to speak of health outcomes. At most, biomarkers such as low-density-lipids cholesterol (LDL-C), fat gain or loss versus muscle gain or loss, and so on can be measured. Perhaps to spice things up, twins are tested for blood chemicals related to libido.

How to fill up three more shows waiting for the eight weeks—in TV time—to pass?  There are long presentations on how the “astounding” amount of beef, pork, and chicken that Americans consume is raised—and the resulting catastrophe for climate change and the dire threats to public health in each type of meat. Beef comes in perhaps for the most sustained attack. Estimates of the amount of beef that Americans consume are surprisingly varied. The range is from under 100 pounds annually to more than 250 pounds annually. The Netflix series uses the highest figure.

Cattle ranching in America and internationally comes in for a sustained bashing. The burps and farts of cattle, the show reports, account for some 14 percent of the U.S. human-caused contribution to greenhouse gases. Not only that. We switch repeatedly to the Amazon rainforests where jungle giants are crashing to earth to clear pastureland for cattle. Cattle ranching also raises the issue of animal cruelty; at some time during their lives 90 percent of U.S. cattle are in feedlots, physically constrained and fed nonstop. This leads to to a presentation on the benefits and quality of meat substitutes, featuring such brands as Impossible and Stanford students in a laboratory producing—they eagerly report—healthier and better tasting plant-based eggs.

We get another presentation on hog farming—its squalid conditions, its rank odors.

One of the longest segments deals with chicken farming, since in recent years consumption of chicken has increased relative to pork (which has remained about steady), and beef (which has declined). A visit with, in effect, a reformed chicken farmer is narrated by a woman who advocates life and freedom for animals. We see these factory farm chickens sickened and deformed by overeating and the intense crowding of chicken barns. All meats, but especially chicken, are portrayed as public health hazards, with perilous levels of bacteria, hormones, and dangers of increasing human resistance to antibiotics. The factory farmer and the animal rights advocate convert the chicken farm into a mushroom farm. Happy ending.

There is no presentation of any kind to address the question: If all these meat products are inspected and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and instances of meat-borne diseases are tracked and reported, for example, by the Centers for Disease Control, what are the actual risks to consumers of these alleged levels of pathogens? How much peril does our government confess to permitting in our meat supply? Or, to put it simply: What is the response to this one-side condemnation of America’s meat supply? (The brief answer, of course, is that the infectious agents characterized so vividly in the documentary are killed at a certain temperature, so that “thorough cooking can generally destroy most bacteria on raw meat, including pathogenic ones.”)

And why is this series that is devoted—we assumed—to presenting an objective scientific study comparing a healthy omnivore diet with a healthy vegan diet spending the majority of airtime attacking the climatological, social, and ethical consequences of the omnivore diet?

Who ordered this banquet?


Walter Donway is an author and writer with more than a dozen books available on Amazon and an editor of the e-zine Savvy Street. He was program officer or director at two leading New York City foundations in the healthcare field: The Commonwealth Fund and the Dana Foundation. He has published almost two dozen articles in the Blockchain Healthcare Review.