“EATING YOU ALIVE” — 2½ stars — Suzy Amis, Neal Barnard, James Cameron, Samuel L. Jackson; not rated, probable PG-13 for some images of medical gore and animal cruelty; Megaplex Gateway
“Eating You Alive” is not a documentary. It feels like one, but it’s really more of a promotional advocacy piece. It illustrates a need, then offers you a solution. The issue is chronic disease. The solution is better nutrition, specifically in the form of a frequently referenced “whole foods, plant-based diet.”
Near the beginning of Paul David Kennamer Jr.’s film, a title card states that 30.4 million people die every year of chronic diseases, and by chronic, they mean preventable — diseases that are not communicable or inherited so much as developed over long periods of bad habits.
“Eating You Alive’s” argument is that improved nutrition would mitigate or even eliminate most of these diseases for those that have them and prevent them in people who haven’t developed them yet. The problem is a disconnect between the medical profession and proper nutritional education.
There are lots of fingers pointing at lots of culprits. Doctors don’t get any nutrition training in med school. Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture are under the controlling thumb of the meat and dairy lobbies. "Big pharma" wants you to take pills for the rest of your natural life. And so on.
These assertions and accusations are provided by a variety of testimonials, some with MDs by their names, and others — such as Penn Jillette, Samuel L. Jackson and “director/explorer” James Cameron — who try to persuade you with their familiar faces. But they’re all arguing the same thing. There is never any attempt to offer a counterargument.
The first half of the film is dedicated to illustrating America’s crisis of obesity and heart disease, and showing where it came from (at least from a nutritional perspective — factors like exercise and genetics are given little if any credence to the issue). Viewers see throwback advertisements promoting the classic four food groups, and old-fashioned advice on meat and dairy consumption is held to scorn.
With all that in place, the second half of the film evolves into a promotional pitch for the aforementioned “whole foods, plant-based diet,” which isn’t necessarily vegetarian or vegan, but essentially is. Talking heads reference animal cruelty and other more extreme positions — Cameron claims that he eats the way he does to battle global warming — and by the time the vegan cooks start demonstrating some of their favorite recipes (complete with superimposed ingredient lists), the idea of investigative journalism has pretty much been shown the door.
None of this is meant to undermine the usefulness of “Eating You Alive’s” content. In fact, people of all backgrounds can find a useful message in Kennamer’s film. There’s not a lot of debate about the idea that we could all use a few more vegetables in our diets and a lot less junk food.
But audiences would be well-advised to know what they are getting into with this one. “Eating You Alive” represents a very pointed position on a relatable issue, but it is only one position. Chances are it won’t persuade anyone who isn’t already on the bandwagon.
“Eating You Alive” is not rated, but would have a probable PG-13 rating for some images of medical gore and animal cruelty; running time: 112 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on YouTube.