An interesting subject matter, a clever title, and a lazy Sunday morning perusing Netflix lead me to Marisa Miller Wolfson’s documentary, Vegucated. The film explores the ins and outs of transitioning from a meat-eating diet to a vegan lifestyle. Three New Yorkers take on a 6 week challenge to get “vegucated” – learning what it means to be vegan from physiological, ecological, and ethical standpoints.
It’s obvious moments into the film that high-end production equipment nor a large budget were factors in telling the journey’s of Tesla, Brian, and Ellen; the subjects selected to engage in a new vegan way of life. The ease and access of digital film making are appropriately used given the parameters of the challenge, though were distracting at times. In essence, while not absolutely necessary when the goal is to educate, the look to the film was somewhat uninspiring. I’m sure this was intentional and in line with Wolfson’s vision to state the facts and tell the story through a guerrilla-style technique. I suppose this is merely my creative perspective – but when following subjects around the fast-paced New York City streets, more of a polished and stylized film might have worked better for my taste.
When approaching the content, the film does what any “food themed” documentary film would do when trying to persuade its viewers toward a new perception: shed light on why this perception is better; share how relatively easy it is to incorporate change; and then beat us over the head with visuals, a few statistics, and graphics to support this new way of thinking and why common practice is wrong. In this case, Vegucated did a nice job of keeping my interest. It did lack some concrete nutritional information, such as how the body responds when that type of protein is suddenly removed from your diet; and it seemingly glazed over how difficult transitioning would be for the typical American other than Tesla’s struggle, where they simply instruct her to try going “vegetarian” as an option. Not bad advice, but I’m surprised there wasn’t a real breakdown of any of our subjects shown on-camera. You’re essentially asking someone to give up a lifestyle that took 20, 30 or even 40 years to develop.
Where the film does excel, and is a common gimmick used when trying to be persuasive about meat-eating diet changes, is spending quite a bit of time highlighting the horrific practices of slaughter houses and exposing the harsh daily treatment of animals in general. (As such, I strongly suggest not eating during the film.) Of course, visuals of baby chicks being thrown alive into grinders, cows being shot through the head with a bolt gun, and watching a pig being killed and then skinned would be the strongest means to get your message across.
What I found confusing and therefore weakened the premise of the film – which I understood was to get people to see how you’re supporting the betterment of the planet, animal-kind, and yourself by adopting a vegan lifestyle – Wolfson oftentimes brings up vegetarianism. By all means, this is still an excellent option that one can explore if veganism is too extreme, but I fail to understand how you can shed light on both diet forms if your core belief is to save animals from harsh treatment? One should not eat meat because of the slaughter practices, but it’s acceptable to drink milk even after it was just shown how exploited female cows are to produce it? While certainly linked in many aspects, being a vegetarian and a vegan are two completely different practices.
At the end of the film, she highlights many famous vegans, “mostly” vegans, and vegetarians from Susan B. Anthony, to Gandhi, to Rosa Parks, to everyday people. What eventually strengthened her approach by intertwining vegetarianism and veganism, was a short line that stated “you don’t have to be an activist or famous to make a difference.” From this I gathered that the point is to make some sort of contribution, at whatever level you’re comfortable with.
In the end, what Wolfson did for me as a viewer is what I believe her intention was in creating Vegucated: to get you to think about your place in the world relative to your dietary choices. In this, she succeeded. I have a largely chicken-based diet. I like a good burger or slice of bacon here and there, but do consciously work to maintain a healthy plant based diet. This isn’t a huge struggle because I actually LOVE vegetables. I don’t see myself becoming a hardcore vegan anytime soon, but the film has inspired me to incorporate more of its practices into my daily life. As of writing this post, I’m still thinking about what that means for me.
If you find yourself home on a lazy Sunday morning, check out Vegucated (available on Netflix) and let me know what you think…