Game Changers 1

Jon Stewart and The Game Changers

The documentary The Game Changers was screened at Pollak Theatre with a panel moderated by comedian Jon Stewart that was filled with the film’s stars and producers last Thursday, Nov. 7. The panelists consisted of the film’s main star Wilks, writer/producer Joseph Pace, one of the film’s dieticians Rip Esselstyn, the film’s convert on plant-based diet Nick Berman, and cardiologist Robert Ostfeld, Ph.D.

The evening began with the screening of The Game Changers, which follows the journey of defense trainer and retired UFC fighter James Wilks, who searches for a solution to return stronger from a recent knee injury. Through his research, Wilks discovers that adopting a plant-based diet is the best for building long lasting strength and endurance, despite centuries of messages that promote meat as an essential source of protein.

To back up his claims, Wilks showcases top level athletes who use plant-based diets from strongman Patrik Baboumian to ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek and everyone in between like football players, track athletes, and cyclists. Wilks also has the support of scientists who endorse claims on how plant-based eating is beneficial in many ways especially for your health, the environment, the economy, and animals.

The film was insightful by covering all the bases and debunking the myths behind a plant-based diet. It was surprising to find out how dramatically your body can change for the better just by eating stuff out of the ground. Above all, it brushed aside the masculine stereotype behind eating meat.

Following the screening, the panelists came out to discuss the film and take questions from the audience, which mostly consisted of professionals in the medical field, community members, and some students. For an hour, the panel explored a wide range of ideas on the diet and were not afraid to get personal.

Game Changers 2It was obvious that the panel was male dominated, but it was to address the macho stigma. Stewart acknowledged: “In case you’re wondering why our discussion tonight looks like a men’s rights group, it’s based on that ethos. That’s why we look like a boy band past its prime.”

Pace spoke on showing the diet through the lense of masculinity with, “Food for men is an identity-based issue,” and that Wilks pointed him on the path to tell the story this way.

The discussion opened with the skepticism Wilks had with veganism for most of his life. “I absolutely thought that if you were a vegetarian or vegan, you got to have long hair, skinny, hippie, and hugging a tree… I thought that you couldn’t build any muscle or get any protein from plants,” Wilks said. “It was a flick on my head when I started to read the research.”

Some of the panel opened up about the difficulty of first transitioning to the diet. Stewart looked back on his past lifestyle with, “When I first met my wife, I was more corned beef than man. I was a brisket guy, corned beef, I smoked a lot, I loved it. But I [now] feel much better.”

Berman also looked back on his lifestyle, where eating hearty meals with meat were a part of the fabric of being a firefighter at the firehouse.

However, Berman pointed out, “They’re following traditions they don’t even know why. They still think it’s good living and eating. Like they owe it to themselves to do it.”

Then, they talked about the benefits of being on a plant-based diet. Ostfeld said, “There is a breadth of evidence regarding plant-based nutrition. If I told you that there was a pill that can reduce heart disease, lower your blood pressure, reduce diabetes, improve erectile function, or reduce your rate of stroke, that would be the best selling pill of all time ever. And we kind of have it and it’s broccoli.”

The panel even discussed the economic benefits of the diet.  Esselstyn spoke against the expensiveness of plant-based alternatives with, “This is really peasant food when it comes to beans and whole grains. You don’t have to buy an organic, yellow bell peppers at Whole Foods for $4.99 a pound.”

Game Changers 3Although the topic was important, the discussion was filled with plenty of fun.  There was a moment where Stewart acknowledged the backlash The Game Changers has received on promoting a plant-based diet, to which he asked Wilks, “Are you in the pockets of big salad?”

While he had the crowd laughing, Stewart was able to make a joke, then turn the topic back around on a serious note. In that instance, Stewart changed his tone toward Wilks and said, “I would not see this as a controversial movie. I would never look at this and think, ‘Wow, people are going to comeback at this,’ and yet it is. Why is that?”

To which Wilks replied, “The day before the film came out, there was a study that came out that said, ‘Eat as much red meat as you want and eat as much processed meat as you want’ is the new guidelines… You’ve got to dig into where that research is coming from and it’s essentially funded by the industry.”

Stewart let all of the panelists talk evenly and took most of the audience’s questions. There were also plenty of laughs, with Stewart’s quick quips and zingers throughout.

In closing, Stewart hoped that there would be more events like this sponsored by his Hockhockson Farm Foundation that brought together members of the community and University to discuss important issues like this.

Hopefully this will not be the University’s last collaboration with the Foundation.

IMAGE TAKEN from Chris Jordan of The Asbury Park Press

IMAGES TAKEN from Variety