Independent filmmaker takes on fake meat industry in new documentary 'Beyond Impossible'
Veganism "is a cult," says outspoken health and fitness guru Vinnie Tortorich.
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There's a reason why Vinnie Tortorich's new documentary, "Beyond Impossible," uses church music cues between segments.
Veganism "is a cult," says the outspoken health and fitness guru.
Tortorich's previous films, "Fat: A Documentary" and its 2021 sequel, argue conventional narratives surrounding fat intake are misleading, to say the least. "Beyond Impossible" takes on a bigger target: the new wave of fake meat products peddled everywhere from your corner grocery to Burger King and White Castle restaurants.
Impossible Food and Beyond Meat, two of the big new players in the market, deliver food products that both resemble and taste like real meat, its proponents say. They also offer less fat, plenty of protein and are made completely from plants.
The products, Tortorich noted, aren't directly aimed at vegan consumers but at people who can't get enough of thick, juicy steaks and burgers. Problem is, the product's nutritional benefits elude him.
"I thought being a vegan was about being healthy," Tortorich says of a product he dubbed a "Frankenfood" sometimes produced in China and shipped stateside.
Fake meat "is not helping the environment or people, yet that's exactly what they're selling," he argues.
Impossible Foods disagrees, saying it offers a much greener production blueprint than traditional meat processing, which requires extensive land, among other resources.
"The best way to reduce your carbon footprint, limit global warming, halt the collapse of biodiversity, save wildlife and ensure enough clean water for all of us is to ditch meat from animals," its website argues, providing an environmental impact calculator so consumers can crunch the numbers themselves.
"Beyond Impossible" leans into that eco-connection, suggesting the global push for fake meat products is driven by environmental concerns as much as nutritional dictates.
The film includes speeches by various gurus extolling how a vegan diet, specifically the Planetary Health Diet, can dramatically impact Earth for the better. And they have some corporate support, with powerhouse companies like Unilever (Knorr, Hellmann's and Ben & Jerry Ice Cream) actively promoting that lifestyle.
Tortorich, who has worked with celebrity clients to get them in red carpet shape, promotes a "no sugar, no grains" eating regimen via his social media accounts, his 2013 book "Fitness Confidential" and podcast of the same name.
He maintains a meat-based diet is superior to plant models, in part because the former affords proteins that are difficult to reproduce in a vegan diet. Vegans often must supplement their diets with B12 pills because that nutrient doesn't exist in vegetation.
The author and podcaster tried to include alternate voices in the documentary, specifically vegan experts like Dr. Walter Willett, former chair of nutrition at Harvard. "Beyond Impossible" highlights those attempts as well as the various responses. Some experts initially seemed open to the possibility, but eventually they all turned Tortorich down.
The fitness guru offers a similar invitation to appear on his podcast, "Fitness Confidential," with the same results.
Fake meat products are a booming industry at the moment. The consulting firm Kearney predicted the market would grow to become one-fourth of the $1.8 trillion meat market by the year 2040, with meat protein products "peaking" in just three years.
Even traditional meat players like Tyson Foods are gambling on the new wave of meat alternatives.
The 2018 documentary "The Game Changers" chronicles elite athletes who embraced a vegan diet. Tortorich's film debunks some of the information in the movie, pointing out one of its producers, Oscar-winner James Cameron of "Avatar" fame, is financially invested in the vegan diet movement.
In 2017, Cameron announced the formation of Verdient Foods, an organic pea protein facility in Vanscoy, Saskatchewan.
"Follow the money," Tortorich says.
"Beyond Impossible" offers something beyond nutritional debates. We see expert after expert suggesting ways to impose taxes and other punitive measures to cajole, if not outright force, people to leave meat behind for good.
"There are a lot of agendas going on [in the nutrition industry]," Tortorich says, citing, for example, veganism's ties to PETA.
Tortorich would be happy if consumers simply started to question what they see and hear on nutrition and make up their own minds. He's gotten used to swimming against the nutritional tide, having done just that since the 1980s. He has few kind words for organizations many would deem trustworthy, like the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association.
Their research is often "bought and paid for" by companies like Pepsi and Mars, rendering their findings questionable, he claims.
Even areas where he finds some common ground, like the meat-friendly Keto diet, offers more reasons for concern.
"You can market a bowl of sugar and call it Keto," he says. "Oreos are vegan … of course, everyone's confused."
Tortorich says independent voices on the nutritional front face discrimination from Big Tech.
"We get shut down left and right," he says, adding he's been shadowbanned on Twitter and his private Facebook group endures bizarre disciplinary action. One such incident involved "offensive language" that drew a warning from the social media giant. The phrase in question, he says, was "bacon fat."
"Who's doing this? Who's controlling the narrative?" he asks, pointing to other voices questioning received narratives who face similar digital cancellations, figures like Joe Rogan, whose interview with Dr. Robert Malone, a medical innovator who questions elements of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, was banned by YouTube recently.
"We're trying to get the word out, but the powers that be say, ‘Not so fast,'" Tortorich says.
He struggled with something similar from Amazon when his original "Fat" feature came out in 2019. The megaplatform repeatedly mislabeled the film, dubbing it a "drama" initially and later putting it in the "fiction" category before eventually properly labeling it a documentary.
Tortorich clings to his independent status as a late-blooming filmmaker.
"I make 'em myself," he says. "I don't have a gatekeeper. That's why I can tell the truth. It's my money."
His detractors, he acknowledges, have claimed he's funded by various meat and egg councils. "I wish they would give me money," he says with a laugh.
The original "Fat" feature got a boost from a crowdfunding campaign but proved successful enough to fuel a sequel. Those films helped Tortorich fund "Beyond Impossible," but his film career could end at any moment.
"If no one buys this movie, I'm out of the film business," he says, adding his films cost him between $300,000 to $500,000 with him wearing multiple hats on and off set. "I'm not a filmmaker. I'm just a guy who's telling a story."