Doc of the Day: Vegucated Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Vegucated

Posted in Days of Docs by - May 26, 2012

 Three average people go on a six week vegan diet. What will they learn? What will you learn?

Dir. Marisa Miller Wolfson, 2011, 76 min

Vegans are one of those groups that are the easy butt of many easy jokes in pop culture. But if there’s any realm where anyone can get a fair shake, it’s the documentary. Vegucated is about helping us normal folk understand the vegan point of view, and that idea works organically (heh) within the film, since it’s about normal people visiting the meatless, dairy-less lifestyle.

Director Marisa Miller Wolfson found three burger-loving New Yorkers to volunteer for an experiment: go vegan for six weeks, not just in diet but in philosophy. The trio purge all animal products from their food intake, and learn about the reasons for doing so, and the audience learns along with them.

Some motivations for going vegan, like improving health, you might find sympathetic. Others, like not wanting to participate in a system that harms animals, you may not. What the film really does well is strip away the idea that veganism is somehow “extreme.” It’s certainly outside the norm of American consumption habits, but people of many other cultures naturally have similar dietary habits. We often take for granted that what we do is “right” simply because it’s what we do. Myself, I’ve never held much stock in the idea that something is worth doing one way simply because it’s always been done that way.

The doc is unashamedly agitating for veganism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Too often, though, it veers into territory where it feels like a recruitment video. It’s the subtlety vs. grace problem, which I talked about in my Kony 2012 review, all over again. There’s no grace in using videos of slaughterhouses as a cudgel to make the viewer forget their reason. I am not against showing animal death as a method of persuasion in the least, but this doc does not use this footage intelligently.

Grace is left by the wayside in other parts of the film as well. Wolfson seems to have taken more than a few cues from Super Size Me in her style, which makes sense, since what she’s doing is essentially a variation on Spurlock’s “experiment” in that doc. But she can’t pull it off like Spurlock can, and the animated graphics and comic sound bites crash and burn. The film mercifully drops the gimmicky stuff around a quarter of the way through. If it hadn’t, it might have been utterly worthless.

Weirdly enough, for how much I’m down on this film, I liked it a lot. That’s because it made me rethink a few things about what I eat, and why I eat the way I do. This is more a factor of my ignorance than any skill on the part of the filmmakers, but it stands nonetheless. The truth is that when you look at the cold facts, vegetarianism and veganism is objectively better for us and our planet than the current diet of the First World. Many of the reasons for this tie into things addressed in the films I watched for Food Week. Raising livestock for food puts a heavy strain on the environment, and we’d need three or more Earths to sustain us if everyone ate the way Americans eat. There has to be some shift, and I’m honestly mulling it over in the aftermath of viewing this movie. But I love cheese…

Vegucated isn’t terrible. Then again, many other movies aren’t terrible, and in fact are quite a bit better than terrible. It’s interesting to see the perspective shifts of the three subjects as they try new foods and learn new things. It will certainly clear up many misconceptions about veganism, and I don’t know of many films out there that can also do so. But it’s mainly a well-intentioned but fumbled film. You might be better looking up veganism on your own.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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