Is Game Changers Funded by Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat?

Evidence shows the vegan film is linked to investors of meat alternatives. Ironic given the film accused meat producers of funding biased propaganda…

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Source: Instagram

wo weeks ago, over social drinks, a co-worker brought up “The Game Changers”, a Netflix documentary about vegan (plant-based diet) benefits, released on October 16, 2019.

The topic was prompted by the choice of salads and meat platters on the table. He told us how in the show, three professional footballers were tested on the duration and hardness of their erections at night when they were sleeping. It turned out that, just by going vegan for a day, all three showed longer and harder erections than when they ate meat the day before.

While it did make for salacious teasing over beer, this could hardly qualify as scientific proof of vegan virility.

A week later at lunch, I overheard a chap at the next table telling his friend about The Game Changers as he munched his salad and his friend… a burger. This documentary was clearly making a splash and my interest was piqued.

So I watched it.

Arnie says eat your veges

The first thing that hits you about the film right from the opening credits is the number of celebrities associated with it.

Pamela Andersen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and director James Cameron — famous for Terminator, Titanic and Avatar. All were producers or executive producers (which, in the movie industry, means they provided money or influence for the film).

There are also a number of executive producers who are sports stars — Lewis Hamilton (F1), Novak Djokovic (Tennis), Chris Paul (Basketball).

In all fairness it was a great documentary. Well paced and researched, thorough in the angles covered, with interviews of interesting personalities and not just celebrities.

But what bothered me somewhere in between was how much it felt like ‘covert marketing’ — the kind of secret sponsorship of product placement, blogging, or social media posts that brands do today to subtly influence consumers.

The documentary was also somewhat ironic. It lambasted the cigarette industry for using sports stars and doctors in the past to promote smoking and play down health concerns. It then accused the meat industry of doing the same to create the perception that ‘real men eat meat’, as well as funding research to dispel the link between cancer and meat diets.

But throughout the whole documentary, it was interviewing athletes, scientists and doctors who endorsed plant-based diets. Wouldn’t that be a classic case of ‘pot calling the kettle black’?

Vegan hypocrites?

At this point vegans would probably point their fingers at me and say, this is not the same as the tobacco or meat industry because we’re telling the truth, instead of masking or hiding it.

Let me first say that I’m not arguing against the benefits of being vegan. From personal experience I do believe in it. But let’s leave it at that for a while. Bear with me as I share with you what makes the show very ironic even if it wasn’t guilty of one-sided endorsement.

The obvious question would be: are the producers and personalities in the film benefiting financially from promoting plant-based diets?

It is one thing to own a little vegan diner and shout about the benefits. It is another if you own shares or funded Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat, the two giant startups attempting to convert the US$1.8 trillion global meat market to plant-based meat imitations.

Going beyond the impossible

For decades health and animal rights advocates have failed to convince the general public to give up its taste for meat.

Then in 2009 a company called Beyond Meat was founded by Ethan Brown. He decided to make ‘fake meat’ by synthesizing it chemically from plant-based materials. The goal was to replicate the taste and nutrition of meat, without having to rear animals. That would simultaneously solve climate, natural resource, human health and animal welfare issues, while making it much easier for the average person to reduce meat consumption.

Beyond Meat went public at a valuation of US$1.5 billion in May 2019. As at the date of writing in November 2019, its market capitalization has already gone up to about US$5 billion.

Even before that, its growing success had already spawn many other competitors, of which Impossible Foods is the most notable. Founded in 2011, Impossible was valued at US$2 billion in its last funding round. It has raised more than US$700 million till date.

Clearly there are now huge fortunes at stake here — beyond saving cows and the climate — so is The Game Changers funded by investors of meat alternatives?

The ‘real meat’ of the documentary is in the pockets of…

Beyond Meat is primarily funded by venture capital (VC) funds Kleiner Perkins, Obvious Ventures, DNS Capital and Cleveland Avenue. Bill Gates is also a big angel investor.

Gates also has a stake in Impossible Foods, whose institutional investors also read like a who’s who of the VC world — Khosla Ventures, Google Ventures, Horizon Ventures and sovereign funds Temasek Holdings (Singapore), as well as Sailing Capital (China, through the Shanghai International Group).

Impossible Foods also has a long list of celebrity investors — Jay-Z, Jaden Smith, Katy Perry… as well as sport stars Serena Williams (Tennis), Kirk Cousins (NFL), and Paul George (NBA). I wonder if it is then a coincidence that the documentary featured a lot of footballers and executive producers from basketball and tennis…

I found at least one direct link between celebrity investment and The Game Changers. Remember Chris Paul, the executive producer and NBA star? He’s an investor in Beyond Meat.

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Source: AdAge

There’s another less direct but much more pertinent link. James Cameron and his wife are both producers of The Game Changers. They have also invested US$140 million in plant-based proteins, including a company that produces pea protein, a key ingredient in Beyond Meat, which is in short supply right now.

Cameron and his wife met on the set of Titanic, which starred… Leonardo DiCaprio, another Beyond Meat investor.

Hypocrite indeed

James Wilks, MMA fighter and martial arts instructor, produced and starred in the documentary which was first released at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018.

In a rebuttal to critics — on a YouTube channel call “Plant Based News” — he blasted a critic on Men’s Health magazine for being “extremely biased”, accusing him of authoring two books advocating meat-based diets and interviewing two experts, “one of which... is funded by the meat industry”. (At 1:05 in the video)

He goes on to say that we should question the critic’s motive — “where the funding’s coming from, and who’s influencing these articles”.

When asked if the celebrities and sports personalities featured in his own documentary were paid, he said, “They don’t make a penny from being in the film.”

He explicitly said that even James Cameron, Chris Paul and the other executive producers did it because they “believed in the project”, and will not “make a dime” from the success of the film. (At 8:03)

“They are doing it for the social returns, not for the financial returns.”

— James Wilks, producer and main star of The Game Changers, in a YouTube interview.

I think we’ve kind of established that both Chris Paul and James Cameron could make a lot of money from higher demand for Beyond Meat’s products.

Shaolin monks and transparency

I’m not against vegans. Nor am I denying the tremendous planet earth benefits of less meat eating.

I’m actually an advocate of plant-based protein. In my younger days as a sportsman, even my own brother looked at my physique and could not believe I took no protein supplements.

All I did was eat tofu almost everyday. I took my inspiration from the vegetarian Shaolin monks.

But I do think James Wilks and the people behind The Game Changers would increase their credibility tremendously by coming out with a full disclosure on how the celebrities and experts associated with the film could stand to gain financially from advocating plant-based proteins and vegan diets.

At the very least, they can avoid the very thing that they accused the tobacco and meat industry of —biased propaganda.

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