Netflix plays host to a number of anti-agriculture “documentaries.” From Food, Inc. to Cowspiracy and others, the platform has been used to spread and fuel the absolute worst conspiracies about modern agriculture. Netflix’s reputation got worse last when it declined to offer a pro-GMO documentary.
So when I heard that Netflix series “A User’s Guide to Cheating Death” dedicated an entire episode to the natural fallacy, I was skeptical. But it came highly recommended, so I tuned in.
It was worth every second!
Host Timothy Caulfield tackled the myth that natural is good and synthetic is bad, which manifests itself in the organic food label and alternative medical therapies. He covered the long history of our obsession with natural, which takes on notions of right and wrong itself. It all boils down to a fairly simple concept: the harder something is to understand, the more unnatural it seems.
Caulfield spoke to several women who eat organic food consistently. Ironically, one woman admitted she started eating organic after watching food documentaries. Collectively they claimed eating organic made them feel cleaner and better. One organic farmer falsely claimed they grow everything chemical free and take better care of the soil.
But Caulfield slayed each of these falsehoods. Nutritional differences between the two production methods are nonexistent. Instead, the nutritional value of food varies based on the seed, sun, rain, and soil. And organic farmers do use pesticides, including some that have worse profiles than any synthetic options. The foods we eat today are all the result of human breeding for centuries; none of them are natural.
So why do people fall for the scam?
Because buying food is a form of self-expression. People adopt the natural fallacy, including eating organic, as part of their personal brand. And once that happens, it can be nearly impossible to convince them otherwise.
Caulfield also addresses the allure of holistic medicine, including the concepts of “big pharma.” I appreciated his focus on how alternative therapies are dangerously peddled to cancer patients. The supplement industry, he explains, is essentially selling bunk to the public with tacit government approval.
My only quibble is that Caulfield leaves open the idea that organic agriculture might be better for the environment, a position with which I disagree. But he ended his agriculture segment by concluding there is no way we can feed a growing population on organic-production methods alone.
So does this episode redeem Netflix as a platform? Probably not.
The documentaries Netflix features have done so much harm to modern agriculture. It has helped prop up and encourage the natural fallacy. But the episode helps explain where these ideas come from, and why it can be so hard to communicate with people who believe them.
In short, it was worth watching, even if I won’t be subscribing to Netflix any time soon.