How a Netflix Show Convinced a Wave of Influencers to Go Vegan

Melissa Meltzer
Photo credit: Hirohisa Nakano

From Town & Country

At a recent dinner event, a burly fellow I’ve long known to be a burger connoisseur bypassed the lamb chops at cocktail hour, instead piling a small plate high with tortilla chips. “I’m a vegan now,” he said. “I watched The Game Changers.” “So what do you eat?” I asked. “Beans,” he replied happily. “Just tons and tons of beans. I feel great. At the top of my game.”

Vegetarians and vegans have long been considered gentle, effete, even overly sensitive. All that changed last fall when The Game Changers debuted on Netflix.

The documentary, which is ­executive-­produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jackie Chan, concerns the rise of plant-based eating among elite athletes, even tracing it back to the gladiators (and, in one much talked­-about scene, positing that it increases male sexual prowess). Now, suddenly, it’s Invasion of the Macho Beaneaters. Former keto obsessives who thought legumes were off limits are delighting in carbs, thinking they will turn them into Novak Djokovic.

“We are seeing more men becoming ‘plant curious’ after watching the film, and we’re seeing an influx of new clients,” says Danielle Duboise, co-founder of the plant-based-food delivery service Sakara Life. She points out that even the catering at the Golden Globes ceremony this year was vegan. “Everyone is talking about the film,” says Jessica Young, founder of the chic clean food company Bubble, whose Hella, a Nutella-like vegan product, has been flying off the shelves. “My investors. Our customers. Even my mom!”

Photo credit: Rob Newell - CameraSport - Getty Images

Indeed, hardly a dinner party can pass without the “Have you seen The Game Changers?” conversation starter (followed immediately by guilt and shame for everyone in the room in mid-bite of steak). For longtime vegetarians, it comes as a relief to have new comrades. Cornelia Guest, a vegan who has her own ­cruelty-free clothing line, says she used to have to eat before parties.

“Now there’s always an option,” she says. Jeff Klein, owner of the Sunset Tower Hotel and the San Vicente Bungalows, says of his company, “We don’t respond to trends. I’m sure in three years paleo will become like when fat-free was all the rage. But the plant-based diets are here to stay. One of my all-time top sellers at the Tower Bar is the curry vegetables.”

Some professionals are preaching caution. “Moderation is key with anything,” says Kelsey Hutton, a sports dietitian. “If someone turns vegan overnight because of this documentary, and without any understanding of what nutrients they need, then it’s not necessarily a good thing.” And while The Game Changers continues to rack up views and converts, it’s worth noting that there is no shortage of notable meat devotees at the top of their game—look at ­LeBron James. Meanwhile, keto and paleo diets are still as popular as ever; Pat La­Frieda isn’t going out of business anytime soon.


But plenty of people are using The Game Changers as justification for suddenly consuming pasta and tortilla chips and other foods that, not so long ago, they relegated to the heap of verboten carbs. The documentary shows football players pigging out on vegan meals of faux fried meat, mac and cheese, and peanut butter pie, which might be meat- and/or dairy-free but are not exactly healthy.

“I define plant-based as stuff that looks like how it comes out of the ground,” says Charles Passler, the New York–based food and exercise guru to models Amber Valletta and Carolyn Murphy. Still, he says, “a broader diet is our best bet."

This story appears in the May 2020 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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