Can a serious athlete embrace an all-plant diet and hope to get enough fuel to compete at high levels? Former football player Santino Panico sets out to prove the answer’s yes in From the Ground Up, an evangelistic doc about the ills of meat and thrills of veggies. (Not to be confused with a recent political doc by the same name.) The first-time filmmaker makes his case convincingly in about 10 minutes, though; nearly everything that comes afterward in this 95-minute film is a variation on the theme. Though some vegans may show support in theaters, this feel-good missive will play best on small screens and in advocacy settings; in terms of changing minds, many of the doc’s subjects seem to be doing a fine job of that already.
Recounting his youth as an aspiring football star, Panico says he was a flop once he hit the gridiron for the University of Nebraska. Even at this early age, he was suffering health effects (migraines, for instance) that he attributes to the meat-and-eggs binge he believed was required for muscle-building. After giving up football, he decided to explore alternatives.
Makes its points well, but is far too long-winded.
Panico quickly concluded that the conventional wisdom about developing a strong body is nonsense. His first mission here is to mock that old question posed by carnivores to friends considering plant diets: “Where do you get your protein?” Torre Washington, a competitive bodybuilder who sees himself as a superhero, gestures down at his impressive torso and asks, “Do I look like I don’t get enough protein? … I get it the same place the animals you eat get it.” Panico proceeds to compare servings of meat and eggs to oats and lentils — plenty of protein, whichever way you go.
The film talks to scientists to back this notion up, then to other experts who help explain how Americans’ attitudes toward manliness and meat came to be. It will later offer some complaints about factory meat farming and its environmental impact that will be very familiar to most documentary lovers.
But its main interest is in the series of accomplished competitors — from MMA stars and BASE jumpers to skateboard hero Ed Templeton — who have publicly embraced plant-based diets. Sometimes their focus is on health, sometimes on the planet; in some of the film’s most winning moments, we hear people like the seriously fierce MMA champ Mac Danzig explain that their main motivation is a love of defenseless animals.
His unpolished voiceover and the general sense of overkill aside, Panico delivers a quite respectable doc production. He borrows music by Explosions in the Sky to give the film an idealistic, Friday Night Lights mood, and though he’s clearly on a soapbox, his tone is never hectoring. Though it is overshadowed by many foodie and eco-themed docs before it, the film’s tight focus may make it a hit with earth-loving athletes who need to convince teammates and family members they aren’t crazy to give up meat.
Production company: Topsoil Productions
Director-screenwriter-producer: Santino Panico
Editors: Santino Panico, Mike Call
Director of photography: Mike Call