vegansaurus!

06/01/2011

Movie review: Forks Over Knives  »


It was probably a good idea to see Forks Over Knives the night before starting an
elimination diet that’ll help me figure out my allergies; I left the theater feeling like I should just eat kale forever.

Okay, that’s not 100 percent true; I went to Whole Foods afterwards and got a pre-diet chocolate bar. But I bought some eggplants too! And the documentary’s presentation of the evidence supporting a diet that eliminates animal products—or at the very least, greatly reduces them—was pretty compelling.

Forks Over Knives isn’t from the Morgan Spurlock-school of documentaries—there are no gimmicky experiments here, just the stories of real people who are seeing some of the doctors interviewed in the film, and information from decades of research. So you know, it sometimes feels like you’re watching something educational—you are, but maybe sometimes we like to be tricked into that? Stick with it, though. It’s still a satisfying viewing experience, just in a different way.

The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country in the world. They also have some of the worst health outcomes among industrialized countries. There are former Soviet bloc countries with lower rates of infant mortality, and that is kind of messed up. It’s undeniable that there’s access to a lot of health-related good in the U.S.—world-class medical facilities, cutting edge treatments, delicious and healthy American-grown produce, great land for farming. But even with all that at their disposal, Americans are gaining weight, becoming diabetic, getting cancer—at alarming rates.

Forks Over Knives claims that we can prevent—and even reverse or cure—the majority of what ails us by getting the animal products out of our diets and switching to plant-based eating. This case is built largely on the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Campbell is likely best known as the co-author and lead researcher of The China Study, now a popular book that outlines his research of the diets and causes of deaths of thousands of people in China. Esselstyn works at the Cleveland Clinic, where he counsels heart patients on halting and reversing their diseases with a plant-based diet.

Campbell and Esselstyn’s work is fascinating, and their findings are some serious food for thought, but what really stuck with me were the personal tales of lives that were changed with a plant-based diet. Most of the people highlighted don’t present the image that pops into your mind when you think “vegan”: they included a diabetic mother of four, a meat-loving middle-aged man, a company of Texan firefighters, and a mixed martial arts fighter. But they all switched to a plant-based diet for one reason or another, and they all had impressive results that included serious, life-extending changes to their health.

I was impressed that the people featured in this doc had clearly made some health related choices that they shouldn’t have, but they weren’t treated like they were dumb or lazy or gross or failures. They were just following what they’d always been told about how they should eat, and trying to get through the day in an environment where the worst of food is always immediately available. The overall message of control over our own destinies was balanced with a realization that our environments have changed drastically in just a few decades, and it can be hard to make good choices even with the best information and intentions.

The film can get a bit repetitive at times—though admittedly, they were kind of preaching to the converted in my case. I’d like to see it with someone who is new to most of its information, who has never seriously considered that all this protein we’re told we should eat is maybe not the best idea. The message that meat and milk are the best way to go for protein—the only way to go, as many people see it—is so pervasive in our society that it can be hard to shake people of it. The first thing most people asked me when I stopped eating meat was “How will you get protein?” I think the tales of these healthy, vital people—some of whom were near death before going vegan—could change some minds.

Terri Coles lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues.

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