Today I attended the press screening of Forks Over Knives, a new documentary that examines the provocative claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases afflicting modern Western society can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. As a long-time vegetarian, I am unabashedly thrilled that this film is hitting the cinemas, mostly so I can rub it in the faces of my carnivorous holier-than-thou friends. Ahem. I mean, uh, I would never do that (oh, don’t give me that look).
The documentary traces the personal journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist from Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former top surgeon at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic. Inspired by discoveries and studies made in their youth, their separate research ended up crossing paths when they both made the same conclusion: Degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms of cancer, could almost always be prevented—and in many cases reversed—by adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Movie-goers expecting a polished, flashy documentary along the lines of Food, Inc. or Super Size Me should look elsewhere, as Forks Over Knives was made with a shoestring budget with handheld cameras, with a heavy reliance on stock imagery and badly-drawn conceptual animations in order to illustrate their points. You won’t find any celebrities narrating or weighing in on their veganstravaganzas. Luckily, Forks Over Knives doesn’t need any of fancy-schmancy tech or Hollywood endorsements to drive its message home. What fascinates is the highly-digestible science and non-techno-babble research that again and again proves how hazardous animal products (meat, chicken, fish, all dairy) are on our system.
Director Lee Fulkerson follows the journey of several case study patients from the United States and Canada who were either diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, had heart attacks, or were cancer patients. All of them were told by their doctors to go on expensive meds with harsh side effects. Others were told they needed drastic surgeries and radiation therapies in order to survive. One lady was told by her doctor to sit in a rocking chair and wait for death. Drs Campbell and Esselstyn instead put them on vegan diets, and within mere weeks, almost all of them were off their meds, had their side effects reduced or obliterated, and damage to their arteries, cells, and tissues were repaired. All lost weight and reported an increase in energy. Fulkerson himself undergoes the treatment, and his cholesterol and blood pressure all experience significant drops. Perhaps the most startling images are of a Vancouver woman well into her 70s, who fought breast cancer with veganism, and still competes in triathlons – yes, you read that right – contrasted with people half her age undergoing graphic coronary artery bypass surgery. Which one would you rather be?
What’s missing from Forks Over Knives is concretely holding the opposition’s feet to the fire. Advocates for animal products say that protein and calcium, found in large quantities in meat and dairy, is missing from a plant based diet. The doctors mention in passing that protein and calcium are present in plants and whole foods, but they don’t state in what quantities or which foods specifically. Someone like me who has made a personal study of the issue knows that spinach and kale have, ounce for ounce, the same amount of calcium as milk, and that protein-rich plant-derived foods are more abundant that people realize (soy, tofu, tempeh, miso, nuts, quinoa, et cetera), but this is glossed over somewhat, and would help emphasize that dietary changes are easier than widely believed.
Even as a strict vegetarian, I found myself actively reflecting on my food choices as I watched this, and what I choose to put in my body. No one wants to think that they could be actively contributing to their early demise, but Forks Over Knives lays it out blatantly that any food lacking in nutrients is akin to treating your body like a garbage dump. That gave even me reason to pause.
Also included in Forks Over Knives are the debates that surround vegetarianism and veganism, which include lobbyists bullying government officials to enforce status quo, the environmental impacts of the meat industry and the corruption therein, and how starvation and hunger caused by food shortages could be eradicated by giving up meat. This is agit-prop at its best.
Forks Over Knives opens in select North American cities on May 20th. For more information, head to www.forksoverknives.com.