Friday, February 3, 2012

Forks Over Knives

I have a list of various types of documentaries (food, religious, music) on Netflix a mile long, and inevitably, I settle in with old episodes of Law & Order. Last Sunday, I decided to make a dent in that list after hitting the Whole Foods salad bar for dinner. Unbeknownst to me, Sunday night is when various liberal Protestant ministers do their shopping since I saw at least two colleagues of mine. I had heard good things about Forks Over Knives from Daily Garnish and No Meat Athlete, so I selected it for viewing.

forks over knives(1)

The movie’s premise is that a good portion of the heart disease and cancers that kill many Americans can be prevented and even reversed by following a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Though the words “vegetarian” or “vegan” are rarely mentioned, that’s what they mean. The film follows the careers of Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) who provide convincing scientific and clinical research that backs up the film’s claim. Additionally, several “success stories” are featured – people who have seen their disease processes reverse thanks to following such a diet. In response to those who might think adopting a vegan diet is a drastic move, the film’s retort is, “And coronary artery bypass surgery isn’t?”

This film combines two things that are very important to me: food and healthcare. Particularly living in the fourth fattest state, both Joe and I see the deleterious health effects of poor lifestyle choices all around the hospital. Personally, I think it would be amazing if people educated themselves about the health benefits of moving to at least a partially vegan diet, but at the end of the day, I fear that Forks Over Knives is really just preaching to the choir. As someone who eats a predominantly vegetarian diet and is in good health (at least according to last year’s check-up), I got to turn off the TV and feel rather smug about my good choices while feeling pretty confident that I wouldn’t be giving up my Greek yogurt, cheese, or eggs anytime soon. 

If one was presently diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease, the film’s food-as-medicine approach might be something to look into. Otherwise, I think the film minimizes the emotional, cultural, and social aspects of food and eating, though it does a good job of dispelling the common stereotype of vegans as waif-like, fragile people. Even being a vegetarian in the South gets you the side-eye a good portion of the time, and there are few vegetarian/vegan, non-salad bar options in the hospital cafeteria. A whole-foods, plant-based diet might be the best way to eat but culturally, few people will likely be willing to try it even if they’re on their death bed.

Again, I enjoyed this film and found it convincing. It presented scientific evidence and concepts in a very accessible and fun way, but I doubt that those who really need to watch this will be exposed to it and even fewer will take up the challenge to eat this way rather than taking pharmaceuticals.