Saturday, May 14, 2011
Movie review: Forks Over Knives
If you eat food, you might want to see this film.
Forks Over Knives opens in Dallas the same week that the city drools over the arrival of In-N-Out Burgers and the even-more-macabre Heart Attack Grill, a gimmicky restaurant from Arizona that proudly trumpets the unhealthfulness of its burgers. Oh, irony.
Heart Attack Grill at least has a certain gallows humor, acknowledging that its burgers are lethal. But the In-N-Out brigade crows about how "fresh" and good quality their burgers are.
Forks Over Knives disputes that. Its theme is that a diet of animal-based and processed foods -- including meat, dairy, and eggs -- promotes the growth of cancer.
That is not a message most want to hear; it upsets the status quo, and people like their animal-based foods. But the film presents a persuasive argument for changing your diet to plant-based food.
It follows the journeys of two doctor-researchers with similar backgrounds who came to the same conclusion in different ways:
1. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn arrived via the clinical route: He worked with patients on the brink of death, got them to switch their diets to plant-based foods, and made them healthy again.
2. Dr. T. Colin Campbell arrived via the scientific route, conducting a massive research project in China, dubbed The China Study, that found that an animal-based diet promotes the growth of cancer.
Both came from traditional circumstances. They both grew up on farms and were involved first-hand in the raising of cows for consumption, and both started their careers embracing conventional wisdom regarding diet and nutrition. All-American all the way, which makes their conversion to a plant-based diet all the more provocative.
Their journeys and eventual encounter form the basic narrative of the film, with other people's anecdotes woven through the story to break things up. There's a single mom who works at a diabetic center, a guy in his '50s who was overweight and taking half a dozen prescription medicines, and an older woman who'd had multiple heart attacks, all of whom changed their diets and became well.
Like the two doctors themselves, the participants come from ordinary, familiar circumstances and so their embrace of a plant-based diet and improved physical condition is more compelling.
With such a complex topic, the film only hits the surface on certain components. It doesn't delve very deeply into Campbell's research, which is comprised of thousands of pages of charts and data that's difficult to digest. It only briefly touches on the troubling situation at the Department of Agriculture where corporations are influencing policies on things like the food pyramid.
The marginalization of Campbell's position at Cornell University would make its own great expose. If you do an internet search for "The China Study," you'll find numerous websites attempting to debunk his research, some from the Weston Price Foundation, an organization that promotes the consumption of animal fat.
Changing something as basic as the way you eat and even think about food can seem threatening to some people. And as the film shows, we've experienced more than 50 years of programming about the benefits of consuming animal protein and especially dairy. We've been told all our lives that milk is the "perfect food" -- but as Dr. Campbell notes, it's really the perfect food for baby calves.
The film has a quaint retro vibe, a little like one of those high-school documentaries warning against the dangers of marijuana, with a distinguished-sounding narrator in the form of Lee Fulkerson, the film's writer-director. Fulkerson weaves in his own experience consulting a doctor and following a plant-based diet; in 12 weeks, he lost more than 20 pounds and lowered his cholesterol by about 100 points.
The music's a little corny, but such is the realm of the independent film. In the end, you're left with an admiration for these two men and their convictions. If you also leave with a reduced appetite for a burger, then maybe they've done their job.
For showtimes for Forks Over Knives, click here.