A film of one man’s journey to becoming disease-free from eating plant foods, “Forks Over Knives” gives America a glimpse into why we have become so disease-ridden, and what we can do to fix the epidemic.
The entire premise is based on the thesis: Adapt a whole food, plant-based diet to prevent (and even reverse) disease and enjoy a long, healthy life.
We watch filmmaker Lee Fulkerson take a 13-week journey following a plant-based diet under the guidance of a doctor. Unlike similar documentaries like “Supersize Me” or “Food, Inc.,” the emphasis of the film lies not on the terrors of the animal or industrial agriculture industries, but rather on the straightforward, medical findings that support a plant-based diet for disease prevention.
Fulkerson takes the audience through the evolution of the standard American diet over the last hundred years or so, documenting the extreme rise of our consumption of meat, dairy products, refined sugars and processed foods—as well as the escalating rates of degenerative diseases that have arisen from our ever-degenerative diets.
The focal authorities in the movie are the nutritional scientist T. Colin Campbell and the surgeon Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., whose works have been heralded for decades in the crusade to promote plant-based foods for optimal health and disease prevention.
The film’s strongest suit is its repeated mantra, which truly captures the take-home message best: Eat more plants and whole foods; eat less animal products and processed foods. Simple, true and yet so difficult for most of us to accept and live by.
While the film has a positive message (“eat more plants”) that has more than enough scientific backing to support its thesis, it does have its drawbacks worth noting. The repeated phrase “whole foods, plant-based diet” is repeated throughout the film as the prescribed diet for ill patients who we see become healed by the end of the film, but we are never given definitions of what constitutes “whole foods” or “plant-based diets.” You’ll find a great definition from Wikipedia, however, which states, “Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed... Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenized dairy products.” As for a “plant-based diet,” the term indicates not necessarily going vegan, or even vegetarian, but merely emphasizing whole vegetable foods like beans, grains and vegetables as the keystones of one's diet, and having meat be only a small proportion, if any. But the film doesn’t inform the viewer of these specifics, should the viewer be new to all of this.
Similarly, the film never fleshes out what a whole foods, plant-based diet might look like. It tells us not to eat McDonald’s or donuts, and yes, it does show many tasty vegan-looking meals being enjoyed by the players in the film, but it never gives the basic food groups of a plant-based diet. How much bean or nut should you eat? How much green or bread? How do you know what a healthy meal without meat would look like? Certainly, these are complicated questions that require both time and expertise to answer, but the movie is a full 90-some minutes and never even touches on it. The point is more on selling "Eat whole plant foods!” and less on explaining how to do so.
Some critics of the film have noted an additional flaw in the logic of the nutrition studies themselves. While no experts can really deny that cutting processed foods, processed and refined carbohydrates and processed fats from the diet will reduce disease, there is still a debate on how much of a role animal products play in the whole puzzle. When researchers Campbell and Esselstyn conducted their studies, they found people getting sick from a modern diet that included meat, dairy and processed foods—all eaten together in foods like hamburgers, hot dogs and junk foods. They did not examine cultures who eat exclusively whole, real foods that include naturally-raised meats, such as the Eskimos who eat copious amounts of whale blubber regularly; nor did they look at traditional cultures that eat raw and fermented dairy products (unlike our modern homogenized, ultra-processed dairy), such as tribes in Africa or traditional peoples of Sweden.
Experts like Weston A. Price claim that meat and dairy are only disease-inducing when the animals were raised on unnatural diets, when the meats are processed, and when the meat is combined with refined sugars and carbohydrates. Indeed, many solid studies have documented healthy, traditional tribes and peoples who have sustained long, disease-free generations on little plant foods in their diet, but with an ample amount of unadulterated, completely natural animal foods. The film does little to recognize those ideas or take into account meat’s role in causing disease when refined foods are absent.
All flaws taken into account, the film still hits home the message that most Americans need to hear: Eat whole, real foods. Eat greens, beans and whole grains. Ditch the junk food. And do it now. Your health absolutely depends on it.
Image: Forks Over Knives
Disclosure: This DVD was supplied as a complimentary product for the review; no other compensation from Forks Over Knives was received.