By Don Simpson | May 13, 2011
Director: Lee Fulkerson
Writer: Lee Fulkerson
It seems like every time I tell someone that I am a vegetarian, the very first question I hear is: Where do you get your protein? From my perspective, it seems as though almost every carnivore on this planet believes that protein predominately comes from animal-derived foods; just as they directly associate calcium with dairy. No matter what I say — and no matter what sound scientific evidence I provide — there is no changing their minds. Why? For one because the United States government tells them so. (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] continues to emphasize the importance of milk and meat, even in their most recent incarnation of the food pyramid.) That said — according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (a report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), a vegetarian diet is associated with lower levels of obesity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
I strongly believe in animal rights and the environmental benefits of vegetarianism and veganism; but, first and foremost, I have been a vegetarian for the last 15 years for health reasons. Forks Over Knives approaches veganism from the same angle — for better or worse, ignoring any political issues (other than health care costs) associated with the vegan way of life — attempting to convert its audience to a whole foods plant-based diet. Though I am not quite on a 100% whole foods plant-based diet, Director Lee Fulkerson does not need to sell his message to me at all; if anything, I think he does not go far enough. I am disappointed by the lack of focus on the proven health (plus environmental and economic) benefits of consuming raw, locally grown, organic produce; there is also very little mention of the importance exercise.
When it comes down to it, the human body is not designed to consume a significant amount of the average American’s diet. No other species consumes the milk of another species, and our bodies were not constructed to adequately digest animal products. Then there are the scientific discoveries of refined and processed foods — worst of all, high fructose corn syrup — which certainly were not meant to be consumed by humans. However, human beings — especially Americans — have become addicted to consuming unhealthy “food”; paired with a unhealthy lifestyle, we are achieving a self-fulfilling destiny of the destruction of our species. We complain about health care costs and the expenses associated with medicine, yet our country’s poor health has been proven time and time again to be directly associated with our diet and lifestyle.
About half of the population of the United States are taking at least one prescription drug while major medical operations have become routine. Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the three leading causes of death in the United States. Forks Over Knives proposes that the elimination (or greatly reduced intake) of refined, processed and animal-derived foods can prevent — and in certain cases even reverse — several of our society’s worst deceases.
Fulkerson’s film juggles the stories of a group of real test subjects — including himself — who convert to a whole foods plant-based diet for health reasons. Fulkerson starts the film on a daily regimen of cholesterol and blood pressure medications; and, thanks in no small part to Matt Lederman, M.D. and Alona Pulde, M.D. at Transition to Health in Los Angeles, he is able to stop taking medicine, loses weight, sleeps better and has more energy. The other subjects begin the film with breast cancer, hypertension, a terminal diagnosis for heart problems, and dangerously high cholesterol; the whole foods plant-based diet cures them all. Hippocrates was correct: “Let food be thy medicine.”
Fulkerson also tells us the parallel life stories of Dr. T. Colin Campbell (a nutritional scientist at Cornell University) and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic), who separately and independently came to the same conclusion: several degenerative diseases (including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and several cancers) can be prevented — and in many cases cured — by adopting a whole foods plant-based diet. (Veganism’s positive influence on circulation can also prevent erectile dysfunction.)
There is one dissenting voice, Connie Diekman, M.Ed. from Washington University (she is also the spokeswoman for National Dairy Counsel). Diekman insists that “animal proteins provide all the amino acids that we need for cell growth, tissue repair, and overall health” but it is extremely difficult to believe her opinion with the preponderance of evidence that proves otherwise. (Of course what I see as evidence, many carnivores will see as fiction.)
To be perfectly honest, Forks Over Knives feels like a very long infomercial to me, not only because of its bland fact-heavy presentation but also its propagandistic use of repetition (I lost track of how many times “whole foods plant-based diet” is said). As a film critic, I cannot claim that this is a great documentary. Maybe it is a sub-par production but I agree wholeheartedly with its message. We are in control of our lives. The power to be the masters of our own health seems totally inconceivable now that we have become slaves to medicine. Yet good health is actually so easy, if we just abide by one simple principle: Eat only what the human body was designed to digest. I just wonder if Forks Over Knives makes a convincing enough argument to convert naysayers (including the U.S. government).
For more information go to plantbaseddiet.com