A scene from the documentary Forks Over Knives. (Handout)
Could a movie save your life?
Forks Over Knives is a documentary willing to try as it examines diet and degenerative disease. The movie relates the massive increase in diabetes, heart disease and cancer in America to a diet full of processed food and animal protein; those dots are not hard to connect, but for several reasons, the diet message is not getting out there. If it were, 40% of Americans would not be obese.
Forks Over Knives outlines the work done by two physicians: Dr. Colin Campbell, a Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who was formally an internationally known surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. (His work in bypass surgery led him to investigate coronary artery disease at the beginning, rather than the end.) Both men grew up on farms. Both have been involved in global research into nutrition and disease. Both have impressive things to say about how, very specifically, we all really are what we eat.
The film also follows some typical patients as they alter their 'western' eating habits and begin to consume a more plant-based diet. Individuals go from having their lives overwhelmed by illness, fatigue and tons of prescription meds to having their health restored -- no more overweight, no more diabetes, no more high cholesterol, no more pills and injections daily.
The villains in Forks Over Knives are introduced, and they are the usual suspects: fast food, so-called convenience food, corporate influence on government nutrition policies, the beginning of the end (high fructose corn syrup circa 1973), the addictive elements of sugar and fat, the spread of a western diet globally, the pharmaceutical companies, and so on and so forth.
It is neither a secret nor some lunatic fringe conspiracy that heart disease, diabetes and most cancers are entirely preventable through diet and exercise, but for some reason, that notion isn't taking hold. It doesn't help that there are innumerable government, corporate and traditional medical agencies committed to maintaining the status quo in everything from cute pink ribbons to prescriptions for statins, but never mind. As the people in Forks Over Knives illustrate, change is possible on an individual basis.
Joining a growing new library of films about nutrition, Forks Over Knives presents information in an educational, convincing way -- and it's fascinating if you're interested in the material. It's difficult to present statistics and disease in an eye-catching fashion, mind you. And the film has to present a lot of history in an abbreviated fashion, revealing how dietary change just since the Second World War has changed the planet and its people. In other words, this one will likely be a tough sell. Let's hope it's shown in high schools.