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Film Review: Forks Over Knives

Posted on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
by Gretchen Brooks Nassar


Heart Disease need never exist, and if it exists, it need never persist.

Caldwell Esselstyn

What if you knew all you had to do to be healthy was change your diet? What if you could almost guarantee yourself health and avoid chronic and degenerative disease simply by adopting a certain way of eating? Would you do it; could you do it? That’s the message at the heart of Forks Over Knives. The basic premise is: you can avoid illness and be healthy simply by eating a whole, plant-based diet. According to the film, 75% of chronic illness we see everywhere today is due to diet and lifestyle! That’s quite a statement, no? The film suggests that Americans are simply eating themselves to death with their unhealthy, (and unsustainable–my word) food choices like fast food, junk food, and excessive amounts of meat.

The movie does a good job showing us this fact and explains some of the why behind it, citing research from the China Study and studies done by Caldwell Esselstyn, Colin Campbell, and John Mc Dougall. It also introduces us to the idea that what we eat has more than just health implications, but also environmental ones. It hints at the impact our current eating has on the farm animals, but doesn’t go there sufficiently. For instance, it introduces us to the Founder of Farm Sanctuary, Gene Baur, who shares a few quotes and a bit about his own eating. But, it’s really not clear to me where their trying to take this. The film also hints at why Americans eat the way they do; how we’ve been influenced by powerful political, organizational, and corporate entities like the USDA, ADA, food corporations, and National Academy of Science, but it doesn’t go far enough in explaining just how entrenched the animal food Industry (and other Groups) has been on our current eating habits and what lengths they’ll go to maintain their influence while simultaneously keeping people in the dark.

This movie uses the story of two dairy farmers turned renown researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn, as the backdrop for its larger messages about the benefits of eating plant based. It also introduces us to a number of individuals who transform their health by adopting a plant based diet as well as several doctors who eat the diet themselves and have their patients eating it–all with great success. To illustrate, I like the story of one patient under Esselstyn’s diet plan who has numerous health complaints including Diabetes, who undergoes physical and mental transformations as she changes her eating and thinking about diet. As San’Dera Brantley-Nation transforms, her doctor is mystified by her new positive blood test results, but shakes her head to the idea that San’Dera could now drop her medication. The irony in all this is that San’ Dera actually works inside a Diabetic Clinic, and yet rather than convince others of the power of diet on the disease, her own health transformation simply baffles. The Medical establishment remains fixated on medication for healing even when research and experience demonstrate the power of eating and lifestyle changes.

I like that San’ Dera enjoys a newfound empowerment that comes from taking control of her health rather than being at the mercy of doctors and medications. Through her journey not only does her body change, but so does her relationship to food illustrated by her new mantra: eat to love; don’t live to eat.

I do have a few additional criticisms of this movie. I wish that the back stories of Campbell and Esselstyn were more compelling. Perhaps if they expanded more on Campbell’s experience with backlash from the powers that be, that could not only educate but entertain and we might feel more moved by him as a person. I also wish the film would expand on the environmental devastation caused largely by the current heavy consumption of animal products. I think it would be immensely helpful if the film illustrated just how entrenched the messages are linking meat and dairy to protein needs, since these messages run so deep in the West and are the linch pin maintaining the status-quo around eating animal foods.

Overall, I think Forks Over Knives is a good film addressing many of the benefits of plant based diets while at the same time shedding light on the most damaging health sides to the Standard American Diet. There’s no question of the importance of this film and the need for people to get the message about plant based diets. I certainly recommend this film as an introduction to this type of diet (whole, plant based diet), and to some of the leading experts in the field. I wonder if the overall message was not tempered in part by threats from Industry and Academia, who have literally denied Dr. Campbell classes at Cornell (where he has taught for decades) and at times shunned him for his research that implicates animal protein in illness.

I do hope if you are someone who knows little about whole, plant based diets, that’ll you’ll watch this film. And, I am undeniably grateful to all the people in this movie who, in their own way, are laying the groundwork for the movement towards a more sustainable way of eating and living!

Some Sad, but Telling Stats from the Film:

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  • Gretchen Brooks Nassar is an Author, Mom, and Plant Based Nutrition Coach who melds her healing journey of 15 years (and CFS recovery) with an extensive study of healing and nutrition. She cares deeply for the planet and animals and believes that by adopting a plant-based diet, you're doing the best possible for health, the planet, and animals!

    To go plant based yourself or learn about the plant based services and products Gretchen offers, please visit:
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