“Let thy food be thy medicine” –Hippocrates
I’ve heard praise for the documentary Forks Over Knives for years, so I finally took the time to watch it and was not disappointed. Forks Over Knives explores the danger of the American diet and introduces the idea of using good, whole foods as medicine. It follows the research of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional scientist at Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a top surgeon and head of the Breast Cancer Task Force at the Cleveland Clinic. While working in their fields for years, both doctors came to the same conclusion separately: the reason there is so much illness in the US is because of our overly-processed diet that is high in animal products and by-products. So, they set out to study what a healthy diet is, and found that many severe degenerative diseases can be prevented, and even cured, by a plant-based diet.
It is easy to see this movie and be turned off by the seemingly extreme suggestion of following a vegan diet, but I think there is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned. Firstly, the criticism of the American diet is spot on, here are a few disturbing facts that the documentary brings up:
- Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug, is the most prescribed drug in the world
- We spend $2.2 trillion a year on healthcare
- Since the turn of the century, we are now eating twice the amount of meat and dairy, and three times the amount of sugar annually than we were before
- 500,000 bypass surgeries are performed each year in the US
- Almost one in four American four-year-olds are considered obese
- One out of three people born in the US today will develop diabetes throughout their lifetime
These are daunting and extremely problematic issues that are continually ignored or tackled with massive amounts of medicine. In order to survive our arguably fatal diet and lifestyle choices, our country has become dependent on pharmaceuticals. A large portion of Forks Over Knives follows the healing process of several cardiac patients who have switched over to a plant-based diet to avoid being dependent on pills; all of these patients were in critical condition and are now living a completely healthy life without medication. Supported by Dr. Esselstyn, they have learned how to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, and are open to discussing the difficulty of the transition from processed food to whole food. It seems, however, that the transition was all worth it. They eagerly express how good they feel now and their intention to never go back to eating animal products or by-products for the rest of their lives. As overwhelming and extreme as that may sound initially, I think we can all agree that the American diet is far too centered around meat.
As a person who was vegetarian for many years, lived with a household of vegans for a month, and studied sustainable agriculture, the topic of a vegan diet is far from foreign to me. I’ve been on every side of the issue: an adamant meat-eater to a, albeit short lived, passionate vegan, and everything in between. It is a huge topic to even begin to tackle, and I’m sure I’ll always be reassessing my stance. I have come to the conclusion, for now, that not everyone needs to give up meat and animal by-products; however, the amount of meat we eat in this country is astounding. We have evolved eating animals and dairy products, but nowhere near to the amount we have become accustomed to. Before convenience and efficiency became the main focus of the meat industry, meat was a treat, eaten maybe once a week. When we were more in touch with our farmers and their lifestyles, we knew the massive amount of energy and work that went into producing meat and dairy products and therefore ate it less frequently and with far more appreciation. It makes perfect sense that research has shown the damage that our excessive consumption is causing and when it comes to people who are in severe condition because of this diet, a vegan diet seems an essential, and even a welcome, treatment in comparison to drugs. Whether or not you come away from this documentary with the intention of becoming vegan, the self-reflection it causes is important. I have decided to pay more attention to how much dairy I consume daily and to focus more on eating whole foods. It is easy to watch something like this and feel a need to instantly jump into a completely different lifestyle, but it is ok to take one step at a time. Pick one thing in your diet you would like to cut back on, figure out how to do so in a way that works for you, and move from there. Honestly, if you’re eating local produce, then you’re already ahead of the game and part of the conversation. There is an increasing interest in eating food that uses meat as an accent instead of the center, this is a great article from the Wall Street Journal on chefs beginning to shift their focus while cooking.
One of my favorite parts of this documentary was how much of it shows people cooking and eating delicious-looking food. A plant-based diet does not have to be lacking in flavor and texture, you just have to be willing to experiment. Luckily for all of us the Forks Over Knives website is full of mouth-watering recipes such as this one for Smoky Sweet Potato Burgers or another for Garlic Hash Browns with Kale. The website is a fantastic tool for more information on how to eat a plant-based diet, success stories, and frequently asked questions.
I would definitely recommend this documentary, it’s interesting, informative, and on Netflix!