A raw food vegan friend of mine recently encouraged me to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. The movie can be described a bizzaro version of Super Size Me in that by eating a whole food plant diet the direct losing weight and blood work shows that this eating style has erased all the bad numbers he used to have. It does make a compelling argument.
The argument is basically plants are good; anything from an animal is bad. Yes, dairy, eggs and white meat is included. The work is based on research done by MD’s and PhD’s. At the crux of the movie is the China Study (a book I haven’t read). Before China opened it’s doors to KFC and the western diet, it did a study on cancer in the country. What the study showed was that cancer types were clustered in different regions of China. Due to most of the diets being traditional at time it showed the correlation of diet and cancer. The film also pointed out the heart disease basically was non existent during Nazi occupation of Norway. The Nazis, taking all the animal products for themselves, forced a plant based diet on the Norwegians causing a steep decline in heart related diseases. Finally, the show also had plenty of case studies showing the effectiveness in a whole food plant only diet in reducing cholesterol and triglyceride numbers as well as getting Type II Diabetes patients off of shots and pills. ( Having a Type I Diabetic sister, I hate that when most people say Diabetes they mean Type II. While related in how they affect the body, how both of them develop and then truly affect the body are completely different. My sister weighed 110 pounds at 5’4″ when she developed Type I. In fact, no one is sure why she has it. Almost everyone who has Type II knows exactly how they got it.).
The film does have a few flaws. First of all, using Nazis to prove something good is truly odd. Plus, can we trust the data from that time? I mean by definition its skewed. The China Study, as presented here, doesn’t look at other factors in what could have caused those cancers in those regions since China was industrial at the time of the study. Correlation doesn’t always mean causation. Also, the opposite view point was presented but never really challenged. Too often the director could have asked a follow up question and didn’t. The worse example of this was when the director of USDA claimed that the doctors that this film supports had a conflict of interest. While the film adequately showed that the USDA does indeed have a conflict of interest, his point of view wasn’t challenged. I feel the director was trying to show the director as arrogant and pompous (and possibly corrupt), but asking the question would have put him on the spot to present facts. For someone who watches all documentaries skeptically (it’s the civics teacher in me trying to avoid propaganda), I now wonder if the director does have a point. I really don’t think he did, which leads me to believe that if the director would have asked the question he would have scored a major victory for his cause. Also, the other point of view was only showed from the people who totally support getting your protein from animals. What about Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan who advocate a less meat more plants diet? In Bittman’s case, as he states in Food Matters, his numbers went down basically the same amount by cutting meat down to one meal a day and then making it a condiment to the vegetables. Finally, while all the patients make the case personal for the viewer, it can help but also come off as anecdotal. To create a fundamental change to our eating behavior as this movie calls for it will need more. Saying the corporate structure of modern medicine will not allow it seemed to me to be a cop out.
That flaws I point out doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, or a bad for you movie. I truly believe the basic message of the movie: eat plants. I know in my own case, following Bittman’s advice of trying to be vegan until 6, has worked wonders for me. My numbers, except cholesterol (I ate horrible the two days before my test), are much lower than my first visit. Recently at a dinner party, we all tested our blood pressure (We know, we hang out with a wild bunch). My blood pressure was the lowest, which everyone attributed to my medicine. Actually, I hadn’t taken it that day or the day before due to forgetting. There is also no doubt, as the movie states, that our modern industrial farming methods are bad for both the animals and the environment. Plant subsidies throw this system of whack even further buy having us raise food for non food purposes (corn, I’m looking at you). The movie also does itself a service by instructing the audience to consult a doctor before you do a wholesale change on your diet.
So what will I do based on this movie? Well, I have already switched to a mostly whole food plant diet. I do try to be a vegan every day till six. However, I try to go meatless at least one full day. I can see myself increasing that to a couple of days which means the movie might not have met it’s goal, but is still successful. By decreasing the amount of animal products I consume, I can afford to buy higher quality meats. Higher quality meats usually mean the animals are treated better in an environmental friendly way. If this way doesn’t get my cholesterol down, then I will seriously consider giving up meat for most meals. I cook too good of a steak to give that up meat forever.