Forks Over Knives: The Vegans Are Coming, And They Are Bringing Data

Categories: Film on Food
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If you were to boil and mash the food documentaries Super Size Me and Food, Inc. together, then add a dash of An Inconvenient Truth, and serve on a bed of pro-vegan rhetoric, you'd get a film like Forks Over Knives.  

Following a familiar documentary path that films a change of lifestyle and the eating habits of its writer/director, Lee Fulkerson turns the camera on himself at the doctor's office as he is diagnosed as overweight and out of shape. 


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​Rather than focusing solely on his own health and habits, he includes several others as well. As we hear from his doctors and watch him slim down, we are bombarded with data. Yes, bombarded. 

The facts and figures and graphs come at you so fast, for a moment I thought I was in a 3D film. Perhaps this 3D effect was in part because I was in the front row, the only row where seats were still available in the surprisingly packed theater. 

The film is data heavy- charts and graphs and numbers, oh my. Forks Over Knives bases its argument for a "plant-based diet" (read: VEGAN, however, the film rarely uses the word vegan, instead, cloaking its rhetoric in the term, "plant-based") on work done by two now septuagenarian doctors. 

The doctors are Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose life's work includes a critical study on plant-based diets in China, as well as efforts to use this research to help feed hungry children around the word in a low cost way, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor based out of the famed Cleveland clinic. Dr. Esselstyn began his study by working with a group of near death cancer and heart patients, whom he sets out to cure with food, many of which give testimonials in the film. In fact, this film has more testimonials than a Proactiv infomercial. And while the results of both doctors' work are swirled into the lake of data that comes at us, none of this information is completely new. 

Mixed into all of the data and testimonials to the benefits of a "plant-based diet" are clips of meat being processed, and surgery footage from the past decades, to hammer home that knives means scalpels, people. The bloody meat and bodies are enough of a smack over the head to make even the most die hard carnivore want to avoid meat for a while, or at least an hour.

More meat after the jump.

Drs. Caldwell and Esselstyn themselves are incredibly interesting. Both born in the early 1930s on farms, both alive during America's switch of lifestyles from local and home grown foods to processed supermarket and fast foods, each doctor has accumulated decades of results proving plant-based diets save lives and the environment. These men are well into their 70's and visibly healthy, energetic, vibrant even. Every vegan pictured in the film has this look, especially Mac Danzig, UFC mixed martial arts champion. He is really the only one featured who uses the word vegan.

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​So what can possibly be wrong with a film that just wants you to be healthy? They are right about just about everything. It is what they don't say. First of all, why not mention the other diet craze that came out of the same clinic as Dr. Esselstyn's "plant based diet"? You know the one, the Protein-Sparing Modified fast, which eliminates all fruits, most veg, and stresses the importance of animal protein. Maybe you have heard of its wildly popular spin-off, the Aikens' Diet, which promoted an almost all meat protein diet. I found it an important tidbit, considering, that for years now, people have known about and been following the animal based diets, while out of the same clinic, comes the polar opposite of that. 

While everyone included in the film touts how easy and delicious a vegan diet can be, there are no recipe how-to's, shopping guides, or sample menus, other than quick shots of Fulkerson and his doctor in a Whole Foods grocery store. In addition to that, they say "whole foods" many times, but do not define it, leaving one to wonder if they are just plugging the market chain. Fulkerson doesn't recommend any cookbooks, show us how to order at restaurants, or let us follow him around while he forages for plant-based food all day. Instead, they direct viewers to the website for more info at the very end.

What is compelling about this documentary are some of the many patients that it follows. There is the single mother of five in Cleveland who was obese, diabetic, and works for a diabetes clinic yet rebukes their treatment and meds for Dr. Esselstyn's "plant based diet" and gets well. There is the middle aged Florida man who was an overweight diabetic heart attack waiting to happen, the breast cancer patient, the group of firefighters in Austin, and even Fulkerson himself. We watch as they all get thinner, healthier, visibly happier.

Forks Over Knives feels longer and slower than its 90 minute run time. And it is repetitive; we hear the same things over and over. And what we hear is nothing remarkably new. What felt new to me, however, is just how long these men have been collecting this data and how long its been out there. But Fulkerson doesn't tell us why it has been buried. Maybe we are supposed to guess. Maybe we are supposed to make the connection between big agribusiness, the government subsidies to the industries that support corporate cattle and corn syrup, ourselves. These get a quick mention, but a mention is all. 

Fulkerson brings up a lot of information, and then just leaves it there, in a very ADD sort of way. Maybe for his next project, he can make a documentary about what to eat to cure ADD.



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14 comments
Dave Kemp
Dave Kemp

Great review for this educational documentary that is awakening a lot of people to the importance of healthy eating.  Love, Light & Aliveness,www.PlantPoweredLiving.com

Cannelewis
Cannelewis

Why is it that everyone thinks when you eat a plant based diet that you are vegan? I eat a plant based raw food diet, but I don't consider myself a vegan. Why because I eat honey. A vegan is a person who doesn't use any animal products at all, including wearing leather shoes. I don't fit into this category.

Cacatua
Cacatua

I live in central Iowa where factory farming is pretty much the accepted norm. I don't see a lot of people rushing to see this movie even if it showed up at local theaters. However, it may be shown to certain individuals on DVD by people like myself who would like to share this with them. I think it is necessary to keep it simple and to keep repeating the main parts of the message for this reason, because to many people this WILL be a revelation, and they will only be able to retain so much, so it had better be the important stuff. If that message finds fertile ground in their minds, then they will be motivated to look for more detailed information on their own.

Alexa D
Alexa D

Um... did you seriously just criticize the movie for 1) having too much information and 2) not having enough information? You're really trying your hardest to find something negative to say about Forks over Knives, aren't you? Or maybe you also complained that Inception was a terrible movie because they didn't reveal whether the top fell at the end.

Derek Goodwin
Derek Goodwin

"there is just as much evidence supporting an omnivore diet" - hmmm, yes i believe the omnivore diet exists! statistically it the 'evidence' shows that the typical american diet of factory farmed animal products and processed food is killling us. for health we could argue omnivorism is ok, if we are eating small amounts of locally raised organic animal products and lots of fresh vegetables.

the deeper problem goes back thousands of years to when we first started domesticating animals. this is when we decided might makes right, enslavement was acceptable, and sentient beings could be commodified. If we examine our current culture and the problems we face we can see they are all tied in to this mindset. the way we treat the planet and its beings is coming back to haunt us, as ecosystems are breaking down, weather patterns are drastically changing, and our bodies are becoming plagued by diseases that were rare a century ago. 

The sentence in the review I would point out is near the end; "We watch as they all get thinner, healthier, visibly happier".  There are other diets that help people lose weight, but true happiness comes from removing oneself from a chain of violence and disrespect for others. In fact, happiness comes from caring for and helping others. This is a universal truth found in world religions and espoused by great minds like Einstein and Ghandi. It leeds us on a path towards a deeper truth, that there are no others. We are all part of the same system of life. The pleasure we imagine contained in the taste of another animal's flesh is a fleeting illusion. The happiness we feel from letting others live their lives in peace lasts and comes back to us in every aspect of our lives.

I have been eating a 'plant-based' diet for over 15 years and have found this to be the case. I urge anyone to try it out for themselves, reduce the violence in your diet and practice compassion towards the people and animals around you, and see if you don't find yourself a little happier at the end of each day. 

Sharon Salomon
Sharon Salomon

Not so sure. There is as much evidence supporting an omnivore diet. Omnivore, vegetarian, vegan-still have 2 make good choices.

AlkDSL
AlkDSL

congratulations on an obvious bias review

Milk Hermit
Milk Hermit

There is an overwhelming amount of recipes, guides, data and support about cooking vegan on the web. Why waste precious running time to go over that which a google search can cover?

Cinderella480
Cinderella480

biased exactly how? she just pointed out stuff she wanted to hear more about and thought there was too much data, but didn't seem to fall one way or the other on the vegan diet. just bcuz she didn't say "ohmygosh thsi is the best movie ever i'm gonna run out and be a vegan" doesn't make it biased

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