Forks Over Knives

When Your Preferred Utensil Means More than Good Manners

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted March 2, 2010

With the new millennium, we ushered in a new era in filmmaking... one in which the likes of Michael Moore's Sicko, Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, and Bill Maher's Religulous brought a new (or heightened) awareness of political, social, and cultural mores and issues in American society.

People take to the open road with a video camera and a theory, seeking to give it legs to stand on via footage, statistics, and interviews recounting personal experience and opinion. Their documentaries about controversial topics were seen predominantly in smaller, independently-run theaters across the country and at festivals.

No matter the topic at hand, the films all leave the audience with one distinct conclusion as they file from theater seats or hit OFF on the remote from the rental DVD: an alternative system is the only possible answer.

This summer, audiences can expect a highly-anticipated film that will return our attentions once again, as Moore and Spurlock did a few years ago, to health, wealth, and happiness — as a direct result of what we put in our mouths.

Forks Over Knives is the collaborative effort of various doctors, researchers, and health professionals. The story follows the personal and professional journeys of the two "protagonists" — Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn — throughout the United States, Canada, and China, and the research that lead them to conclude from separate and profound discoveries the correlation between diet and disease within certain populations.

The film's message: "diseases of affluence" that afflict us can be controlled — or even reversed — by rejecting our present diet of animal-based and processed foods. Forks Over Knives attempts to have the audience reconsider what they know about nutrition, disease, and modern health care, and consider that there is a single solution to our current hunger and medical problems: "A solution so comprehensive but so utterly straightforward, that it's mind-boggling that more of us haven't taken it seriously," according to the film's production website.

Dr. Campbell worked in the Philippines in the late 1960s and discovered a link between cancer and animal-based food consumption in children of the higher class. He is co-author of "The China Study," Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, and Project Director of the China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project.

Dr. Esselstyn, former internationally known surgeon, researcher, and clinician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, found that many of the diseases he routinely treated were virtually unknown in parts of the world where animal-based foods were rarely consumed. Esselstyn has also authored a book on his research, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

These discoveries inspired Campbell and Esselstyn — still strangers — to continue studies in other parts of the world to shed light and gain insight on the link between nutrition and disease. Their research led them to a startling conclusion: degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms of cancer, could almost always be prevented-and in many cases reversed-by adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet. 

Interestingly enough, both doctors grew up on farms where dairy and livestock-based diets flourished, so this documentary comes as a pivotal point in both men's lives in which they reject their childhood way of life and aim to look objectively at the findings of their studies in the link between health and nutrition.

Despite the profound implications of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn's work, the results of their research have remained virtually unknown by the public... until now. Forks Over Knives provides the public audience with the story of the doctors' individual efforts in research and theory, to the sites of their studies in China and Cleveland.

The idea of food as medicine is put to the test. Throughout the film, cameras follow "reality patients" who have chronic conditions from heart disease to diabetes. Doctors teach these patients how to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet as the primary approach to treat their ailments-while the challenges and triumphs of their journeys are revealed.

Bill Maher commented not too long ago in an interview that the health care debate seems to be missing one thing. That is, a discussion of health. We are concerned more with who will pay for our ailments, long after we have neglected to focus on sustaining and improving our health.

There is much more information today than there was 20 years ago about vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. The idea surrounding a "you are what you eat" lifestyle has expanded to include a sense of responsibility for "what you eat affects others and our planet."

There is a growing awareness among consumers for what they choose to put on their plates, and how their choices affect global resources, populations, and policy.

Embracing a diet that disowns the meat and dairy-based lifestyle many Westerners have grown to know does not seem purposeful to many people. But vegetarianism by the numbers makes a solid argument for solutions to many of our toughest problems: world hunger, our toll on natural resources, cancer and other immune deficiency diseases, lowering cholesterol and obesity, reducing animal cruetly, improving antibiotic efficiency... there are far too many to name, but you can find vegetarianism's resume right here.

At the end of the day, films like Forks Over Knives serve to stir the pot among health and nutrition professionals and viewers alike. That's a good thing. Whether or not people can be convinced that it is time to rethink lifestyle choices, the more difficult task will be putting these changes into practice... but at least people can make more educated choices. And for the meat-and-potatoes people who can't fathom a kitchen without a carving station, simply buying and eating grass-fed beef is a more wholesome dietary choice.

You can check out the film's trailer here: