As someone who is very interested in food and the environment, I find myself watching a lot of documentaries. While most of them cover a limited range of topics (food, production, health, environmental issues), they all approach the subject differently. Each filmmaker has their own viewpoint, personality, biases, and style.
If you are new to the world of food and environmental documentaries it can be difficult to know where to start. Don’t worry though, I’m here to help. I’ll watch these films for you and give you an idea of the tone, topics, and watchability of each one. No one is paying me to do this and I don’t have any stake in any of the film companies which produce the films. No one has ever sent me a free copy of a documentary to view or review, and they probably never will. The views and opinions I’m expressing here are entirely my own. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started:
Forks Over Knives
The official website: http://www.forksoverknives.com/
The filmmakers: Brian Wendel, Creator and Executive Producer; Lee Fulkerson, Writer and Director; John Corry, Producer; Allison Boon, Co-Producer
The studio: Monica Beach Media
Original Release: 2011
At a running time of just 1 hour and 36 minutes, the film isn’t a particularly long one. It is informative and interesting if a bit slow-paced. Documentaries can sometimes be hideously dry though, and I think Forks has dodged that particular bullet. The inclusion of interviews with and dietary experiments by individual people with a variety of health problems will keep your attention. The delivery isn’t particularly snappy, but the film avoids the weird musical interludes and bad graphics to which so many documentaries fall prey.
Forks uses the careers of two doctors, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, as the backdrop for its message. Both doctors espouse the virtues of a plant-based diet, free of all animal products, including dairy. Much of their supporting data is derived from a long-term project referred to as The China Study. The study’s full title was, “China-Oxford-Cornell Study on Dietary, Lifestyle and Disease Mortality Characteristics in 65 Rural Chinese Counties”. As most scientists tend to do (seriously, everybody has a bias) the doctors appear to have done a bit of cherry-picking when choosing which data they would use and how they would interpret it. Still, I find it difficult to argue with the idea that chronically ill people tend to be undernourished and follow unhealthy diets. I also find it hard to argue with the idea that fresh vegetable-based foods are good for pretty much everyone.
That said, my favorite statement in the film was made by another interviewee, Terry Mason, M.D., the Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health. Talking about cheap and processed foods, he says they are “calorie rich and nutrition poor”. For me, that was really the biggest take-away of the film. The vegan message put forward by Drs Campbell and Esselstyn certainly has its merits, especially for those with ongoing cholesterol related health issues. However, the idea that eating fewer cheap, overly processed, sugar and fat filled foods can improve your health is the one I wish more people would hear.
The verdict: If you are interested in taking a dietary approach to fighting/preventing diseases that have their root in unhealthy dietary and lifestyle choices this film is for you. I suggest looking up the cited studies and checking out the science yourself if you want to know more. Finally, don’t let the all or nothing attitude discourage you. True, a complete dietary overhaul will probably lead to the fastest and most dramatic results, but any improvement you make is better than no improvement at all.