Even as a person who thinks about such things every day, as I watched Forks Over Knives at the recent New York City premiere, I was taken by the simplicity and significance of the film's message. These days, eating is complicated. Eaters face a constant barrage of health messages and food marketing; it seems every package in the grocery store highlights a new benefit or added vitamin. The idea of simply walking away from these claims and heading for the produce aisle felt to me like a long lost truth.
Unfortunately, in today's drive-thru culture, veg-centric and whole foods diets are often seen as extreme (even more sadly, the same seems to hold true in the policy arena, as well). To those who take such a stance, heart expert Dr. Esslstyn offers this powerful point:
"Now, with a Western diet this guarantees there are going to be a half million people in this country this year who will have to have the front half of their body divided, their heart exposed, then veins will be taken from their leg and sewed on their heart. Some people would call that extreme."
Despite advances in modern medicine, American rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer continue to soar, particularly amongst our nation's youth. About half of us are on prescription medication to combat these “diseases of affluence,” with millions more going under the knife each year to correct blocked arteries, receive stints or undergo weight loss procedures. Forks Over Knives poses an often overlooked but critical question: can simple switches in diet do more for our health than these costly surgeries and medications?
To answer this question, the film takes us through the careers of acclaimed researchers Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Both doctors spent their formative years on farms at a time when milk was considered “nature's most perfect food." They each had to reconsider their views, however, when their respective (often overlapping) research showed that the consumption of animal-based foods was connected to a host of health issues, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, liver and breast cancer.
Dr. Campbell is best known for his groundbreaking book The China Study, which investigated the eating habits and cause of death of 6,500 individuals living in rural China. In his research Dr. Campbell found no less than 94,000 correlations between traditional rates of meat and dairy consumption and community risk for heart disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer. Though smaller scale, Dr. Esselstyn's work is equally revealing. When he requested patients for a clinical study on diet and heart disease in 1985, Dr. Esselstyn was offered eighteen critical cases, many of whom were told to prepare for death. Twenty six years later, fourteen of the patients who adhered to Dr. Esslstyn’s diet of unprocessed, plant-based foods are still alive (all survived the first twelve years of the study).
After decades of eating the same diet they prescribe to their patients, both doctors are still physically fit and actively spreading their message, despite being well into their 70's. Both hope that food and nutrition activists across the country will use Forks Over Knives as their rallying call to preserve the health of this and future generations.
Forks Over Knives officially launches Friday, May 6th, with screenings, meet and greets and Q&A sessions in major cities throughout the United States. Be sure to visit ForksOverKnives.com for more information on the film and to find a screening in your area.