A knife and a fork

Controversial documentary fuels fire for plant-based diet
by Stew Mosberg
The film opening this Thursday at The Back Space Theatre will likely be dear to the hearts of many Durangoans. “Forks Over Knives” documents the extensive research and study of two highly acclaimed physicians whose work, along with that of others, establishes a link between animal-based and processed foods to diseases such as Type II diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart failure.
What’s perhaps most interesting about their work, however, is the discovery that changing one’s nutrition not only stops the progress of these diseases, but reverses them.
Numerous books have been generated from the research, and a renewed public awareness has been fostered through news media, including CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The two principle physicians in the film, who in their early years acted independently of each other, are Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Some may recall the latter as the physician behind former President Clinton’s dramatic weight loss and transition to a healthy lifestyle through a plant-based diet.
The film’s creator and executive producer, Brian Wendel, read Campbell’s book, The China Study, and sensed that a vegan diet needed more publicity than it was getting. However, the film scrupulously avoids using the term “vegan.” In fact, there’s only one mention of the word, which comes when mixed-martial artist Mac Danzig describes his eating regimen.
The health of Americans is frightening; two thirds of the population is overweight, diabetes is exploding, even among young people, and almost half the nation’s population takes at least one prescription drug daily. The film describes these and other demoralizing statistics, and is unflinching in its visual portrayal of ultimately needed surgeries and life-threatening conditions.
At first glance, it would appear the film’s title refers to eating vegetables with a fork versus using a knife to cut meat. However, considering the film’s allusion to noncompliers needing surgery, the knife inference could easily mean a scalpel.
The filmmakers describe the two physicians on separate but comparable paths, and explores the similarity of their childhood growing up on farms, and includes their journeys to places like China and the Philippines.
The essence of the documentary’s message is the concept of food as medicine but also demonstrates the age-old adage “you are what you eat.”    
Through interviews with nutritionists, doctors, athletes, cancer survivors and heart attack victims, the film thrusts that point forward, but it might have better served the audience if both sides of the story were discussed.
One case study, using a compelling graph, records the ironic development of how Nazi-occupied Norway inadvertently saw a reduction in disease because meat and dairy products were confiscated by the German Army. While incidents of heart disease and diabetes dropped dramatically during the occupation, they returned to pre-war statistics once the war ended.
While the overall message may not seem new, the presentation is eye opening and builds an even greater rationale for changing how and what we eat.
Not as amusing as the hit documentary “Supersize Me,” “Forks Over Knives” is nonetheless a stronger statement about the two movies’ analogous facts. It resonates with how controlling diet is essential to well being, and more critically, why it makes total sense to adhere to a nonanimal-based, nonprocessed food regimen. It is Dr. Campbell and Esselstyn’s sincere belief that a vegan lifestyle is all that is needed to prevent and reverse most chronic, degenerative diseases plaguing today’s world. There will be many viewers who come away wondering if indeed, there is a one-size-fits-all solution.
However, more inquisitive minds might argue that not everyone will have the same results. Furthermore, the film itself is skewed in such a way that there seems to be no other alternative to achieve optimum health than following the strictest of diets. Because there are so many vegetarians and cattle ranchers in Durango, “Forks Over Knives” would seem a natural for stirring up controversy. If nothing else, it will be food for thought.
“Forks Over Knives” screens at the Back Space Theatre, 1120 Main Ave., Oct. 27 - 29, 4 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 30, 2, 4 & 7 p.m.; and Oct. 31–Nov. 2, 8:30 p.m. For more information go to www.backspacetheatre.org