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Forks Over Knives: Getting to the meat of the matter

A scene from the documentary "Forks Over Knives"


3 out of 4 stars


Forks Over Knives is a middling documentary but a magnificent indictment. Indeed, it's scathing and, in a Western world that suffers from "diseases of affluence," the accusatory finger points squarely at us. If Hippocrates was right when he commanded, "Let food be thy medicine," then we're poisoning ourselves. The soaring incidence of obesity and diabetes, the continued lethal consequences of heart disease and stroke and cancer - apparently, it's all our own damn fault.

At least, so goes the doc's argument, and there's no one in these frames to challenge it. Happily, an immediate solution is readily at hand.

Writer/director Lee Fulkerson mounts his thesis mainly on the expertise of two doctors, who form the structural backbone of the film. Dr. Colin Campbell is a nutritional scientist at Cornell University, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is a former heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, and each has spent his career analyzing the relationship between diet and disease.

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Together, their research stretches from clinical studies in China to the United States, from the populace of New Guinea where "heart disease is non-existent" to Norway during the Second World War when a forced change in eating habits saw cardiovascular ailments plummet.

Well, you can guess their conclusion: Meat and dairy products are cholesterol-boosting, artery-clogging killers. And processed food, high in fat and sugar, kills even faster. What's worse, claims Caldwell, is "that animal protein is really good at turning on cancer." Seems the milk that builds healthy bones doesn't, and that pre-game steak will only shorten your career.

Just as obvious as the problem is the panacea. According to the good doctors, every piece of research points in the same direction: "A plant-based food diet is always associated with lower mortality rates from cancer, stroke and heart disease." In other words, get a quickie divorce from those cows and pigs and chickens and fish, enter into a long marriage with fruits and vegetables and grains and legumes, and you will have a future. Otherwise, probably not.

So why doesn't the U.S. government amend its dietary rules and all those Food Group posters stuck up on every classroom wall? Easy. The federal officials are too closely connected to agribusiness - there are billions of dollars at stake.

To pad the statistics with the personal touch, Fulkerson tracks a selected group of patients who have adopted a vegetarian menu and, in short order, have all witnessed dramatic improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels and arterial occlusions. In a kind of reverse Morgan Spurlock, he even gets involved himself, giving up his cokes and burgers to embark on a Downsize Me campaign, reaping the same results and reinforcing the same consensus: "The answer is so simple it's criminal."

Maybe so. Nevertheless, from a non-medical and strictly aesthetic perspective, that answer gets awfully repetitive and the doc starts to play like an infomercial - all suasion and sunny smiles. Also, if there's one fit and healthy individual out there who delights in a lamb chop, enjoys a glass of 2%, and fancies some cheese with his wine, you wouldn't know it from this flick. But I'm no expert and, as indictments go, Forks Over Knives definitely packs a punch. Anyway, gotta dash - lunch beckons and that lineup at the salad bar is getting murderous.

Forks Over Knives

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  • Directed and written by Lee Fulkerson
  • Starring fruits, veggies, grains, legumes
  • Classification: PG
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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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