Go vegan or die!

We all have one…or two, or five vegan friends. And if you do, chances are they have mentioned the recent documentary “Forks Over Knives.”

We all have one…or two, or five vegan friends. And if you do, chances are they have mentioned the recent documentary “Forks Over Knives.” The film has only seen a few select screenings, but it has still managed to make a significant impact on its viewers, and has caused quite a buzz.

You might have asked your meat-challenged friends, “What is the film about, anyway?” At best, you will get a response that goes something like, “Well, you just have to watch it.” Well, actually, now you don’t, though you should—just read on.

As an omnivore, you need not fear this movie and it is definitely worth a viewing. The film itself will pique your curiosity and offers a number of stimulating thoughts. In fact, the only downside might be the audience with which you find yourself watching it—it’s kind of like going to see “The Passion of the Christ” with a theater full of highly charismatic church groups.

“Forks Over Knives” is a rather well put-together documentary; a relief, given the plethora of infotainment-oriented documentaries so popular these days. It relates the stories of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, discovering links between the human diet and health—specifically the relation of diet to certain diseases and health conditions that plague many in the Western world. This is the foundation of the documentary; it then builds more informational structures upon this base.

In the end, the basic idea is that meat is bad—at least, it is the way we have been viewing it. Not because of cruelty, or because it makes hippies sad. But rather because, medically speaking, a meat-based diet can increase the threat of a number of illnesses from cancer to heart disease. The film goes further, reporting what doctors Campbell and Esselstyn have discovered: Plant based, whole food diets tend to produce healthier individuals and in many cases can reverse crippling diseases in patients.

A number of cases are presented as evidence, in addition to the scientific studies of both doctors—an elderly woman who is a gold medal marathon runner, a UFC fighter and a man who, over the course of the film, reverses many of his conditions, such as diabetes. There are also a number of other patients, some of whom were told years ago that they would not live much longer before starting a plant-based diet. They’re still around.

The film also provides a brief overview of how the Western diet evolved and why we think about food the way we do. Suspicious connections between the food industry and the Department of Agriculture—the department meant to oversee that industry—are made rather clear.

While “Forks Over Knives” is certainly worthy of watching, it is a documentary designed to present an argument—keep this in mind while watching. As with any documentary putting forth an agenda, one has to wonder what is either not being said or is being slanted. After watching the film—being a mere layman on such topics—I felt as if a number of informational and contextual gaps were left wide open.

One such gap is the issue of how one moves to and maintains a plant-based diet to begin with—this is the main message of the film, after all.

Contextual gaps also arise. For example, most people provided in the film as examples of healthy plant-eaters (one of whom is Dr. Esselstyn’s own son) also share something unique—they all got off their asses. And let’s face it, getting off our asses is not something Americans are known for. While they may be eating healthier, they are also running, lifting weights and engaging in other vigorous activities. So either this behavior could also be contributing to their success in staying healthy, or becoming vegan will automatically turn you into a UFC fighter capable of winning triathlons and being able to hike 10 floors with full firefighting gear on. Anyone with an interest in food or healthy diets might have a couple cents to throw in after watching this film. Debates will be sparked.

For the time being, this film is only making the rounds in spurts. It came to the Fox Tower last week, thanks to support from the nonprofit organization Northwest Veg, but is set for wide release on March 11, 2011.

It is difficult to argue against much of what is said in the film—at least, it is difficult for the average Joe with no medical degree. It is likely that people would be better off listening to the points put forth in the film and acting upon them by changing their diets to adopt more healthy and natural habits. Whether or not viewers want to go to the extremes that “Forks Over Knives” promotes is another issue altogether. Sure, I’ll stick to the produce aisles of my grocery store—but I’m still going fishing and lighting up my BBQ from time-to-time. ?