Sometimes A Documentary Can Change Your Life
Remember Galileo's story? In early 1600s, the scientist argued that ours is a sun-centred solar system and not an earth-centred one. At that time majority of educated people subscribed to the Aristotelian geocentric view that the earth was the centre of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolved around the earth. Opposing this “truth” cost Galileo his freedom. But today the once beleaguered scientist is celebrated and his revolutionary ideas accepted as universal truths. I'd request you to keep the Galileo story at the back of your mind as you read on.
So the other night I was chilling and logged on Netflix, which -- based on the content I watched previously -- suggested “Forks Over Knives.” The impression I got was that it's a food show (I do watch quite a bit of food shows). As I embarked on the journey, I realised, much to my dismay, that it's a 96-minute long documentary, and although it was discussing food, it wasn't what I'd call a “food show.”
What is it then?
“Forks Over Knives” is a documentary (made in 2011) that advocates a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet as a way to avoid or reverse several chronic diseases. The film stresses that processed foods and oils should be avoided. Through an examination of the careers of American physician Caldwell Esselstyn and professor of nutritional biochemistry T Colin Campbell, “Forks Over Knives” claims that many life-threatening health issues – including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer – can be prevented and treated by eating a whole food, plant-based diet, avoiding processed food and animal protein.
I've been athletic for the most part of my young adult and adult life (working out 3-4 times a week etc.) and I've been a staunch supporter of the wonders of animal protein – the kind who counts how many grams of it are in each meal. Despite what's traditionally considered a “healthy lifestyle,” the annual cold/flu seems to get worse as I get older and so do lethargy, brain fog etc. I do have vegan friends and acquaintances and no matter how many times I've heard them harp on about how we carnivores are “mass murderers,” it didn't do squat to put a dent on my love for meat and dairy. You see, sermonising and emotional blackmailing never work on me; I need science and cold hard logic if I am to change my views, and that is what this [not so] little documentary gave me: science, data, case studies, and logic.
At the risk of overreaching, I'd say what “An Inconvenient Truth” did for global warming, “Forks Over Knives” does for a plant-based diet.
Dr Campbell and Dr Esselstyn have spent the majority of their careers researching the benefits of moving away from animal products toward a plant-based diet. They also practice what they preach, following the diet themselves. Both doctors, as well as several other experts who are interviewed in the film, have used the diet to treat chronically ill patients, all apparently successfully. But the film makes clear that a plant-based diet is beneficial for everyone, not just the sick.
The film takes an empirical approach to the debate about the place of animal products in the Western diet, with an argument centred more on the health benefits of the diet rather than any championing of animal rights. It's a head-over-heart approach that relies on the audience being inspired by so many different people apparently changing their lives by changing what they eat.
The film also provides an overview of the 20-year long China-Cornell-Oxford Project that led to Dr Campbell's findings, outlined in his book, “The China Study” (2005) in which he suggests that coronary artery disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer can be linked to the Western diet of processed and animal-based foods (including dairy products). The study looked at mortality rates from cancer and other chronic diseases from 1973–75 in 65 counties in China; the data was correlated with 1983–84 dietary surveys and blood work from 100 people in each county. The research was conducted in those counties because they had genetically similar populations that tended, over generations, to live and eat in the same way in the same place.
Whole food, plant-based diet vs. vegan diet
The former promotes eating whole, unrefined or minimally refined plant-based foods. Those who adapt the lifestyle will base their diets around foods such as whole grains, legumes, tubers, vegetables, and fruits. The common element between the two diets is being averse to animal-based protein. Here's the easiest distinction between the two — people who are vegan can eat potato chips, dalpuri and singara with aloo, and people who are on a whole food, plant-based diet cannot eat these.
Where do we go from here?
I've just had the epiphany; I don't think I'll go cold turkey. I still love omelette for breakfast. For now, I'm off chicken and beef. But I intend to gradually embrace the whole food, plant-based diet full-on. Dear reader [if you've managed to patiently read up to this point], I'm not urging you to make the transition. It's your journey. What I'm asking is, watch the documentary with an open mind.