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September 19, 2015

1

Forks Over Knives

by Franz Patrick


Forks Over Knives (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

When there are reports that an average person in America is twenty-three pounds overweight; that one in five American children are considered to be obese; and that cancers, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic heart conditions can be solved simply by switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet, one cannot help but pay attention. And yet although “Forks Over Knives,” directed by Lee Fulkerson, means well, some of the studies presented tend to leave a lot of pertinent questions unanswered. In addition, it makes careless assumptions based on supposed hard evidence.

Its approach mainly consists of presenting medical doctors and scientists who have made and are making an impact in supporting the diet that consists strictly of whole foods and plants. While these professionals on screen are impressive, the picture neglects to provide a counterpoint—medical doctors and scientists who do not support the diet. By having only people who agree on the same thing, the interviews end up quite repetitive and dull.

I found some of the charts to be troubling in presentation. Some of the animated diagrams are quite beautiful. A standout involves “stretch” and “density” receptors on the stomach which is meant to explain on a very elementary level, appropriate given the target audience, how we get the feeling of satiation. Another is the “cancer atlas” of China which involves a massive study that focuses on eating habits and cancer.

But when it summons bar and line graphs coupled with a voice explaining what the bars and the lines mean, one ought to look or listen more closely. For instance, at one point it brings up the average amount of sugar, dairy, processed foods, and the like that are consumed by a typical person. However, one bar depicts, for example, data that is gathered in 2006 and another bar on the same chart is supposed to be data acquired in 1999. Assumptions are made based on these graphs—that are not even based on the same year. The lack of consistency leaves room for significant misrepresentation.

Supporters of the vegan diet traverse dangerous grounds when they make claims that simply eating whole foods and vegetables can reverse even the worst chronic and degenerative diseases. While they have some data that seem to support their claims, making very general statements is misleading. The truth is their data can only support—not prove—some of their claims on some of the diseases. For instance, there has not been a study of every type of cancer based on the whole food, plant-based diet. Cancer goes through remission even if one is not on the diet in consideration. The picture does not even discern between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

What do I believe in? I believe in moderation, being in control of your body and your choices, and choosing to live a physically and mentally active lifestyle. In order words, I believe in eating steak and having a slice (or two) of chocolate cake and then choosing to go to the gym to burn it off after a couple of hours or the next day.

What I do not believe in is a panacea. An approach that works for you may not work for me. “Take this pill and you’ll get better” or “Go on this diet and you’ll get better.” The difference is scant.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Sep 19 2015

    I saw and reviewed this movie last year, but every time someone brings it up, the more I realized how flawed “Forks over Knives” is. It’s a film with fundamentally interesting ideas in an important discussion on diet, but it’s set back so much by its blandness as a documentary and, as you said, careless assumptions. – Ken B.

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