Late last week, I watched the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and I have been unable to stop thinking about it since. I think it is one of the most important films that has been made this year, and that every person in our country should watch it.
A quick synopsis: Forks Over Knives examines the claim that most degenerative diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and obesity, can be reversed by following a whole foods, plant-based diet. The film follows the lives and careers of the pioneers in plant-based cuisine research, Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (two super cool 70-year-old dudes who look pretty awesome). These two guys discovered the links between animal protein and disease, then went on to solidify their findings with groundbreaking medical trials in many parts of the world. The film also features patients with various ailments including hypertension, insomnia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. These patients are followed during their treatment, which consisted of a whole foods, plant-based diet alone. In fact, they were asked to discontinue the plethora of medications they were already using. In all cases, the patients reversed their illnesses within 12 weeks.
I have been trying to decide why this film had such a big impact on me. I mean, I am already a vegetarian and I promote healthy eating. I eat a vegan diet probably 95% of the time, occasionally eating some cheese or a piece of fish when I want. Don't I already know this stuff? Why did this film hit me so hard?
There are a couple different answers to this, but here is the first. I had no idea that the connection between meat and cancer had been so clearly established. The film features a number of studies showing that countries who consume the least amount of meat have the least number of cancer-related deaths, and countries with the highest meat consumption have the highest rate of cancer-related deaths. So basically, eat lots of meat, get lots of cancer.
Why is this not public? Why is this not a huge story on every news program? "We Now Know How to Prevent Cancer!" is a pretty big freaking deal, right? And yet, we hear nothing. The promotion of veganism (a word carefully avoiding in the film to avert negative connotations) is still considered to be a "fringe' idea and associated with terms like hippie, liberal, animal-lover, and tree-hugger. When in reality, we should be associating veganism with cancer-hating, heart health-loving people. Why do people get so mad when you suggest that we should consider eating less meat?
Another reason this film shocked me was the proven concept that a plant-based, whole foods diet can actually reverse many chronic illnesses. Major dietary reform can reverse the progression of type II diabetes and heart disease in many cases, which means less pills, less surgeries, and less repeat patients. In a country that is struggling to health pay for the healthcare of a sick and aging population, isn't this a ridiculously important finding?
I rarely get this worked up, and I usually keep my dietary convictions to myself. I like the way I eat, and when people ask me about it, I tell them and help them eat better. But this film pissed me off. We are a smarter people than this. Currently, over 1/3 of our children are obese. Who can honestly say that we do not have a problem here?
Before I move on, I do need to mention the criticism of this film. Some reviewers call into question the conclusions drawn by these studies, saying that there were not enough factors tested, causality and correlation aren't the same, etc. Some also have a problem with the film interchangeable talking about meat and processed foods as part of the problem.
In short, the film is not perfect, and that's ok with me. What is impossible NOT to determine from all the information gathered is that a choosing plant-based, whole foods diet is one of the best health decisions you can make in your lifetime.
This film re-energized my own health goals. As I said, I have been a vegetarian for about 4 years now; however, sometimes I forget the simple fact that whole = better. . While I already have a healthy diet, I have a tendency to rely on vegan mayo, non-whole-grain breads and tortillas, chips, crackers, and some other pantry items that are not quite in their natural state. I also tend to use as much oil as I want in every single dish. Don't get me wrong, I will still treat myself to deliciously sinful vegan sandwiches once in a while (and blog about them), but when I'm not getting fancy, I'm gonna keep it clean.
So, to conclude this epic blog post...
I am not suggesting that everyone in this country needs to be vegan. I'm not even vegan. I don't think that choosing a healthy lifestyle has to be about absolutes. It's about what comprises the majority of your diet that counts. What I hope is that we, as a country, can acknowledge the fact that we are in bad health, that our diets are to blame, and that we have the power to change it.
I encourage all of you, vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, carnivores, junk-food-junkies alike - to watch this movie and share your thoughts.
I will leave you with a recipe adapted from the companion book to the film. I made some changes and the result was pretty scrumptious. Enjoy!
Easy Quesadillas (Adapted from Forks over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health)
Cheese Filling Ingredients
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon water
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon miso
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Ten large whole-wheat tortillas
1 jar salsa
1 can vegan refried beans
1 cup cooked greens (i used collard)
1 bunch scallions
1. Combine cheese filling in food processor and blend until smooth. Add a little more water if neccessary. Consistency should be thick but spreadable (like hummus).
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
3. Spread a thin later of "cheese filling" on one tortilla. Top with a thin layer of refried beans, sprinkle with greens, spread with a few drops of salsa and cover with green onions.
4. Top with the second tortilla and gently place in heated skillet. Dry fry for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Flip carefully.
5. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
6. Serve hot topped with additional salsa if desired.