Recently I was diagnosed with diabetes. My doctor recommended I eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat and processed foods. I changed my diet accordingly, and since then my blood sugar level has gone down and I feel more energetic. So I was naturally interested when I heard about Lee Fulkerson’s documentary, Forks Over Knives, which argues that if people were to switch to a plant-based diet, the incidence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes would go down. The film mainly follows the careers of two doctors, T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn. Campbell did a nutrition study in the Phillippines, where he discovered to his surprise that children from wealthy families had a higher incidence of liver cancer. He noted that these children tended to consume more meat and dairy products than poorer children did. He later conducted a study in China, in which he found that in areas where people had adopted a “Western diet” – increased consumption of meat, dairy products and processed foods – there was a higher incidence of cancer. This led him to the conclusion that large amounts of animal protein can trigger the development of cancer cells in some people.
Esselstyn was a surgeon who specialized in coronary bypass surgery. His work with heart attack patients led him to the conclusion that a plant-based diet reduces the incidence of heart disease. He argues that improved diet can reduce the need for surgery (hence the film’s title: “forks over knives”.) The film features various interviews with people who have adopted plant-based diets. It also follows Fulkerson as he tries this same diet.
It has been largely forgotten that up until the twentieth century most people did not consume a lot of animal protein. I remember years ago reading Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. At one point Marx says that Bonaparte bribed the soldiers in the French army by giving them sausages. I remember thinking that those soldiers were awfully easy to please. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in nineteenth century France sausages were probably a luxury for most people. Go into any supermarket nowadays and you will find row after row of sausages in the meat section. What has changed is that modern refrigeration has made it cheaper and easier to store and transport meat and dairy products. Also the development of factory farms has made these foods cheaper. The result is that many people now eat more animal protein than is really good for them.
I highly recommend seeing this film.