Mountain Lakes, NJ
The film "Forks Over Knives" makes a passionate and convincing plea for a "plant-based whole foods" diet, which it defines to be a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes. It highlights the research of two men; one has studied many groups of people and the other is a cardiologist. It also includes stories of people whose lives and/or health has apparently been salvaged by switching to such a diet under the care of the aforementioned cardiologist or a married pair of family physicians.
"Forks Over Knives" begins with some frightening statistics. The average American is 23 pounds overweight. Forty percent of Americans are obese. Half take prescription drugs. We spend far more per capita on health care than any other country. (Elsewhere I've read it is twice as much per capita as the second most expensive country.)
"Let food be thy medicine," said Hippocrates a couple of millennia ago.
Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Caldwell Esselstem, M.D. were born within months of each other in 1933 and 1934. They are both still animated speakers and professionals. Both were raised on farms (in Virginia and New York, respectively) and were taught, "Milk is the most perfect food."
"Milk is for calves!" exclaims Dr. Campbell.
Since their childhood, average American meat consumption has risen from 120 to 220 pounds a year and dairy consumption from 275 to 605 pounds. "Convenience foods" were introduced in the 1950's, including TV dinners, so people could consume more with less effort. In the 1960's heart disease began to rise.
The Farm Subsidy Bill was passed in 1973. Corn was a major beneficiary. This made possible a large production of high fructose corn syrup, which has permeated most of our prepared foods. The Chicago director of health observes that the poor are highly vulnerable to such calorie-rich, nutrition-poor food.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstem is a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, a very satisfying career he says. He does coronary bypasses, taking a vein from the patient's leg and using it in the heart to provide an alternative path for the blood after the original has been clogged. About five million such operations are performed each year in the U.S. at a cost of $100,000 each, so the total bill is a half a trillion dollars.
Dr. Colin Campbell is in the Department of Nutrition at Cornell University. He reports that the breast cancer rate in the U.S. is 82 times that of Kenya. One year Japan had 18 cases while the U.S. had about 14,000 with about twice the population. Why?
He found a clue in history. In 1939 the Nazis invaded Norway and confiscated all the livestock to feed the German troops. The Norwegian breast cancer rate had been steadily climbing since the 1920's, but it plummeted in 1939. After the Germans left and Norwegians resumed eating meat, their breast cancer rate skyrocketed to the 1938 level.
In the late nineteenth century, the value of protein was identified, and people were urged to eat meat as a source of it. The concept that we can get protein from plants is relatively new, and not yet widely accepted. Many people are shown answering the question, "Why eat meat?" by exclaiming "Protein!" The president of the American Dietetic Association proclaims that eating meat is essential for getting enough protein. Dr. Campbell craved an opportunity for a large-scale study of humans, meanwhile doing studies on rats that indicated a plant diet was preferable.
In 1976 the Chinese premier Chau Enlai was diagnosed with cancer. He died promptly, but first he started a study of cancer incidence in China. "The Cancer Atlas" was published in 1981; it revealed that the incidence of cancer was 400 times higher in some places than others. A Chinese scientist brought it to Dr. Campbell, who was delighted to see an opportunity for a massive study of 367 diet-related variables that might explain the huge disparity among people with similar genetic disposition. "We are all Chinese, so we all come from the same gene pool," observed his visitor. By 1983 Campbell had the funding and permission to begin a study of 67 Chinese counties, each of which had a stable population and lifestyle. In 1990 the results of the study were published, showing a large correlation between diet and cancer incidence.
Dr. Esselstem, who had already been dubbed, "Dr. Sprouts," read the study and the two men met. Earlier, he did a study of the most serious heart patients. "They gave me harder subjects than I really wanted," he observed. Most of the 24 "hard" cases had already "failed" at least one by-pass operation. Six dropped out, but the other eighteen all survived at least 20 years. He also believes he has saved 250 other patients after serious heart attacks by putting them on a plant-based diet.
The personal testimonies of patients included one who worked in a diabetes clinic and was diagnosed with serious diabetes. Somewhat afer accepting Dr. Esselsterm.s guidance, she was planning a trip to Walmart, and was contemplating some cheating by buying some food there. The phone rang. It was Dr. Esselstem's wife Ann telling her never to buy food at Walmart! She and many of the other patients said they had a tremendous increase in energy level after they went on a vegan diet.
Dr. Esselstem.s son Rick Esselstem was a long-distance runner for the first 15 years of his career. At age 34 he became a fire fighter. He convinced his colleagues to have a plant-based diet in the fire house. They were startled at how their energy increased. "Real men eat plants." He reports that seventy percent of their calls are for medical emergencies, which, he believes, are due to the standard American diet.
The film claims that 500 calories of plant food fills our stomach completely, but it takes many more calories of meat-based food. Humans have three basic desires: pleasure (primarily through eating and sex), avoiding pain, and minimizing energy expenditure. So we try to maximize pleasure with minimum effort. Fast foods fulfill this effort quickly in "the pleasure trap." Drugs and other processed food can too.
Why are Americans in these habits? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the public standards for eating. In 1956 it proclaimed the "four food groups," including meat as one. This became the .food pyramid. in 1992, which also put meat near the top. The diets provided in U.S. schools are far from healthy.
The problem is not just that heart disease is the number one cause of American deaths. It takes ten calories of grain to make one calorie of meat, so everyone on earth could be comfortably fed if we stopped feeding grain to livestock. Also, a United Nations report claims that raising livestock contributes more to climate change than transportation.
Dr. Campbell has paid a heavy price for his rebellious ideas at Cornell University. He was scolded, and the university even cancelled his very popular course. He concludes the film saying, "We could cut health care costs by seventy to eighty percent by a change in the American diet."
by Pat Kenschaft