THE DOCUMENTARY film Forks Over Knives is saddled with the worst title I’ve seen in decades. It also suffers from a severe case of moderation and reasonableness in a culture in which ignorant extremism usually carries the day. This is too bad, because the movie happens to tell a story that holds at least half the answer to America’s health-care crisis.
The makers of Forks Over Knives are here to tell us that many of our most common, and expensive, diseases—diabetes, heart disease, even some cancers—are the result of a bad diet. The film follows several individual patients, including the director, Lee Fulkerson, who suffer from multiple chronic ailments. They come under the care of a doctor who prescribes a radically low-fat, plant-based regimen of whole grains, legumes, fresh produce, and exercise. Within months all of the patients, director included, have shed dozens of pounds, cancelled their many costly prescriptions, and rendered redundant the army of medical specialists, technicians, and health insurance bureaucrats they had formerly employed.
Forks Over Knives is based on research by Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell and Cleveland Clinic physician Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. Campbell was one of the lead researchers for the China-Cornell-Oxford Project, a study of diet and health that tracked 6,500 people over two decades and found hundreds of statistically significant associations between the consumption of animal protein and the occurrence of heart disease and cancer. Meanwhile, at the Cleveland Clinic, Esselstyn, an endocrinologist by training, was working with a group of heart patients whom the clinic’s cardiologists had essentially given up for dead. He placed them on a low-fat, all-plant diet, with astounding results.