In 2008, real estate manager Brian Wendel read The China Study by Dr T Colin Campbell and realised that the scientific case of whole foods and a plant-based diet could prevent and even reverse degenerative diseases was more powerful than he had imagined.
“I realised that more people needed to be informed of this concept, and the best way to do it was by making a film,” says Wendel, who spent two years producing his first — Forks over Knives, which released in August last year. “I featured doctors who were researching and treating people suffering from degenerative diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer solely by changing their lifestyle to a whole foods plant-based diet. The challenge was to get experts to give us time from their busy schedules, and editing the extensive footage down to 90 minutes,” he recalls, over the phone from California.
“The reaction has been overwhelming. We are flooded with comments on our Facebook page. The movie is part of the larger health movement we have initiated. We upload four to five new blog posts on our website every week. Our future plans include a cookbook with around 300 recipes and guidelines on low fat plant-based cooking. A second movie is also in the pipeline,” he adds.
Forks Over Knives opens with a few hard-hitting facts. Sample this — every US citizen carries extra 23 pounds; this is the first generation of US citizens to live for fewer years than its parents; forty per cent of the country is obese and half of it are on prescribed drugs. The health budget of the country is five times more than the defense budget, but ‘we are sicker than ever,’ the narrator announces.
If that’s not enough, the US spends $120 billion on medicine every year, and one out of every three newborns is likely to have diabetes. ‘And the answer is not a pill’ the narrator warns. The solution, he says, is a plant-based whole foods diet, which prevents and reverses degenerative diseases.
The film traces the journey of two doctors, Dr Colin Campbell and Caldwell B Esselstyn, and their work in the field of a whole foods plant-based diet. The film simultaneously takes you through the evolution of the American diet, which turned to ‘convenient foods’ like burgers and fries in the 1950s, upping the rate of cardiac arrests in the 1960s. The message is driven home best by the lifestyle change in the case studies who turn to the plant-based diet. The case studies include Lee Fulkerson, whose test reports say his cholesterol is 241 and his C-reactive protein (CRP) is 6, which indicates that he is at a high risk of cardiac arrest. There is Joey Aucoin, a 45 year-old who was diagnosed in 2006 with dangerously high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. “I live to eat,” he says, explaining his pill regimen each morning. It includes two pills for diabetes, one for cholesterol, one for high blood pressure, and one injectable medicine. The film then takes you through the treatments the doctors put these two under, among others, through — from going shopping for food to helping them cook healthier meals. The idea is to reinforce the fact that food is the best medicine.
The stories of boxer Mac Danzig and firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who give up animal-based food in spite of their professions is an eye-opener. While Danzig feels energetic and recovers from injuries faster, Esselstyn inspires the men in his Texas firehouse to turn vegan and discovers the lightness that comes with it. Maybe that’s the solution for a well-documented problem. “Real men eat plants,” Esselstyn chants, climbing up a pole.
Campbell concludes that if Americans adopt plant-based diets, the country could save 70-80 per cent on healthcare costs.