… and then they screw it all up.

If I had to sum-up the general message of the movie, it would go something like this with where I agree in blue and where I disagree in red:

Most Western diseases, namely CHD, diabetes and cancer, can be greatly reduced by a large-scale change to our dietary habits from the standard American diet to a whole food plant-only diet.

The movie is largely a commercial for the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr.¬†Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. who both promote a whole food plant-based diet. I will not perform a thorough review of either of their bodies of work. Someone has done a way more awesomer job than I could have critiquing Campbell’s China Study. What I will do is say a few quick things specifically about how the movie was made that you should keep in mind if you decide to watch it.

***UPDATE*** 9/23: Denise Minger (the ‘someone’ I mentioned above) wrote a much longer, much more in-depth review here.

First, it’s a documentary and it follows the common new documentary process: Some sciencey talk, the filmmaker’s personal success or experience, some other testimonials and heart string tugging stuff, cool animations that make it easy for you to understand complex statistics or complicated physiological processes in a way that is inaccurate or misleading, and hefty dose of bias. Oh, and don’t forget about “the man” in whatever form – big government, big pharma,etc.

The most egregious (that one is for Jeff – he likes that word) offense is when presenting the outcomes of Dr. Campbell’s work regarding casein protein (found in dairy) and cancer. In short, expose rats to aflatoxin (a carcinogen). Then feed them either 20% or 5% casein protein. The 20% group develops cancer, the 5% group not as much. The conclusion is supposedly that casein causes cancer, or at least allows it to flourish in the presence of carcinogens. Instead of leaving it there, the filmmakers then switch the term from “casein protein” to “animal protein” and show piles of meat on a grill while still talking cancer…

Listen up. You can’t do that. Casein is only found in dairy and those studies’ conclusions cannot be extrapolated to all animal protein. Period. Using science improperly to mislead your audience should be punishable by 30 Gibbs-style smacks upside the head.

We’re given a false dichotomy: Western Diet or Plant-Based Diet. Such is not the case. What makes it worse is that the definition of the Western diet changes suddenly, one second referring to cake and donuts and the next about animal products. Like when Dr. Pam Popper is speaking about changing her health destiny:

“My diet was pretty abominable. I thought the two principle food groups were caffeine and sugar.”

What the hell does that have to do with animal foods? How about the story of Evelyn Oswick, who says

“(I) ate all the chocolate candy I could eat. Ate every donut I could get my hands on. Oh I just loved things like that. A lot of gravy.”

Mmmmm. Meat donuts? You can’t point to a few people, or an entire nation of people, who have the problems associated with a variety of poor nutritional habits and lump it under one name (Western diet) and then paint that name with animal blood. 30 more head smacks!

I promised myself I wouldn’t spend too much time on this because I could go step by step through the movie and give my two cents. It just kills me to see a film come so close to a good answer to a very serious problem, and then take a hard right turn into Propagandaville.

Forks Over Knives Comes Real Close to Getting it Right
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