Book Review: Forks over Knives (2011)

The plant-based way to health
Edited by Gene Stone

Reposted on the occasion of the editor’s 50-year high school reunion near Kansas City, one-time center of the euphemistically termed ‘meat processing’ industry, especially cattle, and hence a barbecue bonanza. Thus for the few days of my visit I’ve taken a break from my mostly vegetarian diet to eat fine BBQ like the natives—and have suffered the digestive tract consequences. This book/DVD is what led me to embrace the vegetarian way, for health reasons, but also for humanitarian ones. — bw

A seismic revolution in health will not come from a pill, procedure, or operation. It will occur only when the public is endowed with nutritional literacy, the kind of knowledge portrayed in Forks over Knives and highlighted by this book. — From the foreword.

You are what you eat. That’s the important lesson of this game-changing book, which is the recipe-containing companion to a documentary film that doubles as a quiet heroic story of struggle and victory. Victory of the truth over decades, even centuries, of lies and misconceptions about the food we consume. In a nutshell the argument of Forks over Knives—the title is intended to suggest the conquest of the ‘knives’ of surgery by the ‘forks’ of eating the right foods—is that changing from an animal-based diet to a whole-foods, plant-based diet will not only make you dramatically healthier, it will prevent and even cure disease… the big ones: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer—most of the time, and within a matter of weeks.

Book and DVD movie features these health pioneers:

T. Colin Campbell PhD… Himself
Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. MD… Himself
Neal Barnard MD… Himself
Junshi Chen PhD… Himself
Connie Diekman MEd RD FADA… Herself
David Klurfeld PhD… Himself
Matthew Lederman MD… Himself
Doug Lisle PhD… Himself
Terry Mason MD… Himself
Joey Aucoin … Himself
Gene Baur … Himself
San’Dera Brantley-Nation … Herself
Mac Danzig … Himself
Rip Esselstyn … Himself
Ruth Heidrich … Herself

As world-renowned health-researcher pioneer T. Colin Campbell, PhD, puts it, “I have never seen a more effective, universal medical cure for most human disease than eating plant-based, whole foods; the results are truly astounding.” Or words to that effect. His counterpart in the practice of Western heart medicine, surgeon Caldwell B. Esselstyn, MD, came to the conclusion in his practice that eating meat, dairy, and oils injures the lining of our blood vessels, causing heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. In the book he states: “Heart disease is the great paper tiger of our time. A whole-food, plant-based diet will cut 80% of our health care costs in America, practically overnight.” Or words to that effect.

So what’s the difference between what Campbell and Caldwell (and several other doctors and health professionals in the book) advocate/practice and what vegetarians and vegans practice?[1] Nothing really, although some vegetarians make exceptions for white meat, dairy, and eggs; the FOK diet is strict vegetarian, but its promoters do not present it as a mandate, rather a direction… for one’s own good. And one based on the best science and practice. FOK has been a long time coming, some 30 years. I even feel some connection with it on political grounds when one considers the decades long struggle to bring the philosophy of liberty to the world’s center stage as it is now.

Dr. Campbell mentions that growing up on a small dairy farm, he adopted the view that “milk was the perfect food,” which any Baby Boomer can tell you was the mantra of our era as well. Colin is best known for the best-selling book The China Study (1981-2005), which he coauthored with his son, Thomas M. Campbell, MD. The book represents the culmination of Colin’s work as well as his two-decade research partnership with Cornell, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. It ties the consumption of animal-protein-based foods to the development of cancer and heart disease, noting that casein, a protein found in the milk from mammals, is [in high amounts] ‘the most relevant carcinogen ever identified.’ [Believe me, the DVD dives into the Old Paradigm forces in government and Big AgraPharma that don’t want to hear this message.]

On the medical-practice front, following a parallel path, Caldwell Esselstyn began to perform long-term research on arresting and reversing coronary artery disease. He published his results in a book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, in 1995. He found that whenever people ate a plant-based diet, cancer and cardiovascular disease were rare. “To do the study, we recruited 24 patients from his Cleveland Clinic’s cardiovascular department, people who had basically been told to go home and prepare for death. We put them on a plant-based diet. Every one of them who followed the diet lived without any more incidents of heart disease.”

It’s worth noting that Esselstyn won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics in rowing. Now, in his late 70s, that robustness still shows. He has a lean and self-assured demeanor of a champion, which probably accounts for not so many of his professional colleagues crossing him or challenging his findings. The guy touches all the bases, and in the DVD, patients attest that ‘Es’ is always the perfect gentleman, but possessed of an iron will; if you don’t follow the discipline you’re off the program.

Several other medical and health research professionals are featured in the DVD, including:

  • Naturopath Pam Popper, ND—executive director of the Wellness Forum, which offers educational programs to help individuals improve their health and companies reduce their healthcare costs; she also lectures and writes, and is a consultant with Whole Foods Market.
  • Alona Pulde, MD, and Matthew Lederman, MD—Alona and Matt both trained to be cardiologists, but came upon the works of Campbell, John McDougall, and Esselstyn; now they incorporate a whole-foods, plant-based diet as an integral part of their private medical practice.
  • Gene Baur—author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food, Mr. Baur stresses the humanitarian aspect of ceasing the violence against other sentient beings for the purpose of eating them or wearing them.

Combine the commentary from the above professionals with actual life-saving stories of those who participate in the FOK practice, and the book makes for a mind-opening experience. And I haven’t even mentioned the environmental impact of animal consumption [if every American simply reduced chicken consumption by one meal per week, the CO2 savings would be equivalent to removing 500,000 cars from the road]. As Roger Ebert states on the jacket of the documentary DVD, “This movie can save your life.”

Needless to speculate, but certainly worthwhile to do so, ‘walking through the door’ of SunFLOWerfood-driven health and well being has enormous political ramifications. Ending violence toward other animals will certainly translate to ending violence toward other human beings, and we can live with the health and love for life that Nature meant us to have.

[1] Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products. Ethical vegans reject the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, while dietary vegans or strict vegetarians eliminate them from their diet only.


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