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January 31, 2012


“Forks Over Knives”

by Anne Paddock

A few weeks ago, my friend, Kathy recommend a book called “Forks Over Knives” and also the movie of the same title.  Her 13-year old son had decided several years before that he wasn’t going to eat anything that had eyes and became a vegetarian. In her search for information on a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, she came across this book and movie.

“Forks over Knives” was written and edited by three people:
  • T. Colin Campbell, PhD who was educated at Penn State and Cornell and has been a tenured full professor at Cornell since 1975;
  • Caldwell B. Esselystyn, Jr., MD who was educated at Yale and Case Western Reserve and has been associated with The Cleveland Clinic since 1968 as a surgeon and most recently running the Cardiovascular Prevention and Reversal Program at the hospital; and
  • Gene Stone, a Stanford and Harvard graduate who is a writer and vegan.
If you’re not a reader, then consider watching the movie – a 90 minute film that covers parts of the book: personal histories, case studies, research results, and why Americans need to change from a meat based diet to a whole food and plant based diet.

The 200-page book is divided into two parts:  the first 56 pages focus on how the writers and the people involved in the whole food and plant-based diet movement came to believe in what most Americans would call an alternative diet and why this diet makes sense.  They make their case convincingly and most readers would be hard pressed to close the book and eat a chicken caesar salad much less a burger or pizza.

The second part of the book is devoted to recipes that are intended to entice the reader to give the diet a chance.  Popping a pill, having surgery and returning to a diet that will significantly shorten life is the path of least resistance (and of great enjoyment for many).  But instead of swallowing 10 mg of lipitor (the largest prescribed drug in the world according to the authors) every day, why not consider changing the diet that is causing you to take the lipitor?  Sounds reasonable to me but we all know that reasonableness doesn’t equate to ease. So, the provision of 125 recipes opens the door.

When I first started the book, I thought the significance of Forks over Knives is that eating plant-based foods requires a fork whereas meat requires a knife. But, my interpretation was wrong; the real significance is that “it is far better to rely on food (i.e. using a fork) than surgery (i.e. the surgeon’s knife). The writers, doctors, and people involved in this movement realized that “although western medicine is good at diagnosis and treatment, it is abysmal at prevention.” Instead of treating medical problems with prescriptions and surgery, why not step back and change the biggest contributing factor – the western meat based diet?

The problem in our country is that processed foods, meat and dairy are so ingrained in our diet that anything else seems strange to most people. We all know people who have rolled their eyes or dismissed vegetarians or vegans as militant outcasts at a dinner party or restaurant. It’s not easy going against the grain. As the authors so clearly point out, most of us think we need meat for protein and dairy products for calcium but we really don’t. Whole food and plant-based diets provide adequate sources of protein, calcium and all the vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy lifestyle.

The authors also point out the problem with food labeling. We live in a country where the FDA allows manufacturers to put “Fat Free” on a can of cooking spray (when in fact, the contents are 100% fat or neatly 100% fat) because the portion size – a spray – is not deemed large enough to warrant proper labeling.

In fact, a 6 ounce can of PAM original cooking spray is primarily made up on canola oil – 170 grams. Each gram of canola oil equals one gram of fat which means there are 170 grams of fat in that 6 ounce can whose label says there is no fat per serving.  How do they get away with it?  The FDA guidelines say that any food that contains less than a half gram of fat can be called “fat free.”  Because the 6 ounce can of spray specifies a serving as a 1/4 second spray or a 1/4 gram serving, the manufacturer – ConAgra Foods – is permitted to label the spray as fat free when, in fact, it isn’t. The bottom line:  don’t rely on labels…read the ingredients list.

When I closed the book, I had no doubt that a whole food and plant-based diet is the right way to live but is a diet that relies primarily on fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes practical and enjoyable?  For some, yes. Others, clearly no. The writers make the plant-based lifestyle look effortless but changing one’s diet permanently is not easy or effortless. In fact, following a whole foods and plant-based diet will take an enormous amount of discipline and time if fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes are not currently part of your diet and if you just happen to love the taste of meat.

Last week, my daughter suggested we try a vegan diet for a week. Dietary vegans do not eat any animal products; in other words, vegans live on a whole food and plant-based diet. In theory, a vegan diet sounded like a possibility as I have never been meat eater (and I abhor how animals are raised for slaughter in this country). But, I started thinking deeper about a vegan commitment and realized there would be no milk in my morning cup of coffee, no fresh parmesan cheese grated on my pasta, no butter on my toast, and horrors of all horrors – no butter or eggs in baking.  On the positive side, we would continue to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and pasta which probably makes up 80% of my grocery cart anyway.

In a preliminary test, I decided to try a recipe from the book and thought the “Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies” would be an option since my daughter had just asked me to make cookies. The recipe calls for oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, bananas, apple juice and raisins.  I took out my juicer, made juice from fresh apples and patted myself on the back for using fresh juice. The recipe was easy and within 30 minutes, I had a plate full of cookies. The book describes these cookies as “moist and delicious.” I would describe them as moist and ok. My daughter described them as looking like “turds” and after tasting one, suggested we use them as dog treats. So, I added a few chocolate chips to the next batch and we both agreed they were infinitely better and actually good.  But then again, everything is better with chocolate.

According to the authors, the average American is carrying 23 extra pounds; one-third of Americans are obese and two-thirds are overweight. The problem is not the weight per se but what the weight does to us in terms of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a host of other maladies.  Our diet is making us sick and shortening our lives and people are in denial, don’t care, don’t have the resources to pursue a healthier diet, or don’t have the discipline to follow a diet that is counter to what our culture is telling us to eat. I can’t help but think there must be something in between because it’s going to take a long time to change the eating habits in this country.  The authors say we have to look at the solution in terms of prevention instead of treatment.  In other words, forks over knives.
1 Comment
  1. Dania
    Feb 2 2012

    It’s wonderful that we are all thinking about changing the cause of diseases, instead of just treating the symptoms– with medication and surgery.
    Dr. Caldwell and Dr. Esselystyn were the speakers in Palm Beach last week, at a wellness and aging symposium sponsored by MorseLife. After hearing about their intensive reasearch and incredible findings, I was convinced that following a plant based diet would perhaps save me from my parents’ cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I sent the Forks over Knives DVD and book to my brothers in hopes that they will adopt this plan as well.
    I suggest that you to go to, where Rip Esselystyn (son of Dr. E.) further describes a plant based diet. Whole Foods has partnered with him to produce “Engine 2” foods that should be available in their stores sometime in the next few weeks.

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