Virgil Films // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 10th, 2011
Join the conversation that's changing the way America eats.
The argument being made by Lee Fulkerson's Forks Over Knives is simple and direct: everyone needs to switch to a whole foods plant based diet if they want to avoid heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. The documentary doesn't rely as much on shocking scare tactics (graphic slaughterhouse footage, etc.) for its impact, and the effect it has on the viewer reflects that. After viewing many food documentaries, many people will look at a hamburger and think, "That's really kind of gross," for the next week or two. After watching Forks Over Knives, odds are that hamburger will look just as delicious but even more foreboding, for now the viewer is fully aware of the potential long-term health risks of eating such food.
Fulkerson introduces himself as a rather ordinary American with a rather ordinary diet: he eats meat, suffers from low energy (drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages helps him get through each day), is a little heavier than he'd like to be, and has some bad health numbers. He consults a physician who puts him on a whole foods plant based diet for a period of three months. While we wait for the results of this experiment, Fulkerson supplies us with a host of information on the benefits of this diet and the dangers of animal-based products.
What Forks Over Knives is promoting a vegan diet, of course. However, we only hear the word "vegan" spoken once in the entire film; by a mixed martial arts champion who addresses some of the negative stereotypes attached to the word. When people hear "vegan," odds are a very particular sort of person springs to mind: a thin, snooty, liberal hipster who's constantly looking down on carnivores when he/she isn't busy attending Greenpeace meetings, riding their electric scooter or bobbing their wool cap-bedecked head at indie rock concerts. The film works very hard to avoid being a film that feels like it was made by and for that particular crowd, primarily using logic and hard facts to make its case in a firm but entirely reasonable manner.
There are a lot of issues boiling beneath the surface of the film, some of which might be worth exploration in other documentaries: morality (or lack thereof) in the modern food industry, the difference between animals given a natural diet and those on unhealthy industrial diets, the collusion between the federal government and certain food industries (the dairy industry in particular), the marginalization of scientists who challenge accepted norms and the strange politics of food consumption in today's world. There are times when we wish Fulkerson would dig a little deeper into these areas, but he generally stays focused on the his "the whole foods plant based diet is fantastic for your health" idea, which is convincing.
Even so, it's obviously going to be difficult for most viewers (myself included) to really take the advice of this documentary to heart. Heck, making the small dietary changes I've made up to this point in time have been difficult (chiefly, cutting back on the amount of meat I eat -- particularly red meat -- and getting rid of my reliance on caffeine), and I can only imagine how challenging it would be to adopt this approach cold turkey. Could I cut out meat entirely? Yeah, I'm quite positive I could. But to cut out dairy products, too? That would be immensely challenging. Even so, the question of whether or not to adopt a plant-based diet is presented as a challenge similar to the ones smokers, alcoholics and drug addicts face: either bite the bullet and make a major lifestyle change or prepare yourself for the consequences. One of the doctors interviewed admits that the diet is regarded by many as extreme, but correctly suggests that it's a lot less extreme than having heart surgery.
While I found Forks Over Knives informative and thoughtfully provocative, I do have a couple of issues with it. On a technical level, I feel Fulkerson sometimes grows a little too distracted by the countless smaller issues connected to his larger theme, and the second half of the documentary sometimes feels a little scattershot (though never dull) as a result. In terms of the actual content, I can't help but be skeptical about some of the claims being made: while I certainly believe that animal-based products are connected to all kinds of diseases, I can't help but suspect that much of this has to do with the way the livestock industry is run today (after all, humans have been consuming animal-based products since long before many of the diseases connected to those products even existed). Additionally, I think the documentary could be a little more cautious in the promotion of the healing powers of a vegan diet. While it's been proven that certain health problems can be reversed with a proper diet, the documentary subtly, casually suggests that one can cure cancer with nothing other than fruits and veggies.
Forks Over Knives arrives on Blu-ray sporting a handsome 1080p/1.78:1 transfer, though there's not exactly many visual marvels to observe. You get a lot of talking heads, a few unremarkable locations, plenty of stock footage and quite a few CGI graphs to look at. Still, the level of detail is quite strong throughout and blacks are satisfyingly deep. Audio is solid 80% of the time, but several of the interviews sound absolutely horrible. If you close your eyes, you'll think you're listening to an archival television interview from the '60s rather than a brand-new conversation captured with modern technology. The level of distortion present during these interviews is nearly enough to make the documentary seem unprofessional. In the supplemental department, you get a handful of additional short video pieces to browse through: "Food as Medicine," "What About Organic Meat and Dairy?," "The Latest on Diabetes," "Benefits From Plant-Based Diets," "Tax Dollars for Dairy" and "Filmmakers Discuss Forks Over Knives."
While Forks Over Knives isn't the strongest food-themed documentary I've seen (that remains the haunting, wordless Our Daily Bread), it does a reasonably good job of making its case and should inspire some valuable further discussion. If you have an open mind about dietary issues (as we all should, given the countless shifts in scientific consensus on numerous issues over the years), it's worth a look.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Virgil Films
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Official Site