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Forks Over Knives

October 3, 2011

I recently watched the film, “Forks Over Knives” and was asked to write what I thought of the movie being a paleo buff, but more importantly as an objective scientist.  I take that very seriously: in my practice, in my writing and in my podcasting.  In all honesty, if you’re staying healthy and receiving results from any lifestyle that isn’t entirely destructive I’m happy for you.  Don’t expect me to not point out any flaws that I think may be deleterious to you long term success (as I would expect the same from any of my aforementioned means of providing information.  After all, is that not how science grows?  Point out flaws and study them until they’re proven or disproved?).  With that being said, this is what I thought of the movie.

From a entertainment standpoint it was a fairly well done documentary.  The agenda of the movie was well covered, featured the “titans of the industry” so to speak and provided all sorts of heart warming stories of success.  Additionally, I thought the movie addressed some poignant questions, but that’s really where it ended for me.

As health care provider and as a scientist think of myself as a pretty analytical person.  I want to see results and I want to see results posted in truth: no data conveniently left out (i.e. Ancel Keys).  From a scientific standpoint this movie had tremendous holes in its application.  What agenda was the movie promoting?  Well to hear the narrator describe it, we’d call it “whole food plant based.”  But if we’re getting real, we’re promoting veganism.  I get why the film was careful not to include the words vegan or vegetarian in the title or throughout the content.  They wanted to be looked at more scientifically sound than to come across as promoting a dogmatic movement.  But in the end, this is exactly what the doctors support, it is what they have applied and it is what the movie is trying to support.  Again, I have no problem with a film supporting or marketing such material, but when you as Mat Lalonde says, “people that make or overstate their claims or make mistakes are treated to a question and answer period that makes a CIA interrogation look like a teenybopper interview.”  Now I’m not quite as well versed in the chemistry and science (yet) as Dr. Lalonde, but I know enough to call shenanigans when I see it .  And that’s exactly what this film does with meat, thus, you must expect that any respectable scientist will call you out for what you are promoting… sensationalism.  Now I could write forever and break down every piece of information I found fault with in this movie, but I have people to see in practice yet and not enough time to do so.  Good news however is that a wonderful writer Denise Minger has already done so for you!  If you want to read (and I suggest you block off some time, because this is IN DEPTH and really well done) then here is the link


What I wanted to discuss briefly was the overall theme of the movie and how the material is presented.  That theme: meat causes disease and is killing us all.   For starters, the china study has been widely discredited by the scientific community for its lack of sound referencing as well as its lack of specificity. For example, the study included 367 variables and made 8000 correlations. This is far from scientific and cannot accurately draw causal relationships as such. Which leads me to my next point.
Over and over again they narrator and Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn draw reference to the fact that countries that produce meat have higher incidences of many different diseases. There conclusion is that this simply means that meat is the cause of such problems. The problem with this is that it’s not scientific and it doesn’t even make sense.

For example, if I take 6 students and pair them up so that 2 students study for a test for 60minutes, 2 for 65 and 2 for 75 minutes. Lets then assume that scores for the test are 61, 64,75,80,86 & 92 respectively. From that data I can assume a correlation between studying more and a better test score, but I cannot prove that it caused it. Some of the students that studied more may have just been smarter, perhaps one of the students studying less has a learning disability or another was up until 3am. the morning before the test causing he/she to score lower.

There are too many variables to confidently say that studying less causes a lower score or visa-versa. The problem is that is exactly what this movie and the China Study in particular are saying. Without taking into account the many other risk factors that are associated with the diseases mentioned they just assume that meat is the single cause to these many problems.

There are many well intended points made in the movie and you can tell these doctors have great passion for what they do and are out to help as many people as they can.  To that extent I am very pleased.  They could easily be writing scrips for Lipitor and Linsinopril, etc…  Instead they are using their knowledge to help illicit the innate potential of the body through diet as a means to help people achieve health again.  In the end however, you cannot ignore the possibilities that are being limited by this thinking.  There are obvious benefits to meat consumption when done properly.  I hope that this explanation and Denise’s deconstruction of the science in the movie are helpful in your understanding of the paleo concept (seriously if you haven’t read her review yet do it NOW!!).


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  1. Jeff F. permalink

    Nice article Jon! I read this article as I sit at my desk eating a piece of Jack Link’s Jerky… 🙂 It’s great to see how passionate you are about your profession. It’s really admirable. I also appreciate you stance on the topic. Keep up the good work!

    Jeff Fellman

    • Great protein for the afternoon! Thanks Jeff. Regardless of what the diet/lifestyle plan is we just want to make sure that the claims are placed into reality. Certainly veganism and vegetarianism are valid health choices for certain individuals. But when applied as foundational elements to an all encompassing lifestyle they are too limited. Please let me know if you ever have any questions or are curious about something you read or experience. Those are the issues I want to address in the podcast and to look at for my own future potential research!

  2. Hello,

    First time visitor here following the link from Jimmy Moore’s site. I have been following a low carb/paleo diet since April, 98% wheat free since reading “Wheat Belly” at the beginning of Oct. (I was eating 2-4 low carb wheat/flax tortillas and pitas a week, but have stopped) and made the BIG decision to honestly give up sugar 3 weeks ago. Much harder than wheat for me.

    I am friends with a couple who switched to veganism after seeing this movie. It’s funny how our diets are now totally opposite one another. They are lovely people and I hope their health holds out with eating this way. I haven’t seen the movie and I respect their decision to eat how they prefer, but from what I have read about the movie, I am surprised that they were taken in by the sloppy science.

    Hope all is well, I read all you posts and hope your primal adventure is going well!

    • Susannah thanks for reading! I’m glad to have connections with people like Jimmy. This is a great community and I’m here to play my part. Let me know if you ever have any questions, they are what keep me going. Be on the lookout for our free podcast “Primal Evolution.” Thanks again and enjoy the journey.

    • PS. I completely understand your dilemma. Making decisions to move towards better health inevitably alienate the people we are used to associating with. I’m glad you respect your friends wishes. Continue to be a beacon of light for your friends and family with your actions and be ready to answer questions when presented the opportunity. Keep up your great work 🙂

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