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|Can a plant-based
diet restore health and prevent disease?
|A report from the Food For
Thought Film Series
|by Ruth Ann Smalley
fuels all our body’s processes, and indeed becomes us...
this with me for a moment: your liver carries out trillions of
processes every day, many of which we don’t fully understand yet. And
that’s just one organ, one part of what we call "us". I won’t even
begin to talk about all the life services performed by "them"—the
multitude of beneficial bacteria we host. Taken together, our mind-body
complex is a highly organized event field, finely orchestrated and
rarely appreciated until something goes awry.
Imagine this event field as an orchestra. Let’s say we began pulling
the chairs out from under every sixth musician, and then strapping a
few fingers together on the hands of every seventh. The show would go
on, but even the untrained ear would notice a difference. The more
interference we introduce, the poorer the sound would become.
Eventually there would be total discord.
Could we solve the problem through exercise—making the musicians
practice more so they could learn how to work around the obstacles? Or
through an operation—replacing the conductor with one who knew how to
coax more out of the re- maining unimpeded players? How much better to
simply restore the orchestra to health by removing the impediments we
This is key to what April’s film, Forks Over Knives, is advocating.
Since food fuels all our body’s processes, and indeed, becomes us,
there is a high chance of our food choices impacting our orchestration.
Tracking the correlations between diet and health has been the life’s
work of the two senior scientists featured in Forks Over Knives.
Born in the 1930s, Prof. T. Colin Cambell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn,
Jr., both came from similar farm backgrounds, and in their youth both
were influenced by the emphasis on animal protein that was common in
that era. Through their experiences in their fields, both have come to
embrace a plant-based diet as the way to restore health and prevent an
array of serious, modern diseases. Campbell’s work with the China
study—a huge, decades-long project monitoring health and diet all over
China—has led him to conclude that animal protein intake strongly
correlates with cancer and many other diseases. Esselstyn’s work as an
endocrine doctor and a heart and breast disease surgeon has yielded
exciting evidence that switching sick people over to a plant-based diet
acts to remove impediments to health—to the point where, for example,
heart disease is not simply slowed, but actually reversed.
The film lays out a pretty comprehensive picture of our national
nutritional landscape at the moment, citing the trillions we’re
spending on healthcare, the staggering increases in obesity and type 2
diabetes, and the huge uptick in our per capita intake of meat, dairy
and calorie-intense sweets in the past century.
Nutritionists and psychologists explain how the "mechanisms of
satiation" are fooled when we eat rich, processed food that doesn’t
fill our stomachs as much as whole foods. Our eating habits are then
driven by the "hypernormal amounts of pleasure" we get from these dense
foods that "hyperconcentrate sugar and fat," causing us to overeat. The
film devotes quite a bit of time to how the China study was conducted.
This may be due to the attacks by critics on the science of Campbell’s
book, The China Study. Although Campbell’s writings tend to set
veganism as the ideal, Forks Over Knives uses the term "plant based"
throughout. For additional evidence, the film cites several other
studies of specific populations, such as Kenyans, Japanese and
Norwegians, whose health changed markedly when their traditional diet
changed. There are interviews with the patients of Dr. Esselstyn and
others, who have seen life-changing, even life-saving results from
switching to a plant-based diet. Forks Over Knives covers a lot of
ground, and keeps the viewer fully engaged. This was clear from the
groans of the audience (and it was a full house) when technical
difficulties developed toward the end and cut the show short. The good
news is that if you missed it, you may get another chance: They may
screen it again.
The audience had a chance to discuss what was clearly a compelling
topic with the panel, moderated by Sonja Stark, a freelance
videographer. Guests were Dr. Ronald Stram, founder of the Stram Center
for Integrative Medicine; Christine Kaczmarek, an RN with certification
in Cornell University’s Plant Based Nutrition program, and Mary Beth
McCue, a local practitioner experienced in integrative and functional
nutrition. The discussion highlighted addictive aspects of diet, the
need to individualize nutrition advice, and how we can change
healthcare at the community level.
FOR THOUGHT: An Evening of Socially Relevant Cinema is co-presented by
Honest Weight, WAMC Northeast Public Radio and the New York State
Council on the Arts. Along with a documentary film, the monthly event
features food samples from the Co-op and a panel discussion
highlighting social, political, environmental and community issues.
Thursday, June 21
is a story about landscape change, as told through the personal history
of a farmer’s lifelong connection to his now-threatened land. Brunswick
weaves together the plight of an aging farmer in his 90s, Sanford
Bonesteel, with the dynamics of small-town politics as residential
development is planned on his former land. Produced by local filmmaker
Nate Simms, the documentary takes place in Brunswick N.Y., in eastern
Rensselaer county, as this small country town struggles to balance
economic growth with preserving its rural character. It is a story
specific to Brunswick, yet recognizable to rural communities across
screenings at The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central
Ave., Albany. 6pm reception, 7pm film. More info and tickets ($6): http://www.wamcarts.org/eventlist.php,
or call 518-465-5233 ext4.
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