As appealing as Brussels sprouts
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, May 13, 2011
You are what you eat, as the old saying goes. Sadly that means most of us are garbage, if Lee Fulkerson’s nutrition-focused documentary, “Forks Over Knives,” is to be believed.
Such a blanket statement sounds harsh, I know, but Fulkerson is not interested in making friends. He’s trying to save lives. So “Forks,” which sings the praises of a plant-based diet, adopts the tough-love stance of a dietary drill sergeant hell-bent on striking meat from your personal menu.
All meat? “If it walked, hopped, swam, crawled, slithered, had eyes, a mom and a dad. . . don’t eat it,” one interview subject tells Fulkerson. That seems extreme, but the “Forks” writer-director, and a few like-minded specialists, are convinced that the nutritional trash we consume at mealtime directly relates to life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and cancer. And he thinks it’s in our best interest to stop eating foods that’ll eventually kill us.
It’s hard to argue such a blunt point. And Fulkerson’s theories don’t stop at prevention. “Forks” flirts with revolutionary teachings once it suggests — and then shows, using rudimentary charts and graphs — that eliminating or greatly reducing processed, animal-based foods from our diet not only inhibits deadly health trends, it reverses them.
“Forks” gives us plenty of data to chew on. The average American carries an extra 35 pounds on his or her frame. Forty percent of our nation is obese, and we spend a staggering amount of money on medications and surgeries meant to treat weight-related issues.
Fulkerson, a documentary filmmaker with health issues of his own, starts singing a different tune once he’s introduced to the supposed benefits of a plant-based diet. He features celebrity cameos (hello, Michelle Obama) and interviews multiple nutritional specialists in an attempt to dispel widespread beliefs about food: That meat and fish are the best ways a person can get protein and that milk remains the most effective way to ingest the necessary amounts of calcium.
We also meet a range of dietary converts — most notably Ultimate Fighting champion Mac Danzig —who subscribe to plant-based diets and echo Fulkerson’s sentiments that health and wellness are directly linked to food. “Forks” doesn’t pretend these teachings are new, highlighting a Hippocrates quote that reminds us, “Let food be thy medicine.” But Fulkerson says we now have the science to back up these theories.
Yet the documentary’s structure has a significant flaw that’s hard to overlook. Fulkerson will despise this analogy, but “Forks” lacks the sugar that would help his medicine go down. In other words, it’s desperately in need of charisma, humor or personality to balance the steady stream of scientific facts we’re asked to absorb. Morgan Spurlock, a born salesman, covers similar ground in “Super Size Me” but figures out how to entertain by putting himself through a unique, McDonald’s-driven fast-food challenge.
“Forks” doesn’t have as personal a gateway. And Fulkerson may be competent in the editing bay, but he’s no on-screen personality. As it stands, “Forks” is an interesting and informative health lecture that’s sandwiched into a dry, repetitive documentary. It doesn’t help that “Forks” is being released into theaters at a time when audiences are bellying up to the multiplex and feasting on special-effects-driven summer blockbusters such as “Thor” and “Fast Five.” “Forks,” in comparison, is a plate of vegetables. It’s high on nutritional value but absent any pleasure.
Contains some thematic elements and incidental smoking.