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“Forks Over Knives” examines dietary changes as cure for disease

Documentary looks at role of meat- and plant-based diets in preventing, reversing disease

The documentary “Forks Over Knives,” which examines how many diseases can be controlled and even reversed by switching to a plant-based diet with fewer processed foods, aired in Wilson 105 Tuesday night. The screening was followed by a question-and-answer session with Alan Darer, education project coordinator for Mercy For Animals, a national nonprofit organization that fights for the fair treatment of animals.

The film opens by describing the growing number of health problems the United States faces today: Around 40 percent of Americans are obese, and one-fifth of four-year-olds are obese. Additionally, the growth of the fast food industry during the 1960s led to an increase in cancer rates.

Much of the film focuses on the work of T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at Cornell, and Caldwell Esselstyn, a surgeon and former head of the Breast Cancer Task Force at the Cleveland Clinic.

The film details how proteins from meat sources have been found to increase rates of cancer, whereas proteins from plant sources have not. In one study, rats were fed a diet of either 5 percent or 20 percent casein — the main protein found in dairy products. Those fed a 20 percent casein diet had much higher rates of early-stage liver cancer.

But in a follow-up study in which the rats were fed a diet with fluctuations in the amount of casein, cancer growth fluctuated in the same pattern. This latter study suggests that diseases can also be reversed by diet.

Campbell notes in the film that these findings are significant but limited in how they could be applied. He adds that a larger, human-based study would be needed to better understand the effect of diet on disease in humans.

Campbell looked at 65 different counties across China and examined the diet, lifestyle and health of 6,500 adults. His team discovered that all cancers were concentrated in certain hot spots, with up to a 400-fold difference in the rates of single cancer mortality between different counties. He found more than 8,000 statistically significant associations that led to the single conclusion that populations that eat mostly plant-based foods have lower rates of mortality from cancer, stroke and heart disease, whereas populations that eat more animal-based foods have much higher rates of these chronic diseases.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked why individuals should become vegetarian when humans are biologically omnivores. Darer responded that though this is true, with today’s technology humans no longer need meat to survive.

Eating vegetables is not only good for your health but is also good for the environment, Darer said. “Raising animals for food contributes more (to pollution) than the entire auto industry combined,” he added.

The screening was hosted as a collaboration between the Brown Vegetarian Society and Mercy For Animals.

The Brown Vegetarian Society also passed around a pledge for audience members to sign to participate in “meatless Mondays.” For those who are not yet ready to become completely vegetarian, participating in the event is a good way to get people to start eating more vegetables, said Lauren Pierce ’15, a Mercy for Animals fellow.



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