Forks Over Knives: The missing piece

The first time I heard of the 2011 documentary Forks over Knives was on a morning talk show I listen to every day. One of the radio personals recently watched it and according to her fellow radio DJs, joined the "vegetable cult" soon after. After a few weeks of this "on again, off again" banter over the airwaves, I decided to check this thing out for myself.  After all, I am a foodie and I love a good documentary. So win-win (win). Right?

But when the credits rolled, I found myself fairly disappointed and fairly irritated that my favorite part of the story was left out entirely.

Forks over Knives tells the story of growing obesity problem in America and its direct correlation between the consumption of animals and their bi-products. With several years of research and testimonies from several people, this documentary does make an appealing case for vegetarianism/veganism showing how a healthy lifestyle based on plant products can not only prevent several diseases and cancers, but also can help overcome them.

It's ironic that this film irritated me. After all, I have been a flexitarian for awhile - eating vegetarian most days out of any given week. Additionally, as a baker, I am always looking for a new challenge in the kitchen, which is why veganism has appealed to me on some level. (In fact, I've had several conversations with my sister as to why I am not against this lifestyle in theory. My approach, however, is mainly from a environmental and economical standpoint. I don't live it out in my daily life, but I can see why others choose to do this and have even poured over vegan recipe books myself. Plus, I am tempted to try vegan recipes since I know I need to increase my veggie intake, especially since often when I eat vegetarian, my food always includes dairy, dairy and more dairy).Moreover, I care about nutrient. I believe that what we put in our mouths directly affects us, sustains us, and destroys us.

And yet, something was still missing from this documentary.

For me that missing link is undoubtedly found in our local communities.

During the hour and half  duration (and lots of dooming sounding music), not one word was mentioned about the benefits of eating local, in season fruits and vegetables and even (eery music inserted here) animal products. Are we so disconnect from where our food comes from that even a documentary about food fails to mention it?

But can we truly label all meat and animal products as "bad" or as something that is going to give us cancer?

I believe this to be true of stuff that was raised and produced on factory farms, where animals are filled with chemicals and foods they weren't designed to digest (i.e. corn and sometimes even their fellow species), genetically modified to produce the biggest yield, and spend almost the entire duration of their life standing in their own poop. True, this is all bad stuff and, really, we should know better. But we don't. We don't know the story of our food at all. We don't understand that our "food culture" doesn't have to be "McDonalds." We don't even understand what food culture means.

In the documentary, the point out all the stories of rural areas all over the world that have thrived on a plant based diet. However, they do not mention that these places were not 100% vegan. They simply ate what was available to them in their particular region. They understood what was in season and what was not. And since they most likely tended to their own animals (if they had them) with holistic pratictices, they probably did not eat them every single day. They had a food culture - one that is hard to maintain whenever fast food tries to intrude into their lives and wellbeing. This, however, is not mentioned at all.

We would do well to turn away from factory produced animal products. However, I believe it is entirely unfair to claim all animal products as "unclean" without understanding what has happened to farmers, to animal production, and why we are so disconnected to where our food is grown.

Awhile ago, there was a commercial on TV where a mom and her daughter were eating at McDonalds. The girl asked her mother where something she was eating came from. (I can't remember if it was a vegetable or an animal product). The mother responds by saying all of these things come from a magical place. This essentially sums up the entire problem of our broken food system in America. We don't want to know. We are happy when commercials tell us their vegetables are grown on farms (where else do you grow them?) and instantly zone in on some type of farm nostalgia that makes us feel warm and wonderful. And then we go on with our lives.

I recently included almond milk into my life. Yet, I know even less about where this plant based product comes from than I do about dairy milk. Trying to find the balance between nutrition (getting all those fruits and veggies on a daily basis) and what is locally in-season is tricky. I want to eat less factory farmed animal products, but I am far from shutting the locally, pastured raised version out of my life. After all, I know where the eggs we eat come from. I know the name of the woman who raises them. (I also know that free-range chicken eggs are way more healthy than the white shells at the store  and actually contain lots of the cholesterol that is good for your body).

In one of the scenes in Forks over Knives, the doctor helping a man with his diabetic lifestyle took him to the grocery store. We overhear him tell him about the nutritional value of mangos. Now, I love mangos. (They are in my top 5 favorite fruits). But I do not eat them in this country because I don't live anywhere near where mangos grow. I don't eat them here in Kansas for the same reason I don't demand tomatoes in January (nor do I buy tomatoes from the store in June - since those are just as likely to be from California even if they are locally in-season). I don't want to live with the burden of bananas or believe that citrus is "in-season" right now, (which is true for States such as California). I recently read that in a food magazine.

Really? This is what our fruit trees look like right now.

(They are not citrus and, actually, they are dead. The wind killed them. No lie. I read in my gardening newsletter that the dry wind of Kansas can damage the tissue of peach trees to the extreme that it can kill the entire tree).

Now, I don't want to be against this documentary in theory. In fact, if it gets even a few Americans to cut out a little meat and dairy in their lives, it would make a huge impact to their health, but also to the environment. Yet, I cannot applaud it either, after all, it left out my favorite part of the food story. After all, the local food story is the only one that causes me to be hopeful that maybe we can fix this broken food system in which we are caught inside. Until then, I will continue to believe that being a vegan in this country is a privilege.

I will end this extremely long, soap-box blog post with a poetic quote from the 21 November 2011 issue of The New Yorker in an article about heirlooms by Paul Theroux.

There is almost no connection between an industrial tomato, the bright, gassed, ripened-in-the-truck ball of tasteless pith, and one from the local garden, the juicy pomodoro, the apple of cold...The [heirloom] fruit is also rich in micronutrients that scientists find impossible to duplicate or synthesize for pharmaceutical use. 
Turns out the answer to our health problems was in our backyards all along.

So I will keep my knife...and my fork. But I will dig them into the place they below - the local movement.