About Me

My Photo
I am a politically-progressive, ethically-herbivorous anthropoid pursuing a paleontology education in the Los Angeles Basin. I am largely nocturnal, have rarely been photographed, and cannot thrive in captivity.

07 May 2011

Forks Over Knives: A Reflection

I'll concede, I went in a little dubious. The health argument for veganism ultimately fails, not because veganism is unhealthy, but because framing veganism primarily as a "diet" or medical treatment restricts its appeal to those who are either sick and seeking "alternative" therapies; or vain, and chasing the latest fad. This approach obscures the ethical argument that's the basis of veganism (that applies to everyone), and only nominally makes a positive impact for exploited animals. As Ginny Messina puts it:
The counter-argument to all of this, of course, is that getting people to go vegan for any reason is a good thing. It reduces animal use and it helps shift paradigms about food choices—which can eventually open minds to the issue of animal liberation. I’m in favor of most efforts and campaigns that do those things. But here is the problem with using the health argument in this way—it’s that there isn’t any health argument for veganism.
There is, of course, a pretty good argument for eating more plants (lots more plants) and less animal food, but no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be healthy. So to make an argument for a 100% vegan diet based on health benefits alone, we have no choice but to stretch the truth. We have to overstate the benefits of vegan diets, and sometimes minimize or dismiss the risks. And as soon as we stray from actual facts, our advocacy is on shaky ground.
So, I was glad to see a (brief) interview with Gary Baur of Farm Sanctuary, and a nod (however grudging) to the animal rights argument. I was also glad to see that the film restricts itself mostly to the phrase "whole-foods, plant-based diet" rather than "vegan" (in fact, the only person in the whole film who utters the word "vegan" is Mac Danzig, and you know better than to correct him...). The first because I think the ethical argument should always be front and center, and we shouldn't be playing a shell game with people, tricking them into the subculture. And the second because, as Messina says, the argument for a whole foods, plant-based diet, however strong, is not in itself an argument for veganism.

Mixed feelings aside, I still recommend the film. It's an engaging and moving portrait of Drs. T. Colin Cambpell and Caldwell Esselstyn, and the people whose lives they've saved with their approach. I found it particularly poignant that both men grew up on dairy farms, then had their minds changed by evidence and experience. It helped me see them not as advocates for a cause, but as honest scientists promoting their work.

And thankfully, there's zero talk about homeopathy, naturopathy and other forms of unproven, unethical quackery; and only a brief bit of borderline conspiracy thinking.

Overall, it's a great documentary that will probably convince a lot of people that they need to eat lots more plants. I'm not sure how much it will help the animal rights movement, but at least Mac Danzig will keep kicking ass for the film's audience on TV.

Not a perfect film for the vegan cause, but we can't all be Earthlings.


  1. This is a terrific blog, and I thank you for it. But for the love of all that is holy and/or aesthetic -- and especially for readability -- ditch the black background. Please.

  2. Thanks, Aeolus. I'd been considering changing the color scheme a bit for that very reason, and your criticism sealed the deal. Your wish is my command. How do you think this new one works?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi Robert, I'm following your blog for some time now, and thank you for your hard work and passion to write interesting (science based) articles.

    As for the color scheme... It's still very hard to read... Black font on dark gray background... a no-no, if you ask me :) Just my 2 cents :)

  5. Hi. It's certainly easier to read now. Thanks for that. Aesthetically, I'm still not keen on so much black space, plus what is now a somewhat jarring contrast between the black space and the white space.

    Here's an example of a blog that has the same basic layout but without the black/white contrast, although you may find the look a bit bland: http://killingmother.blogspot.com/

    And here's a site with an interesting use of green and black (no, I do not subscribe to its message): http://www.resistingthegreendragon.com/
    Perhaps you could adopt/adapt the look of the left and right vertical margins plus top horizontal logo bar, and then have black text on white space for your posts? Just an idea.

  6. Hm... how's this one? I kinda like green, but that green dragon site is too scary to look at. I think I failed my save against dragon fear.

  7. Okay. But how about making the green somewhat darker, especially at the top of the page? It's your site, so I'll say no more. Anything but all-black, unless of course you're a Kiwi.

  8. I've had a green background (vegetarian) for 40 years now :) and 'vegan' wallpaper for about 15 of them. Now I'm re-decorating again and loving it. I've chosen the Plant Wholefoods colour scheme that Esselstyn, Campbell, Ornish, etc designed - about 60% of it raw. The result? - health benefits I couldn't have imagined before. My house is getting a beaut little clean out! Meanwhile, others remodeling via the Evo Diet, the Paleo-meat Diet, the Weston Price approach,etc, are exuberantly installing tons of 'healthy purist' flesh & dairy foods in their inner environs. Ethical arguments don't come into it at all for them. What my decor is pointing to, is to happily agree that Vegans are the original animal-rights designers and that is great. But it is counter-productive for vegans to claim moral high ground against those who share a nice, green, plant-eating background: the outcomes for animals are equally as charming - and non-vegans, by god, even have compassion! We contribute in different ways to an excellent outcome. Some, like me, have an artistic personality, some political ... I hate waving flags at rallies but, in quietly taking responsibility for my health, I might be being more responsible to society and the world at large than 'junk-food vegans' whose upcoming health care, like those of the obese, is going to cost the whole society heaps - when society is sick there's no money or energy left to put towards a better background for animals - theirs will continue to be black!

  9. You're right, Folks over knives will do nothing for the vegan movement but that was never its intent. It was created to get people on to healthier eating for their own sake and to diminish the number of people suffering from food related disease. Swapping to a whole foods, plant only diet is not vegan. It will not stop people still wanting to buy leather goods or wear wool, etc.

    Have you seen this documentary? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNCGkprGW_o

  10. Can I suggest this well argued documentary as alternative to Earthling?

    Peaceable Kingdom: http://www.peaceablekingdomfilm.org/

    I still believe everybody should watch Earthlings, yet for those who'd like something milder for the time being Peaseable Kingdom should suffice.

    Thank You,

  11. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it. knives