Sorry, Ron Swanson, but at least according to Forks Over Knives, cows are the root of all evil. Unlike most people who try to steer you from consuming the flesh of other carbon-based lifeforms, documentarian Lee Fulkerson doesn’t attack from an animal rights angle. His film isn’t interested in humans harming other mammals; it’s interested in mammals harming other humans. Eating meat or dairy, his film argues, isn’t unethical—it’s unhealthy, the cause of hypertension, high cholesterol, various cancers and, of course, fatigue and physical grossness.
After an apocalyptic trip to the doctor, Fulkerson stumbled upon the combined research of nutrition academic T. Colin Campbell and surgeon Caldwell Esselton, whose cure is easy: no meat, no dairy, just a whole foods, plant-based diet. Meat’s reputation as a fount of protein is overrated, they claim, and is anyway swimming in cancer activators. In one of many chilling passages, it’s pointed out how Nazis robbed Norway of their red meat, leading to a sharp decrease in cardiovascular diseases. Soon as WWII ended, sickness spiked right back up.
“It sounds almost too good to be true,” Fulkerson rhapsodizes over Campbell and Esselton’s remedy. It sure does. Forks Over Knives is of a particularly bothersome breed of documentary: The questionably researched polemic that always sounds too good to be true. Fulkerson has assembled an organized assault on being a carnivore, buttressed by hair-raising (selective) evidence, cheap but simple graphics and an air of calm professionalism.
Its clean appearance masks a lack of rigorous research. Campbell and Esselton are not only barely questioned by their critics, they’re put on a pedestal and dubbed “pioneers.” This is not a skeptical or exploratory work, further evidenced by its use of junk science stooge Bill Maher as a voice of reason. Not for nothing does the opening text—clearly insisted on by legal counsel—claim that what follows is “opinion,” not “fact,” and to consult your doctor if you’ve been effectively swayed. This is documentary filmmaking as lazy journalism; after all, you need only amass 90-some minutes of facts and then you’re done.