Posted on Live Your Vie.
Brian Wendel: Founder and President of Forks Over Knives. Creator and Executive Producer of the documentary Forks Over Knives.
The two Forks Over Knives books have been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 90 weeks. Many doctors and prominent celebrities have hailed the documentary Forks Over Knives as a must-see.
“I saw it, I loved it, and I need all of you to see it too. This could be the Hail Mary of medicine.” –Dr. Oz
“Forks Over Knives is a provocative documentary that explores the idea of using food as medicine.” –Oprah Winfrey
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Brian. He shared some thoughts on his powerful film and explained how a plant-based diet transformed his life.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today about well-being. Your message is so important and powerful, everyone needs to see it! Let me begin by asking, what was your well-being “aha moment”?
It was around February 2001, when I was living in New York. I was always trying to do things that were on the healthy side. So, for several years, I had really focused my diet on eating a lot of fish, thinking that doing so was healthy.
I went to a conference in New York City that had different nutritional experts from different disciplines. There was a panel discussion among representatives from The Zone Diet, The Atkins Diet, and so on. There was a person espousing a vegan diet for health, and I found his arguments intriguing and persuasive.
The information continued to ring in my head as I went back home. I said, “Is it possible that all of the arguments about needing animal products for protein and calcium are really false?” I decided to just give a vegan diet a try for a week and see what happened. In just a couple of days, I knew that I was never going to touch animal foods again. I felt so much better in just a few short days. I became a little angry, too, as I began to realize a lot of what I had previously learned was false. I even question if I had been lied to. I soon decided I was never going to eat animal foods again and haven’t looked back.
It’s so amazing that you completely changed overnight. Did you find it hard to do?
No, I didn’t. Actually, I thought it was pretty easy. I know a lot of people have stories of struggle and all that, but for me it really wasn’t. I was very confident in what I was doing. I felt better doing it.
I think one of the hardest things for people getting into a more vegan lifestyle is not always themselves, but other people who say, “Just have a little bit of this or just a little bit of that.” They mean well, but at the same time, they’re literally trying to force-feed you.
Yes, that’s true. Your friends and family might say, “This is just a phase,” and try to create some doubt in your mind. I would just say this is something I enjoy doing and I’m going to do it. As long as you hold your convictions and you’re polite in return, over time, most of the negative feedback goes away.
Tell us about your journey to get Forks Over Knives made.
In 2008, I had several people tell me that I had to read The China Study. When I finally did, it blew me away. I had known about some of the research in this field, but the book really brought it to another level. The scientific evidence for this lifestyle and its ability to prevent and reverse chronic diseases was even more powerful than I had imagined. I really began to wonder, “Why is this not a bigger news story?” Consider how, for example, heart disease is the number-one killer in the United States. Yet there’s convincing evidence that it need not exist at all. So if the mainstream media wasn’t going to cover what seemed to be a big news story, then I needed to do something. The one thing I really felt that was missing in making the case for the lifestyle was a strong visual presentation. It’s one thing, for instance, to read about Dr. Esselstyn’s patients in a book, but I thought it would be really different if you could see them on the big screen. When you see an elderly woman thriving when she was told more than twenty years ago that there was no hope to live, it’s pretty powerful.
I had been so passionate about nutrition and had been thinking about going back to school to study it. But the idea of being in a chemistry lab really was [laughs] keeping me up at night. Once I thought about making a documentary, a light just went off. I was then able to bring in some talented people and together we pulled it off.
Your message is simple and clear, and the research is all there to back it up: a more plant-based diet equals a healthier and happier life. Why, then, do you think it’s so hard for us all to change?
I think there’s always a percentage of the population that really just doesn’t care. But that’s a very small percentage. More significantly, I think that we have certain things ingrained in us that are really just cultural. The meat and dairy industries, in particular, have pushed a false message. As a result people still think – even today – they need meat for protein and dairy for calcium. This really goes back over a hundred years now. These industries compel people to look at food as individual nutrients. That’s why it seems like nutrition is so confusing, because we end up getting pushed on this message that you need one food for protein, another for calcium, and something else for omega 3s. When nutrition is thought of as individual nutrients, almost anything can be considered healthy. And this is what food companies do: they find the one nutrient that’s abundant in a given food and say, “Our product has a lot of X nutrient, therefore you should eat it.” In reality, a food is a package of countless nutrients working synergistically; and those foods whose nutrient packages are consistent with our needs are the healthy ones to choose. These, of course, are whole, plant-based foods.
Do you think it all comes down to education?
Yes, it does come down to education. We’re going to always be drawn to unhealthy foods. As we explain in the film, the artificially rich foods in our current world hyperstimulate the dopamine chemicals in your brain. The pleasure mechanism that ensures that we would choose healthy natural foods, say, bananas, works against us in an environment where the foods are richer than we’d find in nature. Since the lure to unhealthy foods is so strong, we have to educate our way out of the mess.
I do think it’s so interesting that when you go to the doctor, they never mention anything about diet, unless you are morbidly obese.
It’s not a part of their training. It’s well known that in medical school you’re lucky if you get one or two classes on nutrition.
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