Monday, June 4, 2012

Movie Non-Review Forks Over Knives

Vegetarians, and vegans - I like them, they taste especially good with fava beans.  But seriously folks ...

The movie "Forks Over Knives" was good enough to generate a question from a friend about that movie - so this is my answer, but unfortunately, I have not watched the movie, nor do I think I will.  When I know a thing will prick my ire, I avoid it.  Life's too short to be angered unnecessarily.  So I will go by assumptions, what I know about the folks behind the movie, and summaries, such as this one:

My friend pointed out how the premise - eat right to prevent the diseases of civilization, rather than using a surgery knife to treat them - is appealing.  It is for me, too.  There are good reasons to believe that most chronic illness, the diseases of the West, is a result of what we eat, and that by avoiding certain foods, we can also reduce the rate at which we age and become infirm and "demented."  My model is to avoid the most novel foods in the human diet - grains, legumes to a degree, mass produced sugars most of all, but also industrial "vegetable oils."  The vegans and vegetarians avoid animal products.  And I'm good with that, if a person can avoid eating animals and enjoy their life and be healthy, that's a win-win.

I appreciate the vegan/vegetarian conviction to an ideal, and the fact that they leave more animals for me to eat.  I don't respect their approach to science at all.

I've blogged about T. Colin Campbell before.  He's the author of an observational study conducted in China, and of a popular book called "The China Study."  His work is apparently the star of "FOK".  Here are some additional takes on his "science":

-Denise Minger's devastating critique of Campbell's "science":
-Chris Masterjohn provides the scientific geek's analysis:

Campbell's answer to these criticisms is generally to accuse the critics of having no credentials, bad intentions, or both, but he has not to my knowledge addressed the substance of their critiques.

The vegan argument is even more problematic than the vegetarian one.  First, it does not provide adequate nutrition to thrive - B vitamins, creatine, quality protein, adequate saturated fat.  Richard Nikoley provides excellent and pithy comments on these points at

To me, the only thing one really need know is that a human can thrive on virtually no carbohydrate intake, but cannot live without protein or fat.  That's right - proteins are essential, fats are essential, carbs - nearly optional.  The human gut is not optimized to extract nutrition from large quantities of vegetation - it is longer than a cat's gut for example, but much much shorter than an ape's gut or a true herbivore's gut.  The human gut is more like a rodent or bear's gut - IOW, an omnivore's gut.  The human teeth, likewise, are not made for grinding vegetation, but rather for chewing high nutrition foods like meat and vegetables.

Another very important matter is simply the volume of vegetables and other non-animal food one must eat to get a minimum amount of calories each day - 2000-2500 kcal/day.  If you don't have agricultural mono crops - like wheat, corn or soy - good luck finding adequate calories without animals.  You might get buckets of blueberries for a few weeks a year like the bear does - but a better bet is to let the bear eat berries all day, while you snack on the berries for a bit while you figure out how to kill and eat a bear every now and then.  With the massive cache of nutrition you harvest from the bear's fat and the liver and the brains and the marrow and the kidneys and etc, you end up working about 18 hours a week as a hunter gatherer, whilst your extinct vegetarian predecessors were eating all the time.

Animals fats are good human nutrition, and cholesterol is good human nutrition, no matter what T. Colin Campbell's epidemiological studies say.  If he could produce an intervention study that showed otherwise, you can bet he would.  This link provides a link that highlights an enlightening debate between Campbell and Loren Cordain - read the entire debate or just the summary at the link above.  Either way, the good doctor Campbell admits to throwing in the towel on the scientific method in favor of his own personal philosophy of science in which observational/epidemiological studies can magically determine cause and effect.

As to the health of vegetarian diets v. a paleolithic modeled diet, 7th Day Adventists eat vegetarian and have lower rates of colon cancer than the rest of us - but so do the Mormons, who eat more meat than anyone on the planet.  The Mormons also outlive the supposed healthiest population not the planet, the Swedes.  In other words, it's not impossible to be healthy eating only veggies, but it's not the only way to be healthy, either, and vegetarian eating includes compromises I will not make.  In other words, it's all good with me what anyone else eats or believes until someone tries to use the vegetarian fake science to force the issue through government policy.

I have two movie recommendations for further study - "Fathead the Movie" and "In Search of the Perfect Human Diet".  I've seen Fathead several times and enjoy it very much.  I'm assuming the "In Search" is good because I know one of the subjects of the movie, Robb Wolf.

The ultimate condemnation of Cambell's work is not his half baked science, or the discovery of discrepancies in his mathematical work.  It is that his advocacy of a diet that is both completely unnatural and environmentally unsustainable.  As Lierre Keith brilliantly describes in "The Vegetarian Myth", annual mono crops are massively destructive to life; from the bugs in the soil that make it fertile, to the animals of the plains that are displaced permanently, to the animals that are crushed by plows or poisoned by sprays, to the fertilizer dead zones in the seas.  Industrial grain production is a literal blood bath.  If I don't see Keith's solutions as practicable, they are still correct in that you can't dump ammonium nitrate and salty water on fertile plains forever and still extract food from the mess you make.  It is disconcerting to think that 85% of the calories our food system produces are derived from annual mono crops.

The argument is often floated that it takes 13 pounds of grain protein to get a pound of protein from an animal - thus eating animals fed by grains is theoretically depriving a hungry person somewhere of their food.  Aside from the economic errors in that chain of illogic, those facts are based on the assumption that animals should be fed grain to make them fatter, faster, thus bringing their meat to market at a lower cost.  It's not a great idea to feed cows corn to make them fatter faster.  Corn makes the cows so sick they have to be stuffed with antibiotics in order to thrive, which creates all kinds of sustainability problems ("Would you like some antibiotic resistant bacteria with that steak?").  The "13 pounds of grain" argument, in other words, is a straw man, in which the evils of industrial grain production look good compared to the evils of using industrially produced grains to feed animals.  OK, thanks for that brilliant but irrelevant comparison.

Letting animals graze on plains of grass is infinitely sustainable, and is the way the ecosystem was designed to work - large, herd animals eat vegetation all day.  The herd animals and the birds that accompany them to feast on the bugs that follow the herds (and even the ground rodents that get into the mix), fertilize the grass.  Apex predators - humans being the apexiest example - feed on the animals and whatever else they decide to eat, including tubers, fruits and veggies (in season), eggs and fish.  In this scenario, fertility killing irrigation is not required.  The closer we get to this model, the better off we'll be.

Vegetarians and vegans (aka the VVs) like to think their approach is more humane because it allows them to live without eating animals - but they ignore the massive quantities of death caused by industrial food production, denial of habitat and the downstream effects of ammonium nitrate runoff and pesticides.  As Lierre Keith put it, industrial agriculture is genocide against anything that lives under the farmed area.  There has not been an example that I know of in which the VV only approach can be accomplished without killing animals (or without utilizing the other great satan, ammonium nitrate (aka oil derived fertilizer)).  The VV idea of eating without killing is false, and just plain ignores the unseen deaths of millions of animals.

Moral high ground?  The VVs do not have it.

Eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, little fruit or starch, and no sugar/wheat.

NOTE:  Tomorrow and Wednesday's posts address additional aspects of scientific philosophy that are directly relevant to the "science" of "FOK".

Edited June 4, 2012, 10:03 AM & 10:10 PM

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