I got an e-mail recently, asking if I’d be willing to watch the new film Chow Down (available here on Hulu) and review it here on ye olde blog – grassroots advertising at its best! Directed and produced by Julia Grayer and Gage Johnston, Chow Down is the latest in what seems to be an increasing number of documentaries about the merits of a plant-based diet. Given my love for films, Hulu, and plant-based diets, how could I refuse?
Last night I watched the film while working on a new knitting project. The documentary tracks three people who, after being diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, decide not to pursue surgery and pills but instead choose to adopt a plant-based diet. Some of the big-name proponents of vegan diets (Drs. Esselstyn, Campbell, and Fuhrman, to name a few) share their takes on why these diets work and why – frustratingly! – mainstream American medical practitioners tend to ignore them.
Although a seasoned vegan like me is very familiar with these arguments, Chow Down has the potential to serve as a powerful first introduction for mainstream America. Its strength lies in its people – hearing one person’s journey back to health is often more emotionally meaningful than being assaulted solely with statistics and hard science. The film handily brings together these individual stories and ties them to the larger issue – why the federal government and medical practitioners refuse to acknowledge the evidence in favor of more plants and less meat.
The filmmakers let the facts speak for themselves; they explain the USDA’s dual purpose of handing down health rulings and promoting American agriculture without sounding like conspiracy theorists. One doctor tell her memorable story of being offered upwards of $50,000 in cold, hard cash to shut up about her findings, and the filmmakers spare us any obvious comments – the story speaks for itself. When the superteam of doctors share scientific evidence in favor of a plant-based diet, viewers very easily get the point.
On the whole, it’s a very effective film. I particularly appreciated its honesty – some of the individuals who switch over to a plant-based diet don’t always enjoy what they perceive to be its limitations, and I think that’s a concern for many people. However, I did find myself wishing that we could hear more about what exactly these people were eating, along with the flip side of the coin – how delicious and fulfilling a vegan diet can be, when handled properly. That could’ve been useful information for viewers who might find themselves agreeing with the street interviewees, who all kept giving the same tired arguments: “I’m too busy/it’s too expensive/I love meat, lolz!” Sigh.
And I felt that the pacing of the film was a little off; some of the animated segments (there are a few, and they’re well-done) went on a tad too long, slowing the momentum of the film as a whole. I felt the tiniest bit disappointed at the end, too, because it seemed a little rushed and like there were a few facts thrown in there just for the sake of including them, when I thought they could’ve all been used to create a really powerful ending. That said, the filmmakers chose to end by showing how one individual’s dietary switch was influencing his children; they enjoy the way they eat and talked about how they’d feed their future families the same way, so that they could all live longer and healthier lives. Heartwarming and inspiring! So kudos to Julia and Gage for their film, and maybe it’ll help a few unsuspecting Huluers think twice about the next Big Mac they choose to eat.