Documentary Review: Chow Down

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.

The Future of Food

Today truly is a Lazy Sunday. VeggaMom celebrated her 52nd birthday yesterday and requested a family game of tennis, which basically meant that we ran around the courts at my old high school making fools of ourselves. Last night we had a small family gathering; Dad made pad thai and veggies and I made some Chocolate Stout Cupcakes from VCTOtW for dessert, but I didn’t have a chance to photograph them. :( Anyway, today has been pretty low-key. I wanted to finish knitting a washcloth I began the other day, so I headed over to Hulu to find something to watch while I knitted. Instead of watching mind-numbing TV, I discovered The Future of Food, a full-length film available here.

The Future of Food

The Future of Food is a few years old, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you’ve got about an hour and a half to spare. It’s labeled as “an in-depth look into the controversy over genetically modified foods,” and it’s a great introduction to the basic facts regarding GMOs. Although I was familiar with most of the film’s main points, I did learn a few new – and shocking – facts. For example, although I was aware of gene patenting, I’d never thought about how far reaching its effects can be. Patenting genes connected with breast cancer – and then charging outrageous sums for their use – severely inhibits breast cancer research, and even though the film was released in 2004, this is still an issue. It’s simply disgusting.

I think it’s fantastic that this film is free to watch on Hulu; I feel that it’s the sort of thing to which all consumers should be exposed. I particularly appreciated that the filmmakers took a global approach to the effects of genetic modification and took pains to make clear that this is an issue that concerns the entire planet. The filmmakers have a comprehensive website with all sorts of informative resources. Check it out, and then check out the film when you’ve got time to spare and don’t want to feel guilty for spending an hour and a half piddling around the internet! ;)