As a geek that loves documentaries, I recently added a bunch of food/environment/science related films to my Netflix/Amazon Prime queues (one of my favorite benefits of streaming vs. cable!). After reading a lot about it on Twitter, I started with Food Matters.
This film focuses around the basic idea that you are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out – that kind of thing. From the outset, I felt like the filmography was relatively rough – almost manic, with distracting backgrounds and too many vintage clips of instructional films from the 1950s and 1960s.
However, I agreed wholeheartedly with the premise – that this country suffers from an epidemic of chronic malnutrition (as opposed to acute malnutrition or starvation). Far too often in my own experience, I’ve gone to the doctor with an issue and was just given pills and pushed out the door. When I had constant headaches in grad school, the first doctor I saw just wanted to give me pills, even when he knew I was crazy-addicted to caffeine.
The film makes the claim that modern medicine too often treats symptoms and not the underlying disease or condition. Much of what currently ails us as a population can be attributed to our lifestyle – poor diet, lack of exercise and stress. Makes sense. It’s made sense in my own life. I agree with the film’s assertion that the human body has an astonishing capacity to heal itself from many ailments, if given the chance.
Food Matters does a good job of reminding consumers that just like Big Agriculture, Big Pharmaceutical is a half a trillion dollar industry. There is a lot of money involved in treating illness with medicine in this country. Every time you take a blood pressure pill or a blood sugar pill, you are putting money in the hands of drug companies that have a vested interest in you never actually getting off their medication. They make no money from wellness. For the vast majority of the population, it’s affordable and safe to change your diet and start exercising. So why would you want to just stay on the pills when they won’t prolong your life or more importantly, improve your quality of life?
As is the case in Big Agriculture, supporting research for drugs is often sponsored and paid for by the drug companies themselves. Drug companies don’t want to pay for research that suggests that a plant-based diet and an abundance of vitamins and minerals can lead to health. The film also talked about high dosage vitamin therapies that have been studied for years as treatment for various chronic illnesses, including serious illnesses like cancer.
While much of what the film discusses makes perfect sense – that nutrition should be our primary prevention strategy against disease, etc. - it also veers off into more alternative therapies that left me interested, but highly skeptical. For instance, there’s a lot of information on colonic therapies that “cleanse” the body of toxins. As I explained in my post about why I don’t do juice cleanses or lemon juice/maple syrup/vinegar cleanses, a healthy colon doesn’t need help cleansing your body. Don’t put toxins in your body and you won’t have to force them out uncomfortably by drinking 2 liters of water after you get out of bed and having nothing but high fiber juice for days.
The film highlights the Gerson Institute, which champions a holistic therapy for cancer and chronic, degenerative diseases. The therapy, according to their website, includes activating “the body’s extraordinary ability to heal itself through an organic, vegetarian diet, raw juices, coffee enemas and natural supplements.” They claim a great success rate and honestly, I’m not doubting them. Anyone who has ever seen someone suffer from cancer knows that chemotherapy is awful in every possible sense. And anyone who wants to treat their cancer with vitamins and enemas should absolutely have the right to do so. (It’s ridiculous that all of the Gerson clinics have to be out of the country even though they are staffed by MDs that go to the same med schools that other doctors in the U.S. attend.)
But I’m still skeptical that raw juices and enemas are cure-alls. Sometimes disease happens, regardless of the health of your lifestyle. For instance, eating raw foods isn’t going to make my lungs stop being asthmatic. I have a decrease in asthma symptoms because of my increased lung health due to cardiovascular exercise, but I don’t stop having the disease. I also don’t want to go back to my life before being on thyroid replacement hormone – even though my lifestyle has also contributed to a reduction in symptoms.
Overall the film had interesting food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun. And it serves as a great reminder that the diseases plaguing the west – particularly heart disease and diabetes – can be not only prevented but REVERSED by true lifestyle modifications. I would not put it in the same class of documentaries as Food, Inc. or A Place at the Table, but it wasn’t a waste of an hour.