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SUBJECTS — Health; Medicine;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Taking Care of Yourself;
Ages: 12+; MPAA Rating: PG; Documentary; 90 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com. It can also be rented on line or streamed.

Description: Physician T. Colin Campbell, raised on a dairy farm, enjoyed a diet of meat and milk products until he became involved in a study that looked for causes of the "diseases of affluence": heart disease, cancer and Type-2 Diabetes. At the same time, noted surgeon, Caldwell Esselstyn, also raised on a dairy farm, noticed that a year or two after he performed arterial by-pass surgery, the arteries of many of his patients were filled again with cholesterol. Both men, independently, came to the conclusion that a whole-foods plant-based diet could stop the progression of these diseases and in some cases, reverse them. This knowledge has been synthesized in Forks Over Knives.

This documentary presents scientific research leading to the conclusion that the food we eat is a major contributing factor in the development of heart disease, some cancers and Type-2 Diabetes. It demonstrates the health benefits of a diet based on whole foods or minimally processed plants, primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, and legumes. The diet excludes or minimizes meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, white flour, refined sugar, and oil.

Rationale for Using the Movie: In order to make intelligent decisions about their diet, students need to know the information presented in this film. In addition, as schools adjust their lunch menus to offer healthy choices and as school boards are banning soda and candy machines from campuses, students need to understand what drives the changes in the food choices they are being offered.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will become more aware of the health effects of their food choices. They will also practice and develop their skills in research, writing and oral presentation. The worksheet suggested with this Guide will introduce students to the process of evaluating a documentary designed to persuade its audiences on an issue of public importance.

Possible Problems: None.

Show the class this picture which was created for TWM by a high school senior.

Ask the question, "What is this artist trying to tell us?"



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Using the Movie in Class
Discussion Questions


Additional Discussion Questions:
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

Using the Movie in Class

This documentary is based on extensive epidemiological studies, lab experiments and the clinical experience of dedicated physicians. It provides its own background information. Using the movie along with TWM's Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary that Seeks to Persuade on Issues of Political or Social Significance will increase comprehension and teach students a process for evaluating documentary films.

Suggested Procedures When Using the Worksheet: Review the worksheet to ensure that the questions are appropriate for the class; make any necessary modifications. Have the class read the prompts on the worksheet before the film is shown. Tell students that the worksheet is for notes to be taken during breaks in the movie and that they should not write out full responses until they are instructed to do so. Pause the film for three to five minutes on two or three occasions to allow students to make notes. At the end of the movie give students a short amount of time to complete their notes, again instructing them to delay writing out full responses.

Once the notes are completed, there can be a class discussion of prompts 3, 4, 5 & 8 or students can be instructed to write short one-paragraph answers to all of the prompts on the worksheet. This can an in-class writing assignment or homework. If the discussion of the film occurs before students write out their responses, tell them to incorporate into their written responses anything that they agreed with that came up in the discussion. In the alternative, the class discussion can be postponed until after the worksheet responses have been written up. One way to organize such a discussion would be to have selected students read their responses to a worksheet prompt and then have the class discuss them.

Once the discussion of worksheet prompts 3, 4, 5 & 8 is completed go to the discussion questions.


Discussion Questions:

1.  What may keep persons who are aware of the film's message from making changes to their diets? Suggested Response: Students will note that habit, influence of family, denial, desire for tasty food, or convenience may inhibit change. This question may lead to discussion about what one may do to overcome resistance to change.

2.  Can there be a compromise in diet choices, for example, eating some meat (once or twice a week), occasional dairy, etc, without harm to either one's health or to the values one may have acquired from seeing this documentary? Suggested Response: The diet proposed by these doctors is a cure for illness. People who are not yet sick may be able to avoid heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes by partial modifications of their diets, i.e., reducing intake of meat, dairy, oils and sugar. (The operative word here is "may". TWM has not seen any scientific discoveries on whether half-measures will be protective.) However, it appears logical that the closer that one gets to the "Forks Over Knives" diet, the better will be the result.


Note that if teachers use the Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary that Seeks to Persuade on Issues of Political or Social Significance, the the first assignment associated with this film may be to write up the notes into full-scale responses. Students can be given credit for just completing the responses or, if there is time, the responses can be graded. The following are additional assignments that confirm the lessons of the film and provide an opportunity for students to practice their skills in reading, writing, and oral presentation

1.   Schedule a "Forks Over Knives Class" at which the best cooks in the class will bring dishes made from recipes found on the Official Forks Over Knives website or contained in the companion recipe book which is available from the website. [Make sure that students bring materials to clean up and know in advance who will be responsible for this task.]

2.   Students can prepare research papers or reports to the class on the following topics. If they prepare reports, some can be given at the "Forks Over Knives Class" while the other students eat. The topics are:
  • the movie Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue featuring Rip Esselstyn, son of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn; TWM suggests that students follow the format of the Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary that Seeks to Persuade on Issues of Political or Social Significance;
  • The China Study by T. Collin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell, II, or specific chapters from the book; the essay or report should describe anything new that was learned from reading the book or the assigned chapters;
  • the Extended Interviews, which are a companion to the movie, or specific portions thereof; the essay or report should describe anything new that was learned from the interviews;
  • Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health or specific chapters from the book; the essay or report should describe anything new that was learned from the book or the assigned chapters;
  • the benefits of a plant-based diet for the environment and the environmental costs of meat and dairy production;
  • the contribution of a plant-based diet to the effort to reduce hunger in the word;
  • the cruelty to animals inherent in factory farm meat animal production;
  • pick a famous person who was a vegetarian or vegan and describe the reasons why the person chose to eat that way; examples are: Albert Einstein, Correta Scott King, Bill Clinton (one of Dr. Esselstyn's patients), Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Gandhi, and Isaac Bashevis Singer; there are also football, basketball, track and field stars as well as actors and other entertainers who are vegan or vegetarian.
  • a sampling of blogosphere criticism and comment about Forks Over Knives and The China Study.

3.   Divide the class into groups of students. Assign each group the task of researching and preparing to debate [or make a presentation] on one of three following resolutions: 1) a plant-based diet is better for the environment than a diet that includes meat and dairy; 2) a plant-based diet, if adopted by most people, would eliminate the problem of hunger in this world; 3) the meat industry as practiced in developed countries such as the U.S. involves the infliction of pain and an early death on cows (including dairy cows), pigs and chickens; and 4) a plant-based diet is better for human health than a meat based diet.


Parenting Points: Watch the movie with your child. Change your diet along with your children. You'll all live better and longer.

Some have criticized the science in this film to the extent that it calls for the total elimination of meat and dairy. One blogger, without formal scientific credentials, wrote 52 pages of objections but concluded that: "I believe the 'plant-based diet doctors' got a lot of things right, and a diet of whole, unprocessed plant foods (i.e., Real Food) can bring tremendous health improvements for people who were formerly eating a low-nutrient, high-crap diet. Especially short term. But I also believe this type of diet achieves some of its success by accident, and that the perks of eliminating processed junk are inaccurately attributed to eliminating all animal foods." Forks Over Knives, Is the Science Legit? by Denise Minger. The Blog evoked thousands of comments. Ms. Minger has also critiqued The China Study and Dr. Cambpell replied at China Study author Colin Campbell slaps down critic at Vegsource.com.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Super Size Me; Vegucated; Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead; The Witness.

There are four reasons that people advocate a plant based diet. They are: (1) personal and public health; (2) the fact that the meat industry is one of the worst polluters on the planet; and (3) consumption of meat contributes to food shortages and starvation. This film relates only to the first reason.

This Lesson Plan was written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay. It was last updated on May 31, 2013. James Frieden is an ethical vegan who refrains from eating animal based products based on the fact that people don't need to kill another being in order to get adequate nutrition; desiring the taste and texture of meat is not a sufficient justification for killing or causing discomfort to another animal. See Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. Mary RedClay is also a vegan.

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