If you've seen one vegan propaganda film, you've seen them all.
Or at least that's what I thought during the first 15 minutes or so of PlantPure Nation, a documentary on the benefits of a plant-based diet, as the film detailed the history of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, one of the leading voices advocating for the health benefits of veganism.
Those introductory minutes of PlantPure Nation were basically a rehashing of the lauded 2011 vegan documentary Forks Over Knives. While I know that Campbell's influence and background are Vegan 101, I had to step back and understand that PlantPure Nation isn't a film for vegans like me.
It's a film for omnivores living on a standard American diet of french fries, cheeseburgers, and 4-a.m. beef burritos from Taco Bell. And those folks probably don't know the history of Campbell, a biochemist who grew up on a dairy farm, went plant-based in mid-life, and later went on to lead one of the most influential studies on the relationship between nutrition and cancer.
Conducted in China, the 20-year study has been hailed by The New York Times as "the Grand Prix of epidemiology," and Campbell's book The China Study is a best seller. In a nutshell, Campbell and his team found that a plant-based diet can reverse certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.
Once PlantPure Nation takes you through all that important history stuff, we meet Campbell's son Nelson, who is determined to persuade the Kentucky state legislature to adopt a program to help low-income people access vegan meals. But that ain't gonna fly in the land of meat and taters, and the proposal is quickly shot down by Big Ag lobbyists.
So Nelson goes D.I.Y. and heads to Mebane, North Carolina, which he calls "land of barbecue" (clearly, he hasn't visited Memphis), to test his plant-based nutrition program on its residents.
Sixteen people sign up for the first PlantPure Jumpstart program, a 10-day vegan challenge in which Nelson and his wife prepare heat-and-eat lunches and dinners made without meats, eggs, dairy, or oil. (Oil is vegan, but Nelson is pushing an oil-free diet to help people reverse serious health problems).
The group — a diverse mix that includes a politician, a journalist, and a cattle farmer — starts and ends the program with biometric testing. One woman's cholesterol count drops from 176 to 139 in only 10 days, and by the end, everyone tests healthier.
"I actually feel good. I sleep well. I'm not bloated feeling," says the cattle rancher after 10 days on the vegan diet. It's an impressive testimonial from a man who raises cows for slaughter.
One middle-aged participant, Tommy Privette, had been living with Type 2 diabetes since he was 23, and he also suffered from hypertension. After four months of veganism, he'd lost 40 pounds and managed to drop five of his seven daily medications.
PlantPure Nation touches briefly on the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries' relationship to global warming and deforestation, but I was a little disappointed that it didn't address factory farming's animal cruelty issues.
Still, the film is a powerful testament to the dramatic impact a vegan diet can have on one's health. And, though I'm an ethical vegan rather than one who focuses on the health impact of plant-based diets, I have to take a step back and understand that some people are drawn into this crazy vegan lifestyle to better their health. Regardless of how they get here, animals' lives will still be spared either way.
PlantPure Nation screens one night only on Wednesday, September 30th at 7:30 p.m. at the Malco Paradiso (584 S. Mendenhall). Tickets will be sold at the box office, but seating is limited so an RSVP is required. Call 901-590-2754 to reserve a seat. There’s a pre-party with vegetarian food samples from 6:30 to 7 p.m. at Whole Foods.