Edited by Mark Weinstein
Peanut Butter Productions
We are told at the beginning of “Chow Down” that Americans are sick. Later on we see comedian Jon Stewart telling us the news is all pretty grim but, “as long as you have your health . . . . Well, according to recent studies, you don’t.”
Chronic disease accounts for 70 percent of deaths in America. The U.S. now ranks forty-second in the world in life expectancy, down from eleventh place a mere twenty years ago. Half of all men who have heart attacks before age sixty-five die within eight years. Statistics like these are scattered regularly throughout the film but the focus is on three people who have been diagnosed with serious heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Charles, John and Garnet chose to opt out of drugs and surgery and try a diet-based approach to restore their health.
That is certainly good as far as it goes. They even beat up on the USDA food pyramid, which is also good. Then the faces of Caldwell Esselstyn (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease) and T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) appear as they promote their favorite gospel. If you want to be healthy, then eating is suffering. For a good example of how to eat, look to the rabbit. They even show an animation of rabbits piling up the kinds of food you should eat. As you know, your beef, bacon and butter are safe from the rabbit-people. Don’t get me wrong. A salad is fine as long as it is in the right container—a nice, big juicy steak.
John went from eating KFC and pizza almost every day, which would kill just about anybody, to eating like an herbivore. Charles tempts death by telling the world on camera that his wife used to be a bad cook and many times he was unable to identify what he was eating. His wife sits beside him as he shares this information, and I got the feeling he might have bigger problems than a heart attack if he keeps that up. Garnet and her family were all going to do “the diet” together. That lasted almost all the way through one meal before they bailed on her. This is where I have to give the film some credit. They are honest and up front about the difficulty in eating that sort of diet. Charles has changed his paradigm and admits eating isn’t fun anymore. Garnet was unhappy that she was on her own since nobody else in her family could take it. There were even several interviews with other people on the street who would clearly rather die than give up the good stuff like sugar. So the claim is that you will live longer if you join the rabbit-people but you will hate life because you can’t eat anything delicious. That’s great news.
Esselstyn tries to defend all this by resorting to the Framingham study. He points out that a third of all heart attack victims in the study had cholesterol levels between 150 and 200mg/dl. What is his interpretation of this fact? Since there is no evidence that keeping cholesterol below 200mg/ dl reduces heart attacks, we must drive that killer cholesterol even lower! Unfortunately he neglects to cite any evidence that shows levels below 150 reduce heart attack risk. I wouldn’t be surprised if the heart attack rate does decline at such levels because anyone with cholesterol that low will probably die of cancer, stroke or suicidal depression before they have time to have a heart attack. My studies show that your health will not suffer at all if you pass up any opportunity to see this movie. Studies also show that “Chow Down” rates a thumbs DOWN.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2011.