On Feb. 8, I went to the Tribeca Grand for the first screening of Chow Down, a documentary that shows the turnaround that two men with heart disease achieved by switching to a plant-based diet. (By turnaround I mean that they didn’t die.) If you’re looking for an outreach tool that comes from a health perspective, this is it. Doctors like Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., Neal Barnard and Joel Fuhrman, as well as T. Colin Campbell, lay the facts out on the table, including the discovery that nutrition controls the expression of certain genes, including those that govern disease. The movie also addresses the government’s complicity in Americans’ nutrition-poor diet and the hold big-money interests like the meat and dairy industries have over what we’re told we should eat.
The editing was a little choppy in places—for example, there were supposed to be three participants, but the third, a woman, dropped out, and no other explanation was given except that she just couldn’t do it right then. But overall the movie delivered its message with simplicity, humor and truth.
Because it doesn’t address the cruelty issue, it was followed by a screening of Glass Walls, narrated by Paul McCartney. It was at this point that a lot of people left the room, while the rest of us covered our eyes and tried to plug up our ears. Make no mistake: This seven-minute film pulls no punches and is extremely explicit about what happens to the animals we use for food. I’d recommend this as an outreach tool, but most vegans aren’t able to sit through it, so I can’t imagine any guilty omnivores sticking it out.
The panel afterward included vegan (and one nonvegan) authors, activists and foodies: Gene Baur, Victoria Moran, Bart Potenza, Simone Reyes, Michael Parrish Dudell, Alex Jamieson and Annemarie Colbin. Responses to audience questions ranged from impassioned to no-holds-barred. Gene responded to one query in a very diplomatic yet matter-of-fact way: When he was asked that age-old question—What about humane meat and eggs?—he told it like it is: At the end of the day, no matter how much respect the farmer says he has for his animals, he slaughters them, it’s a violent and tragic end, and he does it simply because he makes money from it. The end.
The only cringe-worthy moments of the evening (well, aside from the screening of Glass Walls) were provided by Colbin, who seemed to be pushing to include meat in our diet and actually uttered the confounding statement I thought only ignorant omnis sometimes pulled out of their back pocket: Plants have a consciousness too, so if you care about them, being vegan isn’t the answer. What all of these people forget is that the majority of the grain we grow is used to feed the animals we slaughter for meat, rather than feeding the many, many hungry people in this country.
For the panel following the Feb. 19 screening, two new speakers have been added: Julie Grayer and Gage Johnston, the producers and directors of the film. And if it’s organized like last time, there will be drink tickets available for the cocktail hour in the lobby bar following the Q&A, at which point you can ask any questions and make any comments there wasn’t enough time for during the panel.
If you’d like to attend the screening, RSVP here—but do it quickly, because it’s a small screening room, and the last showing had a waiting list four times over. If you can’t get in this time, you can always subscribe to the mailing list. And if you do go, let us know what you think in the comments!