You’ve probably heard Bill Clinton is on a diet. To slim down for daughter Chelsea’s wedding this summer, and in an attempt to reverse the effects of heart disease, President Clinton has (mostly) adopted the vegan diet espoused by renowned Cleveland Clinic doctor Caldwell B. Esselstyn.
Does the diet work? The answer is in a new documentary film, Chow Down, by Philadelphia filmmakers Julia Grayer and Gage Johnston.
Chow Down follows three people as they attempt to reverse heart disease and diabetes by following Dr. Esselstyn’s rules for a strict plant-based diet. The film depends on a stunt similar to the one Morgan Spurlock pulled in Supersize Me, where he ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and documented his progress. Chow Down is a kind of Supersize Me in reverse. The three heroes — Garnet, John, and Charles — attempt to shift from a mainstream American diet (lots of red meat and processed foods) to a vegan diet.
The results are nothing short of remarkable.
It’s not easy. Charles, one of the central characters, buys a motor home so he and his family can eat vegan on vacation. Garnet faces resistance from her teenage son, who prefers chicken quesadillas to kale. John faces the most remarkable diet shift: He’s been eating fried chicken at KFC three times a week for years.
Along the way, the film deals with issues of food justice, the question of whether surgery is the best solution for coronary artery disease, and the way family life centers on food.
So far, by following Dr. Esselstyn’s vegan diet, Bill Clinton has lost 24 pounds. He told CNN, “82 percent of people since 1986 who have gone on a plant-based, no-dairy, no-meat diet have begun to heal themselves. Their arterial blockage cleans up, the calcium deposit around their heart breaks up.”
Dr. Esselstyn is the author of the manual Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and directs the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Reversal Program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. A heart surgeon and one-time Olympic gold medalist, he’s been eating vegan for 26 years.
Watching the film and reading Dr. Esselstyn’s website, I was definitely convinced to eat more vegetables and less meat. I don’t see my family going vegan long term, but maybe we’ll try it for a week or two. In this pre-holiday time, with the annual turkey binge looming on the horizon, a vegan vacation is worth considering.
Chow Down is available online at Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, or it can be found at Philadelphia-area Whole Foods. Dr. Esselstyn will be speaking at Whole Foods in Philly on Monday, February 7th.