This week marks the 10 anniversary of the debut of the iconic documentary, Forks Over Knives, which changed the lives of millions of viewers who, upon watching, immediately dropped the remote and picked up a whole food plant-based diet for the sake of their health.

In celebration of the anniversary, the documentary is now available for free on the Forks Over Knives website. The site is also offering meal plans that help you adopt this healthy way of eating at a discount of 25 percent off, in honor of the celebration. The Beet interviewed Forks Over Knives founder and president Brian Wendel, about what made him want to make the documentary back in 2011, and how the movie came together, in a founder's story last May.

We caught up with Wendel to hear his latest thoughts on the impact that Forks Over Knives has had on the general population and mainstream views about the importance of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet in the fight against heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Science has borne out the idea that eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes and with minimal oil can be effective in halting and reversing disease.

Wendel was anticipating the next event on the Forks' roster of celebrations: A live Q and A event with whole food, plant-based luminaries, including himself,  T.Colin Campbell, co-author of The China StudyCaldwell Esselstyn, MD, founder of the Esselstyn Program at the Cleveland Clinic and author;  Neal Barnard, MD, founder of the Physician's Committee on Responsible Medicine and a prolific author; Rip Esselstyn, creator of The Engine 2 Diet, and Nina Gheihman, Harvard trained sociologist and author. To attend this star-studded event on May 12 at 1 p.m. PT, sign up here, Note: The Beet is a division of Upbeet Brands, which also owns Forks Over Knives.

The Beet: Did you ever anticipate that Forks Over Knives would have the impact that it has on the general public? 

Brian Wendel: To the surprise of many, we knew that this would have an impact, from the time we started. The creators of the film–and by that I mean me, John Corry, and Lee Fulkerson–always believed that this was going to be an impactful film. The reason being is that it is such an important message that appeals to so many people. If you look at people with heart disease or diabetes or are concerned with their health, that’s the majority of people. In almost all cases of heart disease, you can either stop it or even reverse it with diet. So we always knew this was going to be hugely impactful.

It was so great to meet the doctors and cover them. In addition to being amazing at what they do, they are amazing people. The compelling part for me was reading their books [The China Study, and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease] and getting to understand their research– not just Dr. Esselstyn or T. Colin Campbell but all of the doctors, and then making the film.

We saw first hand what a whole-food, plant-based diet could do. Evelyn Osswick was a patient who had been told she had just weeks to live and she ended up living decades longer, to age 90. The topic of the film is not just an edge case but has had a great impact on so many people.

The Beet: Did you know while you were filming what was happening?

Brian Wendel: When you saw the experts up close and heart them, it was an amazing experience. We were very much looking forward to how people would react when they saw this footage. We hoped it would have the same impact on the audience as it was having on all of us.

Several of our crew, such as a co-producer and cameraman, had not been plant-based going in, and they went plant-based as a result of what they saw on set. Alison Boon [a co-producer] shot simple B role of Colin Campbell in Maine, and she came back from that first trip plant-based. And before she got hired she had told John Corry that she would never go vegan. But she was so impacted by that first shoot with Colin that she became an advocate for plant-based eating.

The Beet: When you think about the next 10 years ahead, what are your goals?

Brian Wendel:  Since the film came out -- the film really made the case for a WFPB lifestyle. And our goal has been to make it possible for people to adopt the lifestyle as something that is easy and enjoyable. That’s been our commitment for the past ten years and that's our goal going forward. Producing more products and services to make it possible for more people to adopt this lifestyle is the goal.

The Beet: What are you most proud of? Saving the lives?

Brian Wendel:  I'm just so proud of the fact that we’ve been able to have so much impact on the general population about diet and lifestyle. Before we got into this, adopting the Plant-based or whole food diet thought to be possible but not that healthy because you need meat for protein and dairy for calcium.  But that idea has shifted.

The idea that it was necessary or even beneficial to eat meat and dairy is something that is rapidly being put aside, and we had a role in that.

Everyone knows now that eating plant-based is healthy. The question now is can they do it? And that is a different question than people had back in 2011 when the film came out.  There's a different mindset than there was back then. The idea that we made a case based on science, that a whole food plant-based diet is healthier for you, and then we created meal plans that are the practical application of that lifestyle. We brought that practical application to people and now, so many people are living happier, healthier lives and better lives by eating this way.

Today the average person accepts that a plant-based diet is healthier and the question is now how to do it.

The Beet: Forks is unique in its integrity and mission. What sets it apart?

Brian Wendel: The answer is we are very careful to provide very accurate information and advice and when you follow it, this advice really works. That makes us stand out.

If you follow a WFPB diet, the bottom line is it really works. The personal testimonials from one person to another are so powerful. We feel we have stuck to what we know and stayed focused on the basics.

This is science-based nutrition. The studies have proven it. The preponderance of the evidence. We don't go with one study or just the latest study, but the research that repeats over and over… which is that a whole food plant-based diet, of foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, vegetables, all kind of legumes, works. We tell people to stay focused on whole foods and build their meals around these kinds of foods. The message is to keep their meals focused on foods within these categories and using recipes that include foods they love.

The Beet: How has your life changed since founding Forks Over Knives?

Brian Wendel: Day to day, certainly I have really appreciated the opportunity to make this my career. Before Forks, I thought I was going to go back to my career in real estate, which I actually liked.

There is something professionally gratifying to help people improve their lives. I love the idea that we really empower people to live better lives. We are working in partnership with them and providing information–which comes from the scientific literature and medical professionals. I love that we can help provide the information they need, and they get to do what they want with it.

The Beet: What are your favorite Forks Over Knives recipes, if you had to choose?

Brian Wendel: Anything Darshana [Thacker] makes. I love her cooking and have since long before we ever started going out. Her Corn Chowder is amazing. But so is her Tortilla Soup, and her Spaghetti with Lentil Meatballs …. Everything she makes is amazing.

We are getting married in a few weeks, and I am so excited. I've known her since 2003. But she began contributing to Forks long before we started dating in 2012. So we've known each other for years.

Do you have a mantra? If so what are the words you live by or believe in?

Brian Wendel: For food, it would be, "Keep it simple, keep it whole," but that is from Matt Lederman’s book. For life, my mantra is "Keep it simple, keep it honest. That's how I live.

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