04/12/2012 01:03 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

You Are What You Eat

I was recently reminded of something I've wanted to write about for a while when I read an article concerning the detainment and interrogation of journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras. Agents from the Department of Homeland Security have met Poitras as she de-boards her plane upon returning from abroad, nearly 40 times in the past 6 years. This action is primarily due to her line of work as a documentary filmmaker. Her films such as My Country, My Country and The Oath focus on post 9/11 Middle East-U.S. relations, the occupation of Iraq, and U.S. foreign policy.

Naturally, it's the content of Poitras films that have caused her to be red flagged by the government, which made me think about the immense challenges faced by documentary filmmakers in a society with so many opposing forces and differing opinions. All the red tape makes it even more difficult to have your voice heard, which is one of the main points of nonfiction filmmaking in the first place. I've lately watched two documentaries in particular that have really affected me, that concern a somewhat controversial topic, which I am learning more about all the time. These films have shed light on a development that is gaining more ground each day -- the natural and organic foods movement.

The first documentary that brought this topic to my attention was Forks Over Knives. This film, written and directed by Lee Fulkerson, explores the reasons why so many people in the world today are suffering from obesity, disease, and depression, and presents the theory that rather than curing these illnesses with medical treatment, they might possibly be cured by simply switching to an unprocessed, plant-based diet. The film presents immense scientific evidence to back up the claim that human beings do not need nutrients that come from animal-based products, and are in fact most often healthier and happier when they are instead eating plant-based, natural foods.

Forks Over Knives was one of the things that inspired me to change my own eating to a vegetarian, and mostly vegan, diet. I can't speak for others that have cut out animal-based products, but from my own experience, I have never felt healthier. Eating mainly vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, and soy has given me more energy and helped me stay in shape. I was never unhappy before switching to this way of eating, but I now feel more positive and productive throughout the day.

The theory that eating a plant-based, organic diet can make you a happier person is more fully explored in another film that has also affected the way I think about and consume food. May I Be Frank? chronicles the transformation of 54-year-old Frank Ferrante as he switches to an organic, vegan, raw food diet for 42 consecutive days. At the beginning of the film, Frank is overweight, suffering from hepatitis, and generally depressed. With the help of three young men -- Cary Mosier, Ryland Engelhart, and Conor Gaffney, who work at a raw, organic restaurant named Café Gratitude in San Francisco (with a location in LA now, too!) -- Frank completely transforms his eating habits, and subsequently his entire life. His health improves, he loses weight, and he is able to rebuild broken relationships with his friends and family. Now, it is true that eating an entirely raw food diet is pretty difficult, and may not necessarily be a realistic way of life for most people, but the point is that this film is evidence that being conscious of what you are putting in your body and avoiding processed foods can have a profound, positive impact on the quality of your life.

Documentary filmmaking exists to make us aware, to inform and enlighten the audience. The opposition facing Laura Poitras has reminded me of the controversies that continually face this type of filmmaking. Documentaries on the topic of eating natural foods have faced their fair share of opposition as well. There are many food-manufacturing companies that are put under fire in these films, being questioned about why they are producing foods that in some cases have been shown to be unsafe for consumers. The film Food, Inc. explores the agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto, who produce GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and questions many of their business standards and practices. But Monsanto is not sitting by quietly. They are consistently taking over more and more aspects of our food production and resources, as well as continuing to battle small family-owned farms in court, which is making the progress in way of natural food advocacy an even steeper uphill battle.

However, there is a continuing fight against GMOs and Monsanto that has recently gained ground in the form of a petition for a law that would require food manufacturers to label all of their products that contain GMOs. In fact, California is very close to being the first state to require GMO labeling laws, which would be an immense victory for food activists everywhere. I very much believe that this would not have been possible without the above mentioned films, which made people aware of these issues and thus caused them to take action.

I for one am thrilled that this issue is receiving more and more attention all the time. There are other films such as Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, or Food Matters that discuss this topic, as well as an enormous amount of literature on the subject including books, magazine and newspaper articles, as well as organic, vegetarian, and vegan cookbooks. I think this issue goes beyond the "granola" preaching of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. It's about being conscious of what we put in our bodies and how it is affecting every aspect of our lives. I hope that this continues to get people to think about what kinds of foods they are buying and consuming and how it is affecting their health and well-being. What do you think?

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