Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Joining a rapidly growing number of documentaries about unhealthy Western eating habits, and ticking the envirodoc box at the same time, Planeat is a film which is guaranteed an audience but which may struggle to reach beyond that to viewers who have found similar work not to their tastes. This is unfortunate as, despite its vegetarian advocacy, it's a much meatier film than most of its ilk.

Talking to readers, the complaint I hear most often about well-intentioned films like this is that they come across as preachy. Planeat is certainly different in that regard. It makes its case clearly, but there's no hectoring tone - instead we're taken on picaresque tour of some the issues and the contexts in which they are played out.

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Information comes not from health food gurus but from scientists and doctors, and the filmmakers have made some excellent choices. Caldwell Esselstyn, in particular, is both convincing and emotionally engaging. As he talks about his work on diet and heart disease and recalls the patients who had been written off but are still alive, a small, spontaneous smile escapes him - it's one of those moments documentary makers dream of, when the factual becomes personal, when we suddenly glimpse the motivation behind all the work.

Though its case is generally well substantiated, there are a few missing pieces here, notably in the application of theory to reality. Yes, we would need to use less land to feed Earth's population if everyone ate a vegetable-based diet, but current shifts in land use are still having detrimental effects in places; this isn't covered at all. The film is pleasantly optimistic, but it short on ideas regarding the practicalities of change.

Viewers will be curious to note that there's a complete absence of any animal-rights based argument for vegetarianism here. Instead the focus is on health - the health of individuals and the health of the planetary ecosystem. Consequently there's no insistence that everybody should change their behaviour overnight. If you can cut down a bit on your meat intake, the experts say, that will still be helpful.

This is where the film plays its masterstroke. Rather than let the focus fall on what it is suggested we should give up, it instead tempts us with a look at some of the things we could be eating. For fans of cookery programmes it is likely to be love at first sight. Bright, crisp cinematography perfectly captures a dazzling array of beautifully prepared foods which one can almost smell (please don't do what I did and torture yourself by watching this film when you have a empty stomach). I've cooked for vegan friends for many years but a lot of these dishes were new to me, and I was pleased to find, in the closing credits, an invitation to read the recipes on the website. It's a tactic which could leave viewers without the time to consume meat because they are simply too busy stuffing their faces with gorgeous other things.

Planeat is refreshingly upbeat, seductive and enjoyable, a truly refreshing contribution to the genre. Well worth a look.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2011
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A documentary looking at the impact of dietary choices on Earth's ecosystem.
Amazon link

Director: Shelley Lee Davies, Or Shlomi

Starring: Caldwell Esselstyn, Gidon Eshel, T Colin Campbell, Yvonne O'Grady

Year: 2010

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK, US


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