Understanding where your food comes from, what you should eat, what you shouldn’t eat, how you should eat it, and how you can stay healthy while also supporting the environment and a responsible food system (phew!) is an ongoing challenge that could pretty much be a full-time job.
So it’s awesome when talented filmmakers package up important food issues into entertaining documentaries that fill you in on the topics that matter most. Like learning how sugar’s pretty much a toxin, in the just-released film, Fed Up.
“In order for people to demand food without pink slime, they first have to know that pink slime exists. Documentaries have the ability to bring people into the factory, out to the corn fields, into the food science lab, so they can see things they might not ordinarily know about or believe,” says Jerusha Klemperer*, a leader in the sustainable food movement who helped found FoodCorps.
We tapped Klemperer’s expertise and our own movie memories to compile this list of 10 really important food documentaries (in no particular order) that will help you eat healthier and be an even more responsible member of the food system:
1. Super Size Me This classic, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, documented the effects of a 30-day all-McDonald’s diet. “When Morgan Spurlock ate a super-sized meal and got so sick he had to puke out his car window….I guffawed,” says Klemperer. “McDonald’s stopped offering super-sizes not long after.”
2. King Corn College friends (two of Klemperer’s FoodCorps co-founders) move to Iowa to farm corn, and to learn something about the ubiquitous crop in the process. Considering it’s in everything you eat, you should probably know something about it, too.
3. Food Matters The “food as medicine” movement comes alive in interviews with nutrition and natural healing experts, who talk about how highly processed foods, pesticides, and the influence of the pharmaceutical industry affect your health. You can bet it’s not in the good way.
4. Food, Inc. “For many of us, this was the first place we heard of pink slime. It scared the bejeezus out of a lot of people, and managed to reach a very wide audience. And get nominated for an Oscar!” says Klemperer.
5. Forks Over Knives A look at the vegan food movement, including the results of The China Study and the work that doctors like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn are doing to reverse heart disease using meatless diets.
6. GMO OMG Jeremy Seifert takes his adorable family on a cross-country GMO fact-finding mission that calls attention to how ubiquitous GMO crops have become and what that means for farmers, consumers, and the environment.
7. Lunch Hour Just released this year, Lunch Hour looks at the unhealthy lunches being served to children in schools across the country and the activists, like celebrity chefs, who are working to change that.
8. Fresh Watching food documentaries can get pretty depressing, but this one decides not to dwell on what’s wrong. Instead, it focuses on “uplifting, positive examples of people building new food systems,” says Klemperer.
9. Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead Australian Joe Cross is overweight and sick and comes to the United States to embark on a 60-day juice cleanse to reset his health, and he pulls others into his journey as it progresses.
10. The Future of Food Debuting in 2004, this film was “an early and powerful call for action,” says Klemperer. It called attention to the spread of GMOs at a time when the public was wholly unaware of them. —Lisa Elaine Held
*In the spirit of full (and familial) disclosure, Klemperer is also Well+Good founder Alexia Brue’s sister-in-law.