Documentaries offer a chance to dive deep into many different aspects of the vegan diet, from how animals are mistreated in the meat industry to how eating plants can greatly benefit your health. But before you press play, there are some disclaimers to be aware of. For one, watch with a healthy dose of skepticism, just as you would with any other documentary. "Nobody should make a radical life change solely based on one film," says Caitlin Shoemaker of the vegan food blog From My Bowl. "It can be the impetus, but it shouldn’t be the only reason. It’s important to do your own research."
Taylor Wolfram, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in plant-based nutrition, also warms of health-focused vegan documentaries that sometimes perpetuate sensational information. "I've seen first-hand in my private practice how health-focused vegan documentaries can exacerbate eating disorders and harm peoples' relationship with food," she says.
With that being said, these films can be incredibly eye-opening—especially when it comes to the ethical argument of a vegan diet. For Shoemaker, vegan documentaries were a catalyst toward going from plant-based to adopting a fully vegan lifestyle. "I didn’t know a lot about the ethics behind veganism, so it still felt okay to eat some dairy or eggs once in a while," she says. "After I watched Earthlings and saw the true horrors of factory farming, I knew that that was something I couldn't support."
So, are you ready to watch? These are the best vegan documentaries to start with.
7 must-watch vegan documentaries
When it comes to vegan media, Earthlings is the big guy on campus. The film isn’t an easy watch, but it's notoriously an influential one. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, the film uses hidden-camera footage to show the exploitation of animals across five industries: pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research.
“It’s easy to buy packaged meat from the store without associating it with a living, breathing, sentient animal,” Shoemaker says. “Once you see how animals are butchered or how baby cows are forcibly taken away from their mothers for the sake of cow's milk, suddenly those chicken nuggets and ice cream don't look as great.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry contributes 14.5 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. So it only makes sense that the environment is a driving force to go vegan. Directed by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen (the duo that’s also behind the controversial vegan documentary What the Health), Cowspiracy explores the impact factory farming has on the planet, from deforestation to water waste.
“I hope people can start to make mindful decisions and not just do things because that’s the way it’s always been,” says Rose Lee of Cheap Lazy Vegan, who recommends the film.
While eating vegan isn’t automatically healthy, focusing on whole, plant-based foods can boast many benefits. You’ve heard the idea that food is medicine, right? That’s what Forks Over Knives makes a case for. Through personal stories, a nutritional biochemist and former surgeon argue that eating plant-based can help curb chronic health problems like cardiovascular disease.
4. FOOD, INC.
Have you ever thought about where the hard-boiled egg on your lunchtime salad came from? Oscar-nominated Food, Inc. shows how unsustainable it is—both economically and environmentally—to produce meat, veggies, and grains in the United States. Add in corporate farming’s power players, and you’ve got another lose-lose situation for the land, animals, consumers, and employees.
Backed by heavy hitters Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Cameron, The Game Changers follows elite athletes who’ve gone plant-based and say their performance and health improved after they stopped relying on animal protein. It’s also directed by Louie Psihoyos, who previously directed The Cove, the documentary about dolphin hunting that made everyone cry. While The Game Changers is a buzzy doc, it has also garnered criticism on the accuracy of its research. Watch with a grain of salt, but stay plant-curious.
Dominion showcases animal cruelty on another level, so be warned. Even the noises in the intro might be chilling enough to make you want to give up meat forever. Throughout the documentary, you witness the horrors that take place in the food system through hidden cameras and drones. The film is narrated by big voices in the vegan world, too, including Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, and Sia.
7. 73 Cows
For a truly uplifting vegan documentary, watch 73 Cows. The film follows the story of Jay Wilde, a beef farmer who made history by becoming the first farmer in the United Kingdom to move from beef farming to organic vegan farming. Instead of sending his last herd of cows to slaughter, he donated them to an animal sanctuary so they could live out their lives in peace.
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