Rachel's Table

Six Documentaries that Changed my Food Perspective

I’m a Netflix junkie. Nothing I like more than surfing the choices streaming through my husband’s Playstation 3. I’ve relived six seasons of The Office, discovered Parks and Recreation (Ron Swanson is my hero), cringed my way through a couple episodes of Hoarders, and guiltily enjoyed each episode of The Tudors (in quick succession). I also enjoy the occasional documentary. When I watch one I feel like my mindless TV viewing is purposeful and even academic. While common sense and the taste of a fresh-off-the-vine tomato changed my food perspective for good, food documentaries have been slowly working their magic on me too. Here’s a list of the ones that changed my food perspective in a big way, meaning after watching each one I changed something about the way I eat or think about food:

Food, Inc. – The very first food documentary I ever watched (unless you count the short film I saw at the Herr’s Potato Chip Factory during my stint as a kindergarten teacher), Food, Inc. is an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The way it explains the industrialization of our food sources (i.e., factory farming, GMOs, pesticides/chemicals in food production, antibiotics in animal feed, governmental policies relating to food, etc.) is necessary and struck fear in my heart (fear of E. Coli and fear for the health of Americans). After seeing this film, I vowed to only eat locally sourced poultry. I haven’t had Perdue since.

Dive – My older brother recommended this short and entertaining documentary to me. The film follows Jeremy Seifert and friends as they pilfer through dumpsters at well-known grocery stores in search of dinner. What do they find? Perfectly edible and NOT expired food thrown away due to company policies. Jeremy rescues filet mignon, dozens and dozens of eggs, and perfect pints of strawberries. He feeds this food to his family and stocks his freezers full. I learned that America throws away half of the food it produces. That’s insane! After seeing this documentary, I vowed to be less wasteful of the food in my own fridge. If it’s about to go bad, I cook it, eat it, or give it away. I also take my food waste over to John’s compost pile every now and then.

What’s On Your Plate? – Sadie and Safiyah, two 11 year olds from New York City, decide to find out where their food comes from after experiencing a peak-of-freshness tomato while on vacation (I know the feeling, Sadie and Safiyah).

Sadie and Safiyah

Their journey leads to new discoveries, like where the apples in their school lunches come from (all the way from Washington State, not New York State; this doesn’t make sense to them) and how long it could take a school to receive a new, usable stove (five years!). This film cemented my committment to local eating and challenged me to look for all possible CSAs in my area in order to tell everyone to be a part of one! Chef Bryant Terry cooked up the bounty from Sadie and Safiyah’s CSA while teaching them the importance of shortening the food chain. Watch this one with your kids. Because Sadie and Safiyah are narrating, it’s interesting and easy to follow.

Forks over Knives – I cannot begin to explain to you how this film changed my food perspective. With data and facts, the documentary shows how eating meat and animal byproducts (like eggs and dairy) may be the cause of degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Both long-term and short-term studies on individuals and entire cultures are discussed. One short-term study shows a Nazi-occupied Norway with no meat rations or food animals available. The result? Disease rates went down; no meat, no disease. When the war was over, these same rates spiked back up. Another eye-opener for me: a traditional Japanese diet contains little to no meat (it’s used more for flavoring than anything else). In Japan, breast and prostate cancer rates are almost nonexistent. Again, no meat, no disease.

Since seeing Forks over Knives, I have eaten red meat only once, try to eat vegetarian a few times a week, and never, NEVER eat anything with high fructose corn syrup. (I could go on and on about our government-subsidized corn supply and the resulting government-subsidized unhealthy diet, but I won’t. Just watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.) I’m still on the fence about doing without eggs and dairy. I like them both too much. A life without cheese seems like a sad, sad existence. I can, however, do with less meat in my diet. I choose a fork over a knife, meaning I will eat a whole (unprocessed), plant-based diet so going under the surgeon’s knife is not a necessary future for me.

FreshMichael Pollan (a regular in food documentaries/discussions) explains what America’s farms are doing wrong: maintaining a mono-culture, meaning only one species per farm. Only cows on a cattle farm, only chickens on a chicken farm, only corn on countless farms in America’s heartland. A mono-culture is not seen in nature and breeds disease. A real working farm needs many different species working together to make a healthy whole (as seen on Joel Salatin’s farm). That’s why medium organic farms are more productive than larger one crop farms (about $2,850 per acre more productive). Here are other tidbits I learned: only three major companies control our food supply, 70% of the corn produced in America is fed to cattle, and since 1950 our produce has become 40% less nutritious. Awesome. But there is hope! I drew such inspiration from Will Allen of Growing Power, who thinks everyone should have access to fresh, nutritious food. He has a three-acre vertical farm right in the middle of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he trains others how to do the same, no matter where they live.

Will Allen – I love this guy!

This movie put a positive spin on the usually depressing facts about our food supply. The credits rolled while individuals told their own stories of change: starting gardens in front yards and visiting farmer’s markets instead of supermarkets. After viewing this movie I felt like we really can change the way our culture views food and food production, one bite at a time by buying locally, supporting farms near us, and making well-informed choices. I’m planting my own vertical tomato plants thanks to Fresh and Will Allen!

Food Fight – A lot of these documentaries deal with the same subject matter, but I always finish each one with a different takeaway. The takeaway here will take a few sentences to explain. Follow this progression with me: In 1971, Earl Butz (yes, pronounced just like it looks, Butz) becomes the Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon. During his leadership, small farmers are abandoned in favor of huge farms that produce cheap food in large quantities. These farms produce 16,000 calories per person per day. (Mainly in the form of corn and corn-derived products in an unsustainable way. We are losing soil faster than we can replace it.) Two generations later, obesity and food-related illness will give our children shorter life spans than their parents. This movie made me want to become a social activist and also caused me to examine politics and its relationship to food. I felt empowered to eat and shop local in order to create a change.

On a completely not-related-to-food note, Food Fight also made me completely jealous of this guy’s ability to grow a mustache. That is a sweet ‘stache!

Snapshot of David Lance Goines, writer and illustrator, and my mustache hero.

I may spend some time in later posts discussing the issues in these documentaries in more detail, but I’ve been so inspired by these six that I had to share. Next time you’re on the couch wishing for something interesting to watch, don’t just mindlessly watch another episode of House Hunters (spoiler alert: the closets will never be big enough for his clothes too; the backyard will always need a fence; and the kitchen island really is perfect for “entertaining”); check out one of these documentaries instead. And if you don’ t have Netflix, get on that! It’s the best.

{This post part ofΒ Fight Back FridaysΒ onΒ Food Renegade}

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42 comments

  1. This is fabulous! I have only seem food inc and that completely changed my perspective on food! Looking forward to checking out the rest. Thanks for sharing this knowledge πŸ™‚

  2. Netflix can really change lives, huh? “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” is another that had a big impact on us. For a laugh, have you seen the dumpster dive bit on “Portlandia”?

    • Hi Heather! I love Portlandia but have not seen the dumpster dive. I’ll be sure to check it out forthwith! I have Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead in my instant queue, so I’ll be watching that soon. πŸ™‚

  3. Erin Rowe

    Holy canolis, I think I’m reading myself when I read your posts. I’ll tell anyone who will listen that we could seriously improve the environment and obesity epidemic if the U.S. govt. would just STOP subsidizing corn!

  4. This is a great list! I haven’t seen any of these documentaries. I prefer to read books. But as soon as my boyfriends around again, I know exactly what we’ll be watching.

    • reader

      i prefer the books too, so here’s my list. omnivore’s dilemna and in defense of food by michael pollan; animal, vegetable, miracle by barbara kingsolver; deep nutrition by catherine shanahan, and of course, nourishing traditions by sally fallon.

      i’m a bit confused by the documentary list though, as some of them are contradictory. you can’t have polyface farms without the animals. also, that wartime study from forks over knives is silly. there is not only one effect from a cause like wartime rationing. look at the numbers for sugar consumption during the same time period.

      • Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve read two of the books on your list, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle being one of my favorites and one I reference a lot.

        I’m not a vegan, like Forks over Knives would like me to be. I do eat less meat than before seeing it, but I’m more in the “know where your food comes from” camp. I want to know what went into growing the produce I eat, and if I’m going to eat meat or eggs I want to know how the animal was raised, what it ate, etc. I’ve met the chickens where I get eggs from and they are happy and healthy.

        Basically, I’m banning any industrialized food from my diet.

        Thanks for reading!

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  9. Do you remember Elvira Mistress of the Dark? I read an article back in 1992 of how she grew her own food and the book she recommended was Diet For A New America by John Robbins. I bought the book read it cover to cover and still have it for reference. Changed my whole outlook on food and diet.

  10. I love netflix!! Life has been so much more relaxing in the evenings since we got it. i like watching burn notice. anyway, i have seen fat sick and nearly dead and also forks over knives… it might help to watch a few more… its difficult to kick the candy & chocolate habit up in this house.

    • Netflix is so great! I am constantly watching reruns of The Office. Burn Notice is good, too! I’ll have to catch up on that one.

      Food Inc. is a documentary everyone should see–focuses on the industrialization of food. I also enjoyed Fresh. It was inspiring.

      Thanks for stopping by, Melissa!

  11. Hola! or G’daay is probably more appropriate given im an Aussie :/
    I guess some would call it stalking but I prefer the phrase ‘plodding my way through your BLOG and having a great read’.
    I’ll certainly have a look through some of these doco’s. I’m a huge doco fan … whick the mr considers to be a bore but as you suggest there is something engaging about living vicariously through the knowledge of others πŸ™‚

    I would add a couple of my own to the list…
    Hungry For Change – just watch it!
    The men that made us fat – looks into the psychology of large organisations and how they control what we eat..
    Sicko – highlights the public health system in the US & across the globe
    Fat Sick & Nearly Dead – Fellow Aussie Joe Cross highlights the benefits of juicing and how it cured his mitochondria.
    Jamie Olivers Food Revolution – a interesting look on the Us school food system

    I have loads more but these are diverse and im sure there is something that will resonate with you.

    It’s been a pleasure for you to have me here (yes that was a little joke)

    Thanks

    Paul xo

  12. I remember the first time I realized that our nutrition depends on the vitamins and minerals in the soil – so more produce per acre equals less nutritional value per ounce of food. I worked for a dog food company at the time and had taken training on why high quality food produced less elimination (dog poo). It suddenly clicked that human food worked the same way – if your body craves nutrition and there’s not much of it in the food you eat, you will automatically try to eat MORE, get fat, have more health problems, etc. If the dog food industry was aware of this, how could the human food industry NOT be?!?!?!

  13. Those are all excellent ones. Another one to look into (I don’t know if someone else mentioned it or not) is Food Matters and New Diet for America. Food Matters really stresses how food is our medicine, and how we need to stop treating it purely as a means of halting that grumbling in our stomachs, or as an item of comfort. The latter was originally a book by the Son of Robins of Baskin Robins (his name slips my mind for the moment). The book and the documentary are both great, and well worth anyone’s time.

    • I’ve seen Food Matters. I need to do a follow up post to this one – I’ve seen many more food docs since posting this.

      Food = medicine is an important concept that most don’t fully grasp. It makes so much sense! I’ll be sure to check out New Diet for America.

  14. Dr.Deb

    I reviewed a documentary about a family that traveled around the world looking for produce that was not generically modified. It describes a father and mother with a young son who was fascinated with seeds…and their power to grow fruits and veggies.
    I’m stilling trying to recall the title of this documentary. Has Anyone out there watched this documentary?

  15. Annaliese

    I would also recommend The Case for Monsanto. I believe it used to be on Netflix but don’t see it online anymore. Amazingly enough from reading Skinny Bitch I became vegetarian.

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