Last Updated: June 4th, 2020
There are endless facets to the food world. From growing food to processing to transportation to distribution to preparation to dining (plus all the people doing all of that work!) — there’s a ton to talk about. Committing a few hours to watch food documentaries that can help educate you on where your food comes from, the people who control it, and the folks getting those items to your plate will help deepen your knowledge base around an important subject.
What makes a good food documentary is a little hard to pin down. Like we mentioned, there’s just so much to talk about. So to make it a little bit easier, we thought we’d call out ten documentaries centered on food that we love — all currently streaming on Netflix.
The ten food docs below touch on each step of the food supply chain — from production and regulation to the people making food in the highest echelons to what food and drink do to your body. Hopefully, these food documentaries will layer in a little education about food while also entertaining you for an hour or so.
Food On The Go (2017)
Run Time: 66 min | IMDb: 6.3/10
As a lover of all things Italy, this documentary hit a very soft spot for me. It traces Italian foodways as they morphed during Italian migration to the Americas. The film follows the paths of various dishes from their source via migrant voices (mostly to Argentina) and shows how food is constantly evolving — much to the chagrin of the purists.
Food on the Go is a fascinating look at how even the most sacred dishes in food will always be changing and growing.
What The Health (2017)
Run Time: 97 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
Directors Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn peeled back the very disturbing world of industrialized food and medicine that plagues the U.S. and much of the planet. The film dives into how the industrial food system is set up to keep us addicted and sick, and then how the industrial pharmaceutical sector rakes in the cash keeping us that way. This is a harrowing watch that should have you in the streets protesting America’s special form of corporatism — because it’s literally killing us.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (2016)
Run Time: 103 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
It’s getting harder and harder to watch documentaries like this. The sheer white privilege of famed chef Jeremiah Tower is a lot to handle in 2020. Yes, Tower is a great chef who ranks up there with other French-by-way-of-America masters but what does that even mean anymore? The film serves more as comfort food served to you by producer Anthony Bourdain who helps carry the narrative of the film — so if you need a dose of Bourdain, watching this is the way to go.
In the end, the film serves as a time capsule showing that being rich and white over the last few decades meant you could be an ass, and people will still love you and make documentaries about how great you are in spite of it.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 8.3/10
Although this film is only six-years-old, it kind of feels out of date already. The thrust of the film centers around calling out environmental groups for not going harder against industrial agriculture and its devastating effects on the planet. It’s interesting to see heads of big groups like the Sierra Club or Green Peace scramble to cover when asked about that. Today, it feels like we are all much more aware of how industrialized agriculture has screwed us over. Still, this film serves as a good reminder if case anyone’s forgotten the facts.
The Milk System (2017)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
This is an interesting look at how bovine milk has become one of the biggest agro-markets on the planet. The film focuses on European milk production and trade but has tentacles that reach into the global world of milk (notably with the emerging Chinese market). You leave this doc somewhat baffled at how massive the milk industry is and how much it’s still growing, given the devastation it creates for animals and the environment — making it a worthwhile watch in our estimation.
The Truth About Alcohol (2016)
Run Time: 60 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
This is a little bit of a departure. This doc is actually an episode from a British TV show called The Truth About…. ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim dives into a subject from a scientific perspective to dispel hard-held myths and find out what’s really going on, in this case when we consume alcohol. This is a breezy watch that actually provides some useful information about alcohol consumption’s effects on the body and mind that’ll leave you rethinking that last beer in the six-pack.
Run Time: 102 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
This documentary takes a long view of putting meat to fire. It’s an exploration of how humans all around the world share the tradition of barbecue — from starting a fire to cooking our food on a flame. It’s simple. It’s universal. And it’s delicious. You’ll definitely start planning your next barbecue while watching this movie.
Sour Grapes (2016)
Run Time: 85 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Most of the docs on this list highlight our shared love of food and the sweat, blood, and tears that go into making it. Not so with Sour Grapes. Instead, this doc is true-crime paired with fake wine. The film follows the true exploits of a rich Indonesian wine collector who made millions by scamming people with his vast and expensive collection. The guy would fill old bottles of wine with the cheap stuff, then forge labels to make them seem worth more than they were.
A Tale of Two Kitchens (2019)
Run Time: 29 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
Chef Gabriela Cámara has been hailed as one of the most innovative women in the food and drink industry and this short doc — which comes in at just under 30 minutes — explores her dual heritage and how it manifests itself in her two restaurants in San Francisco and Mexico City. Besides showcasing how intrinsic Mexcian food is to the American diet, the film highlights the bond amongst Camara’s workers as she creates a community in both restaurants that withstands cultural pressure and political upheaval.
Theater of Life (2016)
Run Time: 93 min | IMDb: 6.5/10
While most food docs focus on chefs building up their restaurants, competing with their contemporaries, or striving for Michelin ratings, this film looks at what happens when talented cooks use their skills in the kitchen to fight for change. Italian chef Massimo Bottura and 60 other famous chefs created a gourmet soup kitchen in 2015, using food waste from Expo 2015 in Milan. The documentary delves into our global problem with food waste, how it affects the environment, and how it can be simply solved if celebrities and people with a stake in the game get involved.