6 best documentaries about food justice, history, culture
The food justice movement is a grassroots initiative and structural vision that views nutritious food as a human right.
It argues that lack of access to healthy food is both a symptom and a cause of the structural inequalities that divide society, while acknowledging how race, class and gender play a vital role in how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
Specifically, the movement seeks to shed light on how communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately harmed by the current food system – for example, how they have been denied access to livelihoods. production.
In addition, the framework takes into account other factors that impede access to food, such as the price of goods and the location of grocery stores.
Therefore, food justice activism is as much about creating local food systems as it is about ending the structural inequalities that lead to unequal health outcomes.
The movement aims to address structural barriers and economic factors that prevent access to healthy, culturally appropriate and nutritious food.
Knowledge of food justice and culture is therefore vital. However, for those unfamiliar with the area, knowing where to start can seem a bit daunting.
Luckily, there are plenty of amazing documentaries out there aimed at educating the public and raising awareness about the food system.
Here are 6 documentaries and docuseries you can stream to learn more.
“High on the Hog” is a four-part Netflix documentary series that explores African-American culinary history and the influence of classism, racial disparities and working relationships on African-American food culture.
The documentary is an adaptation of the 2011 book of the same name by American food historian Dr. Jessica B. Harris.
“High on the Hog” is hosted by Stephen Satterfield, founder of Whetstone Magazine, a publication devoted to the history and culture of food.
Historically speaking, according to the show, American food culture has reduced African American cuisine to Southern or soul food. However, black people have made countless contributions beyond that, including to well-known classic American dishes.
It’s an important and culturally relevant documentary series to watch, as it sheds light on the part of what is considered American cuisine that comes from the African American population.
Not only does he educate viewers on the endurance of African culinary traditions and food, but he also speaks unabashedly about how slavery influenced what we know as American cuisine today.
It’s a deeply nuanced exploration of the roots of black American cuisine. In terms of food justice, this documentary is a crucial text for understanding and celebrating the true foundations of American cuisine.
Related Reading: Check out this article on respecting black culture and heritage through food.
“Salt Fat Acid Heat” is a four-part Netflix docuseries that explores how the titular elements are used in different local cuisines as the heart of dishes.
The show is inspired by American chef Samin Nosrat’s 2017 cookbook of the same name. Nosrat hosts these docuseries as he investigates the essence of cooking by distilling food down to these four basic elements.
She travels to Italy, Japan, the Yucatán region of Mexico, and her hometown of Berkeley, California, to meet with restaurant chefs, home cooks, and artisans to better understand the fundamentals of their kitchen.
It works to celebrate each cuisine’s country of origin while unifying their respective food cultures.
The series is a less academic and more accessible introduction to food culture and history due to its presentation as an educational show about cooking and travel. Its rooting in food culture still makes it very educational, relevant and enjoyable to watch.
Related Reading: Check out this article on Chef Andy Baraghani’s take on how food can reflect our social and cultural identities.
“A Place at the Table” is a documentary that highlights the social and economic implications of hunger in the United States, where more than 50 million people are food insecure.
The film examines the issue through the stories of a single mother, a second-grader whose health problems are exacerbated by her diet, and a fifth-grader who depends on the generosity of friends and neighbors to eat.
The film suggests that hunger in America does not stem from a genuine lack of food. Rather, it is a complex situation fueled by social and governmental apathy.
Among other issues, the documentary cites:
- the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) farm subsidy program rewarding large agribusinesses rather than family farms
- the higher cost of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables compared to highly processed foods
- the food stamp system that disqualifies many low-income households from government assistance
Although some evidence is outdated,“A Place at the Table” is a great documentary to watch if you want to better understand how structural inequalities lead to disproportionately unequal health outcomes for low-income communities.
Related Reading: Check out this article on America’s “food deserts” — and why some food justice experts say it’s not the most accurate term.
“Eating Our Way To Extinction” is a documentary that explores our food system, its negative effects on the planet, and the possible repercussions it could have on our future.
The film features various locations around the world to share the testimonies of Indigenous peoples most affected by the environmental crisis. They highlight the relationship between the food we eat and our current ecological crisis.
The film argues that the animal agriculture and fishing industries are key factors leading to increased cattle ranching, unsustainable animal feed production, overuse of antibiotics and Deforestation.
Thus, he asks viewers to consider a plant-based diet to counter the effects of environmental destruction.
This documentary has been criticized for overlooking the influence and culpability of wealth-driven economies, placing blame on individual consumers instead of demanding accountability from corporations and governments.
However, it is a good introduction to the relationship between food culture and climate change – especially for those looking to better understand how our personal eating habits can affect the world’s population.
Related Reading: Check out this article for nine tips to reduce your carbon footprint in the kitchen.
“Gather” documents the growing movement of Native Americans seeking to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty while struggling with the trauma of centuries of genocide.
It follows members of four different Indigenous nations as they work with community leaders to recover and preserve their cultural traditions. Some of these stories include:
- the opening of a restaurant using apache products to fight against food insecurity
- the reintroduction of ancient medicinal and dietary practices
- a teenager’s academic research into the benefits of a traditional buffalo diet versus a modern beef diet
The film’s story is rooted in healing generational trauma through community collaboration in the fight for food sovereignty. Personal accounts and archival footage contextualize the ongoing violence experienced by Indigenous peoples.
The documentary advocates for a restorative revolution and shines a light on how Native Americans of all ages are using their foraging, cooking, and foraging skills in the fight for food justice.
Related Reading: Check out this article which explores how honoring food traditions, including Indigenous food history, can help support a more sustainable future.
“Food Chains” is a documentary that explores farm labor in the United States and the culpability of multi-billion dollar supermarkets and fast food joints in the abuse of farmworkers.
Also directed by Sanjay Rawal of “Gather”, the film documents the experiences of migrant farm workers who pick fruits and vegetables sold to large US food wholesalers. It explores the work of the Immokalee Workers’ Coalition and their hunger strike for better wages.
The workers featured, mostly from Latin America, share their poor working conditions and experiences with both wage theft and – in some cases – modern slavery.
This documentary argues that the American food system will never be sustainable if it is based on the abuse of low-income workers. It also highlights how food justice and human rights are inextricably linked.
“Food Chains” shines a light on how farm workers are abused and enslaved to this day within the borders of the United States. It focuses on the human cost of our food supply industry, the battle for food equity, and the fight against corporate greed.
Related Reading: Check out this article that dives into the challenges associated with our food supply chain – and how you can help solve them.
In order to achieve a sustainable food system, it is imperative to understand the food justice movement.
While there is a growing body of scholarly work highlighting the movement to empower historically marginalized communities, there are also many accessible documentaries and docuseries that also work to influence change.
Film, after all, is a very powerful visual aid when it comes to raising awareness of social inequality, and it can offer a gentle introduction to complex topics.
Watching the movies and series mentioned above can definitely provide you with a solid foundation to learn more about food justice and culture.
Zuva Seven is a freelance writer and editor of the online digital magazine An Injustice!. She is committed to educating people about general health, wellness, and mental health in particular, though she also dabbles in politics and pop culture. Her work has appeared in various publications including Refinery29, Business Insider, Stylist Magazine, Greatist and many more. When she’s not writing, you can find Zuva working out at the gym or completing her Bachelor of Arts in Film, Media and Gender Studies at the University of Cape Town. Follow her on Twitter.