Interest in what we put into our bodies has hit a fever pitch, which can in part explain the explosion of food-related documentaries in recent years.
Among them is “Fed Up,” a new documentary that alleges the food industry has waged a 30-year campaign to mislead the public about the health and safety of its food, all with the help of the United States government. Narrated by Yahoo’s own Katie Couric, the film will debut April 29th at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival.
"The amount of attention paid to public health is minuscule compared to the amount of attention the government pays to promoting U.S. agriculture," Couric recently told USA Today. That lack of attention has changed the way we eat in this country, which she suggests has led to dire consequences for America’s children. “In 1980, zero kids had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It used to be considered adult-onset diabetes. And then by 2010 it was close to 57,000.”
"Fed Up" follows in the footsteps of other food-themed documentaries, many of which are informative appraisals of the food industry’s status quo. Others, though, are gorgeously-shot, mouth-watering opuses of food porn.
There’s a place for both types at the table. Here are a few that we advise adding to your Netflix queue pronto:
Narrated by food writer Michael Pollan and "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser, "Food, Inc." takes a hard look at the current state of American agribusiness. It isn’t pretty—food production on a mass scale is harmful to both animals and the people eating them, not to mention the environment. There’s a reason the film snagged an Academy Award nomination.
"Spinning Plates" turns the camera on three restaurants that couldn’t be more different from one another: a 150-year-old country restaurant, Breitbach’s Country Dining; an embattled roadside Mexican eatery in Tucson; and award-winning chef Grant Achatz’s elegant, theatrical Alinea in Chicago. It’s an intimate look at the hard work—and great food—that go into the making of a restaurant.
"More Than Honey"
"More Than Honey" attempts to answer why honey bee colonies around the world are collapsing, thereby threatening the world’s honey supply. Beautifully shot, this documentary will have you hankering for some of the sweet stuff by the credits.
"Super Size Me"
Morgan Spurlock’s seminal 2004 documentary, for which he adopted an all-McDonald’s diet, was so popular with theatergoers that it raked in a total of $11,536,423 worldwide (an impressive figure within the documentary genre). "Super Size Me" will probably put you off your fast food habit.
Winner of a 2013 James Beard award in the Special/Documentary category, "The Restaurateur" goes back in time to 1998, following famed New York City-based restaurateur Danny Meyer as he attempts to open two restaurants within a month of one another. “I can’t think of a single food freak who wouldn’t love it,” wrote CNN editor Kat Kinsman.
"A Matter of Taste"
If you take anything away from "A Matter of Taste" about its starring chef Paul Liebrandt, it’s that he’s a perfectionist. And that he might also be a genius. This comprehensive film follows Liebrandt from his lowly start flipping burgers to helming his own Michelin-starred restaurant.
"Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers"
In 1980, before the rise of food competition television programs, the quinoa craze, and other hallmarks of the modern food scene, legendary filmmaker Les Blank made "Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers," an ode to the herb known as the stinking rose. Under no circumstances should one watch this film without having a roasted head of garlic ready to devour afterwards.
"The Great Chicken Wing Hunt"
Filmmaker Matt Reynolds’ obsession with chicken wings led him on an epic road trip in search of the perfect wing, and fortunately for us, the cameras were rolling. "The Great Chicken Wing Hunt" is also about the colorful cast of characters that joined him, Reynolds’ sometimes-strained relationship with his girlfriend, and yes, lots and lots of wings.
"I Like Killing Flies"
Lovers of rude-shtick restaurants will dig this behind-the-scenes look at Shopsin’s, the New York establishment famed for its surly service and tendency to kick out customers. Owner and head cook Kenny Shopsin provides some colorful and often expletive-laced interviews.
The Fruit Hunters
Exotic fruit obsessives travel the globe in search of interesting fruits in this wacky documentary, "The Fruit Hunters." Actor Bill Pullman is among them, a fact that’s entertainment unto itself. Watch him sniff a mango in the trailer to understand what we mean.
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
Make a reservation at a sushi restaurant—a really, really good one—for after you’ve finished watching "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," or you’ll be kicking yourself. The film follows Jiro, the 85-year-old owner and head chef of a tiny Michelin-starred sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station. This is some of the most gorgeous sushi ever captured on film.
Becoming a master sommelier is one of the most taxing endeavors a wine professional can undertake, and involves a test that makes the SAT’s look like an elementary school geography bee. "Somm" follows a group of hopefuls as they cram, glug, and stress their way to exam day.
Forks Over Knives
At its core, "Forks Over Knives" is a convincing case for veganism. Through interviews with scientists and doctors, the film suggests that a whole grain and vegetable-based diet could help banish heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and other major health issues.
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
"El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" takes a look at a year in the life of the now-shuttered Spanish restaurant, once named the best in the world. The jaw-droppingly gorgeous close-ups of inventive dishes toward the end of the film are reason enough to watch this documentary.
"Step Up to the Plate"
"Step Up to the Plate" examines the relationship between renowned chef Michel Bras and his son Sébastien, who has taken over stewardship of his father’s restaurant. “The narrative—sometimes tense, more often meditative and always engaging—relates Sébastien’s growing independence from Michel’s oversight,” writes the New York Times’ David DeWitt. “But what resonates here are two men, two good men, whose lives have a paradoxically simple and complex bond beyond their profession.”