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Food documentaries are interesting beasts, a mix of gotcha journalism, lifestyle entertainment, character studies, and populism.

Some of the best food documentaries blur the line between information, entertainment, and accusation into often hard-to-digest but impactful filmmaking.

In the collection of seven best food documentaries below, I’ve included a mix of perspectives on food storytelling while steering clear where possible of celebrity packages, tele-series, and competitions.

Of course, there are well known documentaries covering food health, sustainability, and dietary information – it’s a natural focus of the genre – but I’ve also listed films with an interest in people and their specific relationships to food, whether it be chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, or everyday individuals.

Some of these documentaries are controversial, some are love letters to food and the characters you find in the world. All are worth a couple of hours of your time.

Food and Movies
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

1. Super Size Me (2004)

“Super Size Me” weaponized food documentaries, showing how one guy could make a film calling into question the food content and workplace practices of a giant global brand.

Sure, Morgan Spurlock’s story of eating Mickey D’s three times a day every day was a wild way to make a point, but “Super Size Me” (and the changing demographics of fast food consumers) did change the way McDonald’s did business.

2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Having lived in Japan for nearly two years, I was well aware of the quest for excellence (or obsessive madness) that is central to much of the country’s approach to nearly everything.

I found this documentary about Jiro Ono, his award-winning sushi restaurant (which seats only ten people), and the complicated relationship he has with son Yoshikazu, to be a poignant snapshot encapsulating much of Japanese culture.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is one of those films where the central tenet is not what you think when settling into watching the film.

3. Barbecue (2017)

I would love nothing more than to travel the world again, swapping stories and recipes with people across the globe over a couple of cold drinks at a crackling fire that’s full of meat.

Barbecue is a lifestyle as much as a method of cooking, and this 2017 film does a great job capturing the essence of what’s important about the global approach to food, flame, and friendship.

4. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2016)

Miss Ella Brennan (who passed away in 2018 at 92) was an enduring star in New Orleans cuisine, despite not being a chef.

If I wasn’t a fan of learning about the food of the South, I wouldn’t have even got a chance to find out who Brennan was and why she was so important to the fabric of New Orleans.

“Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table,” lacks the sizzle of other titles on this list, yet it gives the viewer a fascinating insight into the life of one of Creole cooking’s most legendary figures and biggest advocates.

5. That Sugar Film (2014)

I struggle with sugar more than any other food or additive. I find it’s hard to eliminate from my shopping, and even harder to stay on top of from a motivation standpoint.

“That Sugar Film,” by Aussie Damon Gameau, is a great way to stay motivated at dropping sugar from your diet, but also get into the nitty-gritty of what and how much sugar is in every day foods.

I highly recommend it, both for the simple message of Gameau’s storytelling and for his genuine curiosity about sugar and its place in food.

6. Symphony of the Soil (2012)

I really enjoyed the focus this film places on soil and how important healthy soil is for creating good food, whether meat or fruit and vegetables.

Some may feel the subject is too dry (sorry), but I found “Symphony of the Soil” a fascinating look into the importance of dirt from all of its stakeholders; farmers, ranchers, and scientists.

7. Noma: My Perfect Storm (2015)

Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma was at one stage crowned the best restaurant in the world, which from my viewing of Noma: My Perfect Storm, is a poisoned chalice.

Noma’s fame, its obscure location, and the truly innovative menu prompted this fascinating documentary, yet in reality, the film offers more about the frustrating and (at times) amazing Redzepi than the dining experience you could have.

It’s the honesty in director Pierre Deschamps’ portrayal of Redzepi – he’s not afraid to make him look like an ass – that makes the sometimes wayward film really work as a story, while frustrating you at the same time.

Conclusion

These documentary films are a fascinating exploration of the food we eat, taking us beyond the food and into the relationship that we have with food, both the positive and the negative.

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