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The 20 best food documentaries of all time

Looking for a hard-hitting documentary about food? Here's your list of best options

For Grace documentary
For Grace

When it comes to high-quality viewing, the culinary world has all of the ingredients for maximum entertainment. The pressure, the skill, the high stakes — it all makes for great television. The food documentary takes this one extra stop, often focusing on a sensational or troubling plot within the industry or how a chef or restaurant grew to prominence (or came crashing down).

Whether it’s simply witnessing what it’s like to be a Michelin-star talent in the world of cooking or digging into a scandal that plagued the entire wine realm, the food doc is must-see TV. These great films can change the way we eat for the better, inspire us to cook at home, give us a new appreciation of a particular cuisine, and so much more. Just be advised, you may need something good to munch on while you take in these food-heavy movies (or at least a good nightcap cocktail).

Here they are, 20 of the best food documentaries out there.

Bon appetit!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
77 %
pg 82m
Genre Documentary
Stars Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono
Directed by David Gelb
Our all-time favorite food documentary follows the life of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef considered the best in the world. His small 10-seat restaurant is located within a subway station, serves a set course, and can take months to get reservations. It was the first establishment of its kind to gain a three-star Michelin Guide rating. Both the visuals and the story arch are stunning, mimicking Jiro’s constant pursuit of perfection. Have a sashimi takeout menu close at hand.

Super Size Me (2004)

Super Size Me
73 %
pg-13 100m
Genre Documentary
Stars Morgan Spurlock, Daryl Isaacs, Lisa Ganjhu
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
In summary: You’ll never want to eat McDonald’s again (or you’ll want to immediately go to McDonald’s … it’s a toss-up). This 2004 documentary sealed Morgan Spurlock into the guild of iconic documentarians. The concept was simple: Eat only McDonalds for a month — breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert — and see how your health changes. Spurlock’s social experiment was simultaneously a cultural break-check on the role corporate giants have on American lives and health, particularly the obesity epidemic.

Noma: My Perfect Storm (2015)

Noma: My Perfect Storm
47 %
Genre Documentary
Stars Claus Meyer, René Redzepi
Directed by Pierre Deschamps
Located in Copenhagen, Noma has been named the best restaurant in the world. The title changed everything, especially for chef René Redzepi, who finds himself stuck between creating tranquil, brilliant meals and the scattered, frustrated anxiety of staying on top. Some of the sublime dishes you’ll see include bread and grilled roses, crispy reindeer moss, and wild blueberry and ants.

What the Health (2017)

What the Health
Genre Documentary
Stars Kip Andersen, Larry Baldwin, Neal Barnard
Directed by Keegan Kuhn, Kip Andersen
Attempting to seek out a dietary approach to prevent and reverse chronic disease (OK, we’re down), filmmaker Kip Andersen traces the smoking gun back to animal products. The pro-vegan film prompted us to take a good look at our meat/cheese/dairy consumption and test out healthier swaps. It’s huge when a food documentary physically makes you get up from the couch and seek out a healthier diet. However, many of the claims, such as eggs being as bad as cigarettes, have been called out as bologna. As with all docs, it goes without saying take everything with a grain of salt, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Sour Grapes (2016)

Sour Grapes
Genre Documentary
Stars Rudy Kurniawan, Laurent Ponsot, Bill Koch
Directed by Jerry Rothwell, Reuben Atlas
Not technically a food when finished, but we’re putting it on here, anyway. Sour Grapes is a 100% Rotten Tomatoes-rated documentary about wine. And damn, it’s exciting. Following the legend of the Gen-X Great Gatsby, a young wine savant who conned investors out of millions of dollars in “the world’s greatest wine fraud.”

King Corn (2007)

King Corn
70 %
g 88m
Genre Documentary
Stars Ian Cheney, Curtis Ellis, Earl L. Butz
Directed by Aaron Woolf
In what this movie calls “America’s best-kept secret,” corn is discovered to be in absolutely everything, namely in the United States. King Corn is a unique and daunting look into America’s food industry, focusing on the amount of corn produced versus where it all actually goes and how it affects our health. As two friends go on a journey to investigate the food industry, based on just a bit of land full of corn, they discover the harrowing truth about this country’s base for food production. Pumped into canned foods, frozen foods, fast foods, soda, and even salad dressings, this film also states that “Lots of corn means the raw material for an overweight society,” commenting on the dire need for change in the industry.

That Sugar Film (2014)

That Sugar Film
56 %
pg 97m
Genre Documentary
Stars Damon Gameau, Stephen Fry, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by Damon Gameau
Deep down we know sugar is bad for us, but Australian documentarian Damon Gameau is reminding us just how wicked the sweet stuff is (we promise you will be disturbed). Using himself as a test rat, Gameau adopts a low-fat, high-sugar diet equivalent to 40 teaspoons of sugar a day. The result: He feels like crap. Expert interviews delve into the molecular level of sugar calories and how they work (or more correctly, how they don’t work), and uncover the insane amount of sugar hiding in everyday foods, which are added to reach the “bliss point” that makes food more desirable.

Fed Up (2014)

Fed Up
71 %
pg 95m
Genre Documentary
Stars Katie Couric, Michael Pollan, Bill Clinton
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig
If you weren’t already convinced every ailment the human species has can be traced back to food, well buckle up. Fed Up is hard-hitting, fact-focused, and packs a “holy $#&!” moment every couple of minutes. American journalist Katie Couric investigates why childhood obesity has become an epidemic. We’ll give you two hints: The “fat-free” movement and the libel of food labels.

Symphony of the Soil (2013)

Symphony of the Soil
63 %
Genre Documentary, Adventure
Directed by Deborah Koons
When we think of food documentaries, we think of, well, food. And chefs and restaurants and grocery stores. But hardly ever the soil. Symphony of the Soil explores the relationship between soil, plants, and animals, highlighting the virtues of organic farming and experts who have made their lives around getting dirty growing soil to grow plants. If you don’t normally like foreign or subtitled films, this slow-moving, molecular-detailed doc might not be your pace.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Genre Documentary
Stars Kip Andersen
Directed by Keegan Kuhn, Kip Andersen
Addressing the corporate presence in the way we eat and live, Cowspiracy is a shocking look inside the industry that told us for generations how we should (or how they want) us to eat. From breaking down the food pyramid to insights into the meat and dairy industry, this documentary experience is sure to make you question what effect the food you eat has on the health of your body and Earth itself. Focused on the American food industry, a man goes in search of truth, whether willingly provided or pried from their reluctant mouths, he gets some jarring answers to the posed inquiries. After watching this one, you may just want to go vegan. 

Vegucated (2011)

Genre Documentary
Stars T. Colin Campbell, Brian Flegel, Joel Fuhrman
Directed by Marisa Miller Wolfson
Three meat-and-cheese-loving New Yorkers are thrust into a vegan diet. That means faux meat, zero eggs, and adios butter. During their six-week “vegucation” trial, the three get a lesson in Factory Farming 101, exposing the largely inhumane treatment of animals. We’re not saying you should be a vegan, but we are saying know what happened to your meat for it to reach your plate because that’s what it means to be a real man. A little rough around the edges, this doc will get you #woke.

Somm (2013)

58 %
Genre Documentary
Stars Bo Barrett, Shayn Bjornholm, Dave Cauble
Directed by Jason Wise
Do you know every single wine on the planet? These guys do. Four wine stewards study for the Master Sommelier Exam to earn the highest level of recognition for a Sommelier: The Master Sommelier diploma. However, the test is one of the world’s most difficult exams, not to mention it’s presided over by a notoriously selective Court of Master Sommeliers. For a taste, Somm shows how the exam covers all aspects of the world and industry of wine, beer, spirits/cocktails, and hospitality from a business, service, and philosophy. Did we mention the typical pass rate is 3% to 8%? So yeah, there are some breakdowns.

Food Fight (2008)

Food Fight
pg 91m
Genre Documentary
Stars Alice Waters, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan
Directed by Christopher Taylor
Focusing on corporate food company mergers, the United States Farm Bill, and profit over product quality, Food Fight quickly becomes a quirky, optimistic look at how people and their personal choices are slowly evolving the industry. Posed as a food revolution, this documentary contains multitudinous quotes from regular people, urging the audience to shop, eat, and dine local as a middle finger to the man. This film reintroduces culinary excellence in the form of quality farmed foods and the love of local chefs, reminding us of the delicious potential that our foods already carry without all those harmful additives we’ve become so accustomed to.

Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2016)

Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table
Genre Documentary
Stars Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Drew Nieporent
Directed by Leslie Iwerks
Forget Julia Child. Southern icon Ella Brennan was the true queen of food and a household name in the industry that you’ve probably never heard of. She was a celebrity restaurateur before there were celebrity chefs. Now, big names like Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Jeremiah Tower, and Tory McPhail give us a glimpse of this vibrant, smart, food-loving matriarch of Creole fare.

Food, Inc. (2008)

Food, Inc.
80 %
pg 94m
Genre Documentary
Stars Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Richard Lobb
Directed by Robert Kenner
This doc peels the lid off the obscene power modern-day food companies hold, which operate under the decree of faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper, and how the supermarket is a land field of heavily processed, corn-based, food-like items. Also, the government and food industries are largely corrupt, and healthy food is intentionally harder to buy, and … just spare us the struggle and watch it. One of the best (and most eye-opening documentaries) every American should watch.

For Grace (2015)

For Grace
Genre Documentary
Directed by Mark Helenowski, Kevin Pang
This 2015 documentary follows chef Curtis Duffy as he turns his Chicago restaurant, Grace, into the most sought-after dining experience in the country. You’ll be asking why it never fell onto your plate earlier. Watch as the Michelin-starred Duffy builds Grace literally from the ground up, designing his own kitchen, toys, and menu. Even more surprising is a look at the intense tragedies that defined Duffy’s youth and how they make him the last person you’d expect to be as successful and kind as the chef of Grace. This one is pretty damn inspiring and uplifting.

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt (2011)

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt
Genre Documentary
Stars Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Frank Bruni
Directed by Sally Rowe
At only 24 years old, Paul Liebrandt became the youngest chef in history to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times for his hyper-modern dishes such as espuma of calf brains and foie gras. A Matter of Taste shows how Liebrandt did what no one thought possible to do with food (while also seeing a certain wildness that landed him either on the most-hated or most-loved list for critics). The 2011 documentary follows Liebrandt through fame, the creation process and unemployment, and it gives a provoking look at the cutthroat world of haute cuisine in New York City.

Gather (2020)

Genre Documentary
Stars Nephi Craig, Elsie Dubray, Sammy Gensaw
Directed by Sanjay Rawal

This 2020 film is easily one of the most moving and important watches on the list. It focuses on the many indigenous communities of this country and how they’re working to restore their culinary identities. It’s bittersweet, touching on the genocide that nearly wiped out the entirety of these communities, while offering some hope by showcasing the fascinating ways native people are reconnecting with the land and their traditional culinary culture.

Rotten (2018)

tv-ma 2 Seasons
Genre Documentary
Cast Latif Nasser
Transparency is key, especially when we’re talking about what we’re putting in our bodies. This unsettling documentary series shows just how messed up our food supply is, infiltrated by evil business that often puts human health and the environment in jeopardy. It holds a mirror up to Big Food, a commercial enterprise that’s all but destroyed the way of the genuine farm, dairy, rancher, etc. You may want a barf bag as you digest the sheer scale of the system we live in, one that prefers monetary gains over fair wages and ethical animal treatment. Yes, you will shop a little differently at the store after viewing this one.

Julia (2021)

Genre Documentary
Stars Julia Child, José Andrés Puerta, Ruth Reichl
Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Julia Child is one of the true pioneers among celebrity television chefs. This documentary uses interviews with current stars like Ina Garten to paint a complete picture of Child’s impact on the industry. Ron Howard is one of the executive producers, so you know it’s going to be good.

Too hungry now? Why not watch something a little less focused on food by checking out the best documentaries streaming on Netflix.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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