Have you ever watched a documentary, expecting to learn something in a fun uplifting way, and by the end, your emotions had been so manipulated, that you were angry and outraged and stressed?
Yeah me too.
I love documentaries, but when it comes to food documentaries, it feels like most of them are competing to see which can make you feel the worst.
If I dial up a food documentary I don’t want to be lectured about how one group of people is victimizing another.
I don’t want to be terrified by horror stories about how Monsanto is the devil incarnate.
I don’t want to be attacked and shamed for eating a piece of chicken, told that it puts me on par with Nazi death camp soldiers, or preached to that veganism is the only path to dietary salvation.
I am not a fan of big ag or factory food production, but I don’t want to spend an hour and a half being recruited as a foot soldier in a food culture war.
I live a low-carb lifestyle, but I don’t want to listen to a sermon about how all carbohydrates are poison.
I don’t want to be lectured that GMOs are going to turn my children into zombies, and if I have ever let them eat a non-organic food, then I must be a terrible mother.
But most of all, I don’t want to feel guilty and shamed for every bite of food that I put in my mouth, or accused of selling out if I eat anything that isn’t organic biodynamic free range locally-produced, and harvested by virgins under the light of a full moon.
The interesting thing is that some of these fear-and-misery documentaries are actually pushing lifestyles that I agree with, and implement in my life.
Often it is not the message that I have an issue with, it’s the method.
I want to be inspired, not attacked.
So when I watch food documentaries, I’m looking for ones that inspire me, bring me joy, make me hungry, make me want to cook, and deepen my love of good food.
There are three that spring immediately to mind as food documentaries that have met the standard.
Cooked is a four-part docuseries on the history of food, divided into the categories of fire, water, air, and earth.
The food photography is gorgeous.
I love the glimpses into other cultures and how they relate to food and center their family lives around it.
Michael Pollan’s love and fascination with food are contagious, and I would love to live in a world where he was in my close friend circle.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
This is another four-part docuseries based on the cooking elements in the title.
Interestingly, it stars Samin Nosrat, whom Michael Pollan introduced to the world in Cooked.
She was quietly going about her culinary magic, enjoying life, and creating fantastically delicious cuisine, and then Michael Pollan decided she was someone the rest of us needed to meet, and the world is better for it.
I have read her book by the same title, and it should be required reading for any cook who wants to truly understand food.
She has an amazing ability to simplify things and communicate the joy and delight in topics that other writers make dry and boring.
I loved the book, I loved the documentary, and her advice has made my cooking much much better.
Samin Nosrat is a treasure, and Salt Fat Acid Heat is a delightful opportunity to step into her world and spend a little time seeing food the way she does.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I have watched this documentary at least three times. Even though food is in almost every shot, and it is the focus of everything he does, the sushi master Jiro Ono is the heart and soul of this film.
He is a fascinating individual, especially in our current world that touts work-life balance as the goal in all things.
Giro has no work-life balance. Nada.
He has work. It is his joy, his passion, his life’s mission, his obsession, and his reason for getting out of bed each morning.
While I don’t think I would have wanted him to be my dad, every time I re-watch this documentary, I come away inspired and contemplating how I can cultivate focus and meaning in my daily work.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a gorgeous piece of art that uses the textural layers of Japanese cookery and ingredients as its palette. It is as beautiful as it is inspiring.
I will continue in my search for food documentaries to add to my personal favorites. Ones that lead instead of push, ones that omit the stick and opt for a well-cooked carrot, and ones that show me the joy of the food world.