As the threat of COVID-19 requires us to practice social distancing, many Americans are turning to their bucket lists of TV shows and movies to keep themselves entertained. Whether you’re beginning to reach the end of your queue or are just looking to learn or be inspired, the Sustainable America team is happy to help.
We’ve created a list of a few of our favorite feature-length documentaries focused on food and fuel topics for you to slot in between episodes of your favorite prestige drama or sitcom binge—along with links on where to stream them.
So sit back, click play and enjoy!
The Biggest Little Farm (2018)
One of our more recent favorites (and a favorite of many members of our community), The Biggest Little Farm is a powerful and personal documentary that chronicles John and Molly Chester as they uproot their Los Angeles lifestyles and become farmers outside the city they called home. Gorgeously shot by John Chester (a former wildlife photographer/cinematographer), the film covers the couple’s ten year journey to bring an old, dry plot of land into a sustainable, dynamic and biodiverse farm. Though challenges arise, this doc is an uplifting one, full of inspiration, cute animals and food galore.
Pump takes a swift and speedy tour through the many alternative fuels that seek to lessen the United States’ reliance on oil for transportation. Narrated by Ozark and Arrested Development star Jason Bateman, this 2014 doc outlines the harsh influence big oil exerted over cities, government officials and automakers for decades while detailing a roadmap for creating a more sustainable system. Though a bit dated in parts (hybrids and electric cars fortunately continue to gain traction), this flick does a great job of putting our auto obsession and oil into perspective — and highlights the opportunities we have to change the system.
Watch for free on Vimeo
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story (2015)
One of our favorite documentaries examining the issue of food waste, Just Eat It follows filmmaking couple Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin as they spend six months eating nothing but discarded food. From dumpster to dumpster, the pair find thousands of dollars of food discarded from supermarkets and take it home to eat, highlighting the many problems inherent with food freshness labeling and how much food is discarded based on appearance alone. It will make you want to dumpster dive yourself — or at the very least partake in rescuing what’s thrown out.
Watch for free on YouTube
Idle Threat (2012)
Featured as part of our I Turn It Off campaign against unnecessary vehicle idling, Idle Threat tells the story of anti-idling crusader and friend of Sustainable America George Pakenham, a New York City banker who has spent years educating drivers from sidewalks throughout the city. The doc focuses on his first five years of advocacy, from his on-the-ground asks of motorists to pushing for more impactful laws at the city level. In the years since, Pakenham and others have made thousands of dollars reporting idling vehicles to the city as a result of the legislation he lobbies for in the film.
Stream for free on Kanopy with a Library Card
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (2017)
Produced and starring the late Anthony Bourdain, Wasted! is another doc focusing on the global issue of food waste. Aside from offering a sobering look at how much food goes to waste, the film highlights the uniqueness and beauty of certain dishes and meals made from what many in the industrial food system consider trash. The result is a film that helps us reexamine how we relate to food and feel inspired to use every little bit.
Available to rent on Vimeo ($0.99)
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) / Revenge of the Electric Car (2011)
An all-time classic, Who Killed the Electric Car? is a historical whodunit that investigates why General Motors’ first commercially-available and beloved electric vehicle, the EV1, was suddenly and unceremoniously killed off. Like other docs on our list, big oil happens to be one of the culprits (not a spoiler, we promise) as well as a variety of others that had a hand in stifling automobile innovation near the turn of the century. The filmmaker’s sequel film, Revenge of the Electric Car, follows automakers as they race to develop a new electric car—including an exciting look at the early days of Tesla.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2015)
A PBS adaptation of Michael Pollan’s book of the same name, In Defense of Food offers a wonderful look on what it takes to eat healthy. Known for his popular maxim “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”, Pollan, known for his sobering journalism on the food industry and insightful contributions to popular docs Food Inc. and Fed Up, cuts through the mixed messages of healthy eating and “what’s good for us” to offer a simple guide to eating healthy and sustainably.
Blowout: Inside America’s Energy Gamble (2019)
Picking up where other docs leave off, Blowout takes a stark look at how the fossil fuel industry has ballooned in the United States (now the top producer of oil worldwide) and the toll it takes on people and economies at home and abroad. By tracing the rise of oil and natural gas production in the US over the last decade, filmmaker Zach Toombs showcases the eye-opening nature of the economy we created and the difficulties that exist in changing things for the better.
Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Can You Dig This (2015)
Executive produced by Grammy-winning musician John Legend, Can You Dig This tells the story of a handful of urban gardeners and advocates taking up the grow-your-own-food movement amid poverty-stricken stretches of southern Los Angeles. A critical darling coming out of the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, the film showcases a colorful cast of real-life characters who have overcome obstacles and persevered to cultivate gardens to feed their families and inspire their communities.
Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Image sources: Header by Grant (@grtshw) via Unsplash