10 of the Best Food Documentaries That Aren’t About the Horrors of Factory Farming

10 of the Best Food Documentaries That Aren’t About the Horrors of Factory Farming

These films remind us that food can be fun, interesting, and beautiful.

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There’s no shortage of movies about food—it’s a universal subject considering we all need it to, ya know, survive. And while there are a plenty of documentaries out there picking apart the perils of eating nothing but McDonald’s or uncovering the seedy underbelly of the agriculture industry, that’s just not the energy we need in our onscreen entertainment right now.

Consider, instead, the feel-good food doc. These films, while not entirely without drama and struggle, highlight the happiness that food brings people, whether the subject of the film is the person making a dish or enjoying it (or both). Instead of filling you with dread about the food that goes into your body, these films will inspire you to treat yourself to a meal and put a smile on your face while doing so.

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Barbecue

Barbecue

Everyone barbecues. Matthew Sallah’s calming (and mouthwatering) 2017 documentary explores the different ways in which people around the world practice cooking meat over fire, from grilling hot dogs in a park to spit-roasting a whole pig over an open flame, all in the name of creating community.

Streaming for free on Pluto TV and Tubi; available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video, and YouTube.

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Breakfast at Ina’s

Breakfast at Ina’s

Mercedes Kane’s 2015 documentary is a loving tribute to Chicago’s Breakfast Queen, Ina Pinkney, and her famed restaurant Ina’s, captured here in its final weeks in business. While Pinkney tells her personal story, full of compelling details, the real magic is in her connection with her customers and their emotional goodbyes to a beloved neighborhood spot—and the delicious food that came with it.

Available to rent on Prime Video.

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Candyman: The David Klein Story

Candyman: The David Klein Story

How could a movie about jelly beans not make you smile? Costa Botes’ short but sweet (very sweet) 2010 film details the career of David Klein, an eccentric candy maker who eventually created Jelly Belly jelly beans. The film features not only Klein and his son, but also Weird Al Yankovic, because why not? (Warning: do not accidentally watch the horror film Candyman, either version, or you will have the opposite of a feel-good time.)

Streaming for free on Roku, Vudu, and YouTube; available to rent on Apple TV and Prime Video.

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The Fruit Hunters

The Fruit Hunters

For a very specific group of people, nothing is more exciting than a perfectly juicy mango, and Yung Chang’s 2012 film follows members of that specific group from around the world, among them actor Bill Pullman. Equal parts educational and strangely sensual, the subjects’ enthusiasm for fruit is contagious.

Streaming free on Pluto TV, Tubi, and Vudu; available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video, and YouTube.

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Garlic Is As Good as Ten Mothers

Garlic Is As Good as Ten Mothers

If you’ve ever wanted to see Werner Herzog talk about garlic, Les Blank’s 1980 documentary is the flick for you. The concept is extremely straightforward: the filmmaker simply talks to people—like chef Alice Waters, food writer Ruth Reichl, attendees of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and Herzog—who love garlic about why they love it.

Available to stream with a Criterion Channel subscription.

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The Gleaners and I

The Gleaners and I

Gleaning is the act of collecting what’s left after a crop has been harvested—The Gleaners is a famed 19th-century painting depicting the practice—and in this 2000 film, Agnes Varda embeds herself in a community of modern-day gleaners in rural France. Following the supposed food waste from the farms to the table of a Michelin-star restaurant, Varda beautifully captures the differing folks who live by a sort of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” motto.

Available to stream with a Criterion Channel subscription.

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono, the titular star of David Gelb’s 2011 documentary, may well be the MVP of food documentary subjects. Unassuming yet deeply compelling (much like his 10-seat restaurant), the Japanese sushi chef’s presence carries the film even when he’s not saying or doing much of anything. It’s a stunning and almost magical reminder of what a lifelong, fully devoted love of food looks like in practice, and will leave you craving whatever albeit inferior sushi you can get your hands on.

Streaming free on Crackle, available to rent on Prime Video and Sling TV.

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Julia

Julia

There’s no more uplifting and encouraging chef than Julia Child, and Julia Cohen and Betsy West’s 2021 documentary captures her singular energy to a T. A straightforward biography of the acclaimed chef’s life and rise to fame, this would be a good primer for those unfamiliar with Child’s story, but is enjoyable and inspiring for Julia newbies and lifelong fans alike.

Available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video, Vudu, and YouTube.

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Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles

Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is tasked with a showstopper challenge if we’ve ever seen one: bringing Versailles to life in dessert form at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Laura Gabbert’s 2020 film follows Ottolenghi every step of the way, from his recruiting pastry chefs to join the project to his examination of the role of food in Versailles’ open court to the creation of decadent, visually stunning desserts.

Available to stream with a Hulu subscription; available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video, Vudu, and YouTube.

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Spinning Plates

Spinning Plates

Joseph Levy’s 2012 documentary follows the chefs of three very different restaurants—Alinea’s Grant Achatz, Breitbach’s Country Dining’s Cindy Breitbach, and La Cocina de Gabby’s Francisco and Gabby Martinez. While each deals with their own unique failures and successes, this film shows that a passion for food and unending perseverance are the key to running a successful restaurant, whether it be Michelin starred or not.

Available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

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