Must-Watch Documentaries + Vegan Popcorn Recipe!

I first got into watching documentaries as a senior in college, when I was taking a course called American Independent Films. Every week our class would watch “indie films,” films outside the major film studio system that are either quirky, gritty, or deal with fringe topics that don’t normally get coverage in the mainstream media. As part of our course, we went to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for 10 days. This was a very cool experience in which I developed an appreciation for independent films, and in particular documentaries. I hadn’t realized up until that point how engrossing documentaries could be and that they were one of the best ways to learn about a particular topic.

When I became vegan two years later, I started watching documentaries relating to vegetarianism, and found that they were some of the most provocative films I had ever seen. I’m now convinced that if more people watched documentaries about the vast web of crises caused by animal agriculture, our society would look a lot different.

Below is a select list of some of the best documentaries about health, the environment, and animal welfare. At the end I share my favorite buttery vegan popcorn recipe. But first, here are some of my thoughts about watching documentaries.

Getting into the habit of watching documentaries

Exposing ourselves to images, especially video footage, is perhaps the most powerful means through which we can grasp the importance of adopting a vegan diet. Otherwise, the health, environmental, and animal rights concerns surrounding the Standard American Diet (SAD) will remain “out of sight, out of mind.” In particular, it’s important that we bear witness to the pain and suffering inflicted upon animals in the name of SAD and our consumer society. Knowledge is power, and once we start to become more aware of the effect that our consumption of meat and dairy has on all aspects of life on this planet, the more compelled we will be to take action to stop the destruction of animal agribusiness.

All that being said, I don’t necessarily recommend watching too many documentaries in a row. Some of these documentaries – particularly Earthlings – are very disturbing because they deal with how animals are oppressed, violated, and abused in modern-day society. After watching these, you may need to take a break from watching documentaries for a little while. I usually only watch 1 or 2 documentaries per month, and the rest of the time I watch shows on Netflix.

My roundup of favorite documentaries

Earthlings

Earthlings

Bring your tissues – this film is excruciatingly painful to watch. Earthlings takes an unflinching look at our society’s treatment of animals, drawing parallels between speciesism and racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and domination. Footage obtained from hidden cameras unveils the nightmarish realities of animals used for food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research that are otherwise well-hidden from view. Watch Earthlings and you will never think about animal exploitation industries the same way.

Available on YouTube

Vegucated

Vegucated

A fun, lighthearted, and educational documentary following the lives of 3 omnivorous New Yorkers as they experiment with eating a vegan diet for 6 weeks. It’s a great one to watch with friends, family, and even kids!

Available on Netflix and Amazon Video.

Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy should be required viewing for anyone who claims to be passionate about the environment. The documentary follows Kip Anderson, a young environmentalist, in his quest to get to the bottom of why the mainstream media and environmental organizations refuse to acknowledge animal agribusiness as the #1 cause of environmental degradation.

Available on the website Cowspiracy and on Netflix.

Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives makes the bold claim that diseases of affluence such as cancer and heart disease can be prevented and / or reversed by adopting a plant-based diet. It follows the career trajectories of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional scientist at Cornell, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a former head surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. Despite having grown up on a dairy farm, Dr. Campbell eventually came upon an unexpected discovery in his research that would contradict everything he had been taught about nutrition. His findings around the strong correlation between animal protein consumption and cancer compelled him to take part in the largest nutrition study ever conducted, The China-Cornell-Oxford Project, to observe the effect that consumption of meat and dairy has on people’s health. Meanwhile, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn undertook a 12-year study in which 18 of his patients abstained from animal products. The data from Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn’s research was nothing short of astonishing.

Available on Netflix and Amazon Video

Blackfish

Blackfish

What is it like to be a 23 foot long killer whale living in a 60 x 80 foot tank at SeaWorld? Though SeaWorld’s public relations efforts would have us believe that SeaWorld is paradise for its marine mammals, Blackfish shows us another side of the story. Documenting the life of Tilikum, who was abducted from his family and natural habitat in 1983, Blackfish reveals what decades of captivity and isolation can do to a being that’s wired for complex social bonding and swimming up to 100 miles per day. Orcas have never killed humans in the wild, and yet Tilikum has been implicated in the deaths of 3 people during his tenure at SeaWorld. In the film we also learn that SeaWorld managed to obscure many facts surrounding the deaths, thereby misleading its employees.

Blackfish

Available on Netflix and Amazon Video

Home

Home

What is the earth and what is our relationship to it? Using stunning aerial cinematography, Home conveys the story of planet earth and how humans, animals, and nature are interdependent on one another. With Glenn Close narrating over a dramatic score, we learn of the insidious ways we humans are ravaging the planet and its resources, and the catastrophic consequences this is beginning to have, not only for ourselves but for the other beings we share the planet with.

As Glenn Close, the narrator says, “Everything is linked. Nothing is self-sufficient.”

The documentary is directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who is famous for his aerial photographs and book Earth from Above.

Available on YouTube.

Planet Ocean

Planet Ocean

Also directed by Yann Arthrus-Bertand, Planet Ocean teaches us all about the ocean: how it developed, how the organisms within work synergistically to support one another, and how we ourselves are utterly dependent on it for survival. As in Home, which Arthrus-Bertand also directed, we are presented with the great irony that although we need a healthy environment for our survival, our society aggressively seeks to plunder and destroy it at every opportunity.

Like Home, Planet Ocean is beautifully shot. But while Home relied primarily on aerial footage, Planet Ocean’s cinematography takes place mostly under water.

Available on YouTube.

Vegan Buttery Popcorn

Delicious and easy vegan popcorn recipe with “butter” and hemp seeds.

Yields: Serves 1 hungry person; 2 not as hungry people

  • 1/3 Cup Popcorn Kernels or 6 Cups Air-Popped Popcorn
  • 2 Tbsp Earth Balance Vegan Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Hemp Seeds
  • 1/2 Tsp Sea Salt, or to taste

Either pop the unpopped popcorn or pour the pre-popped popcorn into a big bowl, put to the side.

Heat the vegan butter in a sauce pan over low to medium heat for a minute or until it melts. Add the hemp seeds and sea salt and mix well.

Pour the butter-hemp seed mixture over the popcorn and toss with large spoons or spatulas.

Keep some napkins on hand as it can be a bit greasy. Enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “Must-Watch Documentaries + Vegan Popcorn Recipe!

  1. Love your suggestions- I’ve been a passionate vegan for awhile, but Earthlings definitely pushed me further. It’s pretty hard to watch though. Vegucated was awesome too! I have to admit I wanted to support Blackfish so I bought tickets to the theater, but couldn’t go in. I have the dvd now- just need to watch it…

    1. Good for you! Yes, I totally agree that it can be hard to get in the mood to watch documentaries like Blackfish. Sometimes I find that making a tasty meal beforehand to eat while I watch them can help take the edge off.

  2. I’ve seen Cowspiracy three times to get others to see it… people are strangely resistant unless you sit them down and watch things with them lol! And still after over a year, trying to get my mother to watch Earthlings…

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