Food Health Lifestyle Social Issues

10 Plant-Based Food Documentaries to Watch Right Now

10 min read

More and more people are interested in a whole foods, plant-based diet. Some are motivated by specific health concerns. Others by an interest in disease prevention, peak performance, sustainability, or ethical concerns. Documentary films are playing a huge part in fueling this growing movement. They’re a great way to learn, get inspired, and to help spread the word to friends, coworkers, classmates, and even family! Discover the power of plant-based food documentaries and find out 10 of our favorites.

If someone went vegan or vegetarian in the late 1980s or ’90s, there’s a good chance they were inspired by the first book from my dad (and now colleague), John Robbins — Diet for a New America. If they made the shift between 2005 and 2011, the most likely influence they’ll name is Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study

When I ask people now why they first decided to try a plant-based diet, many of them name the documentary Forks Over Knives. Since that groundbreaking movie debuted in May 2011, several other high-profile plant-based food documentaries have continued to spread the message. And many more older films have gained renewed interest as well.

These books and films are having a lasting impact on the way we eat. Recent polls suggest that a whopping 40% of Americans now make an effort to eat more plant-based. And as the explosion of interest in plant-based meats and milks demonstrates, this is having a significant impact on the marketplace.

Plant-based documentaries are inspiring tens of millions of people and are starting to shift the course of food culture, even amongst people who have never seen or heard of them.

The New Accessibility of Plant-Based Food Documentaries

Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have made it extremely easy to watch all manner of films. Viewers don’t have to wait until a film comes to a theater near them or purchase a DVD or Blu-Ray. And the more popular a documentary gets, the more it’s highlighted by the streaming service’s algorithm, so subscribers start getting introduced to films they might not have even thought to search for.

Since you can watch food documentaries online, it’s easy to share them via viewing parties with friends and family. Add some food, and you’ve got a party, entertainment, educational resource, and demonstration all in one.

Often, plant-based or environmental organizations and meetup groups also host film screenings in private homes, conference rooms, ballrooms, theatres, or auditoriums. This is a chance for community members to invite their friends and share in an experience with a group of like-minded individuals. In a world where healthy eating is still outside the mainstream, this communal experience can make the ideas in these films more approachable.

And since documentaries can be so effective in opening people’s minds to new possibilities, they often end up generating a ton of online buzz. Blogs, articles, podcasts, and social media tout the documentaries, turn their key messages into visually arresting memes, and provide easy links to watch online.

A Food Documentary Close to My Heart: Diet for a New America

Diet for A New America logo

But what makes a documentary an effective medium of change?

For one thing, a good documentary isn’t just a video lecture highlighting the facts. It follows the rules of good storytelling, introducing compelling characters, humor, pathos, conflict, and high stakes.

My dad’s PBS documentary (it set the PBS record for most pre-airing VHS sales, which was a big deal back in 1991), Diet for a New America, doesn’t start with statistics about meat consumption and heart disease. Instead, the first several minutes share my dad’s story of walking away from the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune to follow his conscience. The facts about the standard American diet are introduced as a series of discoveries, almost like a mystery, as he grapples with the legacy of his own childhood illnesses and his quest to heal himself.

The experts in this film, like Michael Klaper, MD (and if you’re familiar with him now, just wait until you see him as a young man!), are introduced as guides, mentors, and helpers along the course of my dad’s journey to understanding. Rather than claiming the position of “Expert You Should Listen To,” my dad acts as a proxy for the audience, humbly taking us along.

Documentaries grab our attention because we want to know what happens next — just like a good novel or fictional Hollywood movie. In Diet for a New America, the section on osteoporosis starts with an interview with a woman who was just diagnosed and is worried because she is still young and fears “disintegrating.” Now, the facts and details of the dietary causes of this disease aren’t just numbers and medical jargon; they have a human face. And that face belongs to someone the audience immediately cares about.

The Appeal of Plant-Based Documentaries

Documentaries also influence and persuade by tugging on emotions as well as appealing to reason. One way they do this is through the use of music. Music can paint a scene with a particular mood, as well as heighten the emotions that a viewer would naturally feel. The slow piano notes that accompany images of penned-in cows in Diet for a New America create an empathic bond with the animals. This scene precedes a montage of mistreatment cut with scenes of chefs talking about how delicious cow parts are. The juxtaposition makes a powerful statement, one made even more poignant because of our emotional connection to the cows.

The characters in documentaries are also often aspirational. We grow to like them and want to be like them. Or, in some cases, the documentaries feature celebrities with whom we already feel an affinity. Both Forks Over Knives and The Game Changers spotlight famous and highly accomplished people who have benefited from the plant-based lifestyle, including actors, Olympians, and scrappy underdogs.

The Power of the Plant-Based Message

people planting vegetables in greenhouse

Of course, one of the cornerstones of a galvanizing and even world-changing documentary is a message that is fresh, edgy, and credible. It doesn’t hurt that the reasons to go plant-based are so compelling. They were already compelling in 1987 when Diet for a New America was published. And they’ve only become more compelling since then.

Science has produced overwhelming evidence for the health benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Eating more plants and fewer animal products is one of the most powerful ways individuals can personally address the worsening climate crisis.

And the animal welfare movement has worked with top Hollywood celebrities to publicize and protest the routine practice of animal cruelty on factory farms.

For many consumers, the term “plant-based” describes their dietary preferences without the ideological baggage that many people associate with “vegan” or “vegetarian.” And with the advent of plant-based meat and dairy analogues that are nearly indistinguishable from — and often even better tasting than the originals — more and more people prefer to go meatless when possible.

A lot of the resistance to plant-based eating that was rooted in a fear of “skinny, weak vegetarians” (think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous put-down of Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan, “You hit like a vegetarian”) has withered in response to the avalanche of top athletes crediting their plant-based diet with giving them a competitive advantage. It didn’t hurt that Schwarzenegger himself was featured in The Game Changers, telling muscle men they were misled by marketing and weren’t doing themselves any favors on a meat-heavy diet.

10 of the Best Plant-Based Food Documentaries

Black couple watches a documentary on a TV with their backs to the camera.

So now that we’ve highlighted the importance of these food and environmental documentaries, let’s look at some of the most highly recommended. These are the top 10 food documentaries that advocate for a plant-based or vegan diet.

Many are available from one or more of the big streaming services. Some are viewable for free right on this page. Others are available only on DVD or Blu-Ray.

And now, without further ado, here are 10 plant-based food documentaries to watch right now (in no specific order).

1. Forks Over Knives

One of the most-watched documentaries of all time (not just plant-based, but on any topic), Forks Over Knives presents the groundbreaking research of T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and the clinical application of that research by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD. The story of the film is simple: we as a society are sick and getting sicker, and there’s something each of us can do about it.

From heart disease to erectile dysfunction to cancer, Lee Fulkerson (director and narrator), takes us on a journey consisting of one shocking discovery after another. Using a “reality show” frame of showing us the effects of switching to a healthy diet over a short period of time, Fulkerson and the other ‘patients’ featured in the film, show how powerful a plant-based diet can be to reverse chronic disease.

And the final shot of a family dinner between the Esselstyn’s and Campbell’s highlights just how delicious and accessible this way of eating can truly be.

2. What the Health?

What the Health? Is an investigative documentary by the same creators as Cowspiracy (also on this list). The controversial film makes many of the same arguments as Forks Over Knives, but with a slightly more confrontational strategy. It does an amazing job at shining a light on the conflicts of interest that keep the medical establishment, pharmaceutical industry, and media from telling us the truth about how the standard American diet is killing us.

3. The Need To Grow

The Need to Grow film

I was honored to participate in the production of this film, which examines the industrial food system and highlights the work of true food revolutionaries who are leading the way to a sustainable future. From micro-farm master, Erik Cutter, who grows “100% organic, nutrient-dense food at warp speed” over cement and other human-made surfaces, to activist Girl Scouts trying to get GMOs out of Girl Scout Cookies, we meet bold, determined, and creative “solutionaries” pointing the way to a better world.

4. The Game Changers 

The Game Changers is one of the most popular additions to the plant-based documentary genre. It features a Who’s Who of top athletes, and is produced and promoted by top Hollywood luminaries such as James Cameron (Oscar-winning director of Titanic and Avatar), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and Oscar-winning documentary director, Louis Psihoyos.

The film follows Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion, James Wilks, on his journey of recovery and discovery. It shows that athletes at all levels can not only thrive but improve on a plant-based diet. And after the Tennessee Titans, many of whose players are in the documentary, beat two heavily favored rivals to make it to the AFC Championship game in 2020, even more professional athletes have started taking notice of The Game Changers’ message.

5. Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy takes a candid, edgy, and at times humorous look at the agriculture industry from an environmental perspective. The filmmakers highlight the hypocrisy of major environmental organizations’ efforts to combat climate change while not uttering a word about the biggest contributor of all: animal agriculture. What lies behind that hypocrisy is an intentional omission that comes with a substantial amount of pushback, and threats, from industry players.

6. Food, Inc.

This documentary shows how our broken food system puts our health at risk. It advocates for local and non-industrial forms of farming (including animal agriculture). And makes a powerful case for taking back control over where our food comes from.


PLANEAT is the story of three men and their lifelong search for a diet that’s good for health, the environment, and the planet. The film uses scientists, doctors, and chefs alike to present a convincing case for the adoption of a plant-based diet. 

This documentary features the groundbreaking work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell in China, exploring the link between diet and disease; Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s use of diet to treat heart disease patients; and Professor Gidon Eshel’s investigations into how our food choices contribute to global warming, land use, and oceanic dead zones. Informative and encouraging, PLANEAT shows how the problems we face today can be solved, without sacrificing flavor, nutrition, or substance.

8. Diet for a New America

This documentary is a companion to my dad’s 1987 book of the same name. One of the earliest, if not the first plant-based documentary, Diet for a New America follows John Robbins’ exploration of the consequences of a processed and meat-heavy diet on individuals’ health as well as the environment, and the animals who suffer for our eating pleasure. I’ve got to say, the science to back up his beliefs has come so far since the book and movie were first released. It’s pretty amazing how right my dad got it all those years ago.

While we now know more about the mechanisms by which animal-centric diets contribute to heart disease, and just how dire the environmental costs of animal agriculture are, the content in Diet for a New America has still stood the test of time despite being produced in the early 1990s. Well done, Dad!


EARTHLINGS is an animal rights-centered documentary film about humankind’s dependence on animals for economic purposes. Presented in five chapters (pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research), the film is narrated by Oscar-winning actor, Joaquin Phoenix. It also features music by vegan musician, Moby, and was written, produced, and directed by activist Shaun Monson.

10. From Food to Freedom

From Food to Freedom documentary poster

From Food to Freedom is a riveting and ground-breaking documentary highlighting the connection between food and health, and how healing from type 2 diabetes is possible on a plant-based diet. The film follows the journey of six participants who embark on a 10-day journey at a live-in facility to see if switching from the standard American diet to a more plant-based one will benefit their health. Watch along with these everyday people as they see real results unfold before their very eyes. 

From Food to Freedom empowers viewers to reclaim both their health and freedom through healthy and whole plant-based foods. And to break free of the bondage imposed by the healthcare industry and pharmaceutical companies.

From Food to Freedom was produced by the creators of the hit film PlantPure Nation, one of whom also produced Forks Over Knives.

Gaia — a “Netflix” for transformational films

If you want streaming access to 8,000+ consciousness-expanding films, shows, and classes, you might want to check out Gaia. FRN has a channel that highlights some of our favorite films that Gaia hosts. Gaia has offered FRN readers a 7-day free trial, so you can peruse however many of their immense collection of plant-based and other health and happiness-promoting documentaries that you please. If you don’t opt to cancel, your free trial will roll over to a recurring subscription — and a portion of proceeds will go to support the work of FRN. You can check out Gaia here.

Prolonging the Effects of Food Documentaries

woman cooking healthy meal

A good documentary is entertaining, inspiring, and can also help to facilitate long-term positive change in people. Many of the documentaries listed here have companion websites with resources for implementation, such as recipes, meal plans, and checklists. Check them out, and let your friends, family, and coworkers know they exist.

And also, if you’re looking for a simple, yet comprehensive guide to transitioning to whole-foods, plant-based eating, here’s the Food Revolution Network’s Guide to Plant-Based Eating.

And while it’s not a documentary, if you want to join my dad and me for a free Healthy Eating Masterclass, which we designed to help you put healthy eating into action, click here. We’d love to have you!

Tell us in the comments:

  • What are your favorite whole foods, plant-based documentaries?
  • Have you seen any of the films profiled in this article? What do you think of them?

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