Netflix and grill: That’s one way you might enjoy spending an evening, especially given the food-related viewing we are about to queue up. I mean, who doesn’t want to get busy cooking—ideally with a grandmother by your side—after watching bestselling food writer Samin Nosrat dive into world cuisines in her four-part series Salt Fat Acid Heat? That’s as comforting as comfort food gets! (And if you want some comfort TV afterwards, you can always fire up Schitt’s Creek again.)
True, some of these docs examine some of the dark sides of food—factory farming, manipulative distribution practices, toxic additives. (More like Netflix and swill, right?) But these serious stories are important, too, including surprising facts about sugar in our food supply to lessons on how sustainable food production is linked to both health and environmental issues.
Whether you’re curling up at home on the couch or you’ve got time to kill during holiday travel, you can’t go wrong with one of these top food documentaries.
5 Food Docs to Netflix and Grill With
Salt Fat Acid Heat
(Image: Salt Fat Acid Heat)
Named after the four pillars of successful cooking, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat is a kitchen primer, comic book and cookbook, all rolled into one. A publishing phenomenon in 2017, it became a Netflix miniseries one year later, with each of the episodes focused on one of the four key factors. We lucky viewers join Nosrat as she travels around the world, consulting local experts—which frequently means grandmothers—about their approaches to cooking. (As Nosrat told the Washington Post, “The bulk of all cooking has been done by women. And yet, in popular culture and in media, it’s very rarely that women are given credit for that.”) So come along for the journey, learning about salt in Japan, fat in Italy, and acid in Mexico. Will it make you hungry? Probably, but the show will teach some great recipes and trusty tips to improve your own home cooking.
This investigative docuseries explores the complexities of the food chain, crop by crop and coop by coop. Season 1 tackles honey, peanuts, garlic, chicken, milk and cod; season 2 looks into the issues at play with foods including avocado, chocolate and cannabis edibles. Reception to the show has generally been great: The first season scored 86% from critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, while the second season was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy Award and won the 2020 James Beard Media Award for Visual Reporting.
The C Word
(Image: The C Word)
Narrated by Morgan Freeman (need we say more?), this 2016 documentary follows the personal journey of director Meghan LaFrance O’Hara, who survived stage-3 breast cancer. In the process, it dives into the “anticancer” philosophies of another survivor, French physician David Servan-Schreiber, who developed a four-pronged strategy for wellness against cancer: nutrition, exercise, stress management and the avoidance of toxins. A review in Variety praised The C Word for taking aim at “big-business entities abetting the toxic unhealthiness of the American lifestyle with chemically unregulated products and addictive foodstuffs crammed with sugar and additives.”
What The Health
(Image: What The Health)
OK, this one’s a little bit dicey, we admit. It’s biased in favor of a vegan diet (of course, there’s nothing wrong with a documentary wearing its heart, and its biases, on its sleeve)—but it also has a lot of flaws in its reporting, as this Vox article explains. Still, it’s worth checking out to get a sense of some of the issues behind making vegan choices. (While you’re at it, check out Forks Over Knives, another doc about plant-based eating; it’s no longer on Netflix, but you can stream it directly on its own website.)
Back to the joy of cooking and the glories of exploring other cultures, with an expert as our guide. This time, instead of Samin Nosrat, our host is Michael Pollan, another bestselling author. The four episodes of this miniseries are each themed around one of the ancient elements: fire, air, water and earth. The audience gets to visit Australia, India and Morocco as Pollan dives into a wide range of foods, from barbecue to bread making. In its review, the New York Times applauded the documentary’s “long-view history lesson in how innovations that we take for granted transformed the human species.”