12 Must-See Documentaries About Science, Nature & Culture

Is there a sad gap in your Sunday evening entertainment now that Game of Thrones is over for the season? Since my college days, I’ve been obsessed with documentaries, specifically ones about the science and the environment. Most of the films getting all the headlines these days show gruesome and disturbing clips of animal cruelty. Unfortunately, films like Cowspiracy (see this awesome response here) do nothing to celebrate sustainable farming techniques and are incredibly full of inaccurate information, which lead viewers with Meatless Mondays, or even veganism, as the only call to action.

I also have a long list of overly dramatic french films from my Dr. Marten wearing, art student days, sure to throw you into a deep black hole of despair, but I’ll save those for another post.

Maybe you’ll watch one of these one your own, with your children, or even consider hosting a community screening. I’ve had people come up to me after them talking about how they have completely changed their eating after a local screening of Fed Up.

National Parks Adventure


This film is out right now and I highly recommend you run to your nearest theater (or see it on an IMAX screen, like I did) right away. It’s a wonderful family film, showing the birth of America’s national parks, and will remind you of how truly beautiful this country is. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and the three people the film follows are absolutely lovely. It brought me to tears. Learn more about the film and find a local theater here. 


joel salatin

“If every farmer in the United States would practice this system, in fewer than 10 years we would sequester ALL the CARBON that’s been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Age…”  -Joel Salatin (2015) Polyfaces, the film.

This film is first on my list because, if you’ve never seen a truly regenerative farm like Polyface, then you MUST watch this to understand why Robb and I are so incredibly excited about how this type of agriculture can change the world. Joel Salatin’s words always hit me so deeply – whenever I’m around him, I wish I could hit the “record” button. Lucky for you, filmmakers Lisa Heenan and Darren Doherty and their 3 children have spent the last 4 years and all the money they had saved to build a sustainable and regenerative farm (well over $150K) to create this visionary and inspirational film. Watch the trailer, download the film, and learn about how to host a community screening here. Appropriate for kids.

If you’d like to see Polyface Farm for yourself AND hang with me, Robb, Dallas Hartwig, Charles Mayfield, Drew Ramsey, Michelle and Keith Norris and many other cool people, come to the Food Freedom Fundraiser this August 19-21. Get $40 off your the Saturday tour with code FFF40 – OR- get $20 off your one-on-one Sunday session with code FFF20. You won’t want to miss this life-changing experience, and it’s the last year the event will be at Polyface.

Poverty Inc.


Robb sent me an link to a podcast interview with the director of this film and it really blew me away. I immediately downloaded the film, watched it myself, and contacted the director to set up an interview for my own podcast (it will air in August). It really opened my eyes to what’s going on with the global “Poverty Industry.” They take on U.S. agriculture subsidies, Tom’s Shoes, international adoption, and the celebrity culture of aid, challenging who common assumptions about who is really benefiting from the business of poverty. The film features over 200 interviews filmed in 20 countries. It blew me away. Download from Amazon here or visit their site to learn about community screenings. Appropriate for teens.



This is a must-see for folks who want to better understand the role of antibiotic resistant “Superbugs” in our food and healthcare system. In the 80 years since their introduction, antibiotics have helped save lives, but their overuse, especially in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have led to resistant strains that kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year.  This fill will really change the way you view agriculture and broaden your knowledge of the crisis happening within factory farming from a human health perspective (contrary to other mainstream food films, which simply focus on the animal welfare angle.) Watch it on Amazon or learn more about the film and how to host a screening here. Appropriate for teens.

Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 9.04.55 AM

Protestors in Managua demand justice for effects related to the agro-chemical DBCP. – Bananalandthemovie.org

Very often, I hear people tell me that it’s fine to eat non-organic bananas because “they’ve got a peel, so the pesticides can’t reach the fruit.” Once you have seen this film, you’re whole view of America’s most popular fruit will completely change.

A few years ago, I attended a Fair Trade Banana Conference. Really, there is such a thing. As part of the event, I went to a screening of Banana Land. I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me (because I do this every time I sit next to someone I don’t know) and he happened to be Dan Koeppel, the author of the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World. How lucky was I? Dan was interviewed in the film, and I talked to him more offline in order to write the presentation I gave at AHS at UC Berkeley and at this year’s Paleo(fx).  Banana Land takes you through the history of the banana industry and exposes what is going on currently in banana production. For millions of residents in the banana lands, the production of bananas means social upheaval, violence and pesticide poisoning. Banana Land explores the origins of these disparate realities, and opens the conversation on how workers, producers and consumers can address this disconnect. Check out the film here. Appropriate for teens.



This is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen. If you’re a fan of good music and interested in sustainability issues, this is a must see. The film is a culture clash between Native Americans, guitar makers and Greenpeace, all interested in a specific type of tree. Unlike many other documentaries, Musicwood is full of action, as the story actually unfolds and takes shape as the team films. You’ll also love the soundtrack, featuring musicians like Kaki King, Yo La Tengo, The Antlers, and Steve Earle. Watch it here or visit the official site here. Appropriate for teens.

Rivers and Tides


You thought I wasn’t going to give you any of my artsy films? Yes, it’s an art film. It features one of my absolute favorite artist, Andy Goldsworthy, who is 100% inspired by nature. His work is non-permanent. The film is a glimpse into his life, how he works, where he gets his ideas, and you’ll get a really great understanding of how frustrating and magnificent his sculptures are. Watch here. Appropriate for all ages.

Fed Up


Even though it’s not a 100% paleo film, and many of you reading this will find it very basic, I actually think Fed Up is one of the best food documentaries out there. The main focus of the film is on America’s overconsumption of sugar and other highly processed, hyper-palatable foods. The film does a pretty good job of explaining how you can’t simply “work off” a junk food meal, and you’ll learn why the “eat less, move more” message if failing us, and especially our kids. One of my favorite lines from the movie is when Mark Hyman said, “You can eat a bowl of corn flakes with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added cornflakes. Metabolically, they’re the same.”

I spoke at a community screening of this film and it blew me away how the audience had no idea about some of the very basic (to me) concepts about nutrition. It also shocked me at how “hard” it was for so many to do the “Fed Up Challenge”, which is to give up sugar for 10 days. TEN DAYS. If you know anyone who needs some very basic education on why our country is so overweight and sick, I highly recommend Fed Up. Watch it here and learn more about the film and the challenge here. Appropriate for all ages.

The Cove


My 12yr old son is just getting interested in global politics and watched this the other night. It brought up some really great questions, and I’m thrilled that it has further sparked his interest in environmentalism. The Cove is about the dolphin industry in Japan and how many of these animals are needlessly killed. I recommend it for ages 12 and up. Learn more here.

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History


When I first saw this film (1988), I wasn’t sure it was real. This is a real thing. Cane toads is a comedy-horror documentary on the invasion of cane toads (Rhinella marina) in Australia and the impact on agriculture and humans. In 1935, these ugly little monsters were brought in from Hawaii in a botched effort to introduce them as counter pests to save the sugar cane industry. These toads even have a theme song, which pops into my head from time to time. “If Monty Python produced a National Geographic Special, it would be Cane Toads!” Great for all ages. Watch it here. 



This is a super fun, award-winning film that the whole family will really love. Set to music with minimal narration, Microcosmos is a close-up look at the world of insects. Watch a caterpillar transform into a butterfly, see the birth of a mosquito, and watch ants work in their complex network of tunnels. Excellent family movie! Available on Netflix. 



Absolutely the most stunning look at life across the world that you’ll ever see, Baraka is a non-narrated series of clips strung together into an amazing work of art. Originally shot in 25 countries on six continents, Baraka brought together a series of stunningly photographed scenes to capture what director Ron Fricke calls “a guided mediation on humanity.” I highly recommend it, especially for those who love to travel and learn about other cultures. View it here. Great for all ages.

I’d love to know you’re favorite documentaries! Please share in the comments!


Original Source: 12 Must-See Documentaries About Science, Nature & Culture


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