Vegan documentaries - the best way to vegucate yourself
You’ve opened the can of worms. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Essentially, once you’ve really, truly learnt about the disgusting and cruel realities of the meat and dairy industry, you can’t unlearn it. Have you ever heard somebody recount a psychedelic ‘journey’, telling you that they metaphorically opened a door that they henceforth cannot close? Well, what we’re going to get into here is in parallel, somewhat.
Whether you’re veggie, a recent vegan convert, a Veganuary participant, a lifelong plant advocate or a curious omnivore, I commend you. You’re making the important decisions that contribute to saving millions of lives, be that of humans or animals. What you’ll find below will help you regardless of which rung of the vegan ladder you’ve made it up to.
For many “normal” people, the thoughts and rationale of a vegan seem abstract or far-fetched and to some, downright ridiculous. If you’re willing to lend me your eyes for a few minutes here and then hopefully for a few more hours in the near future, you’ll see. You’ll see that those thoughts and ideas that were once abstract, are now the only way to think. That’s because the blinders you once wore will be well and truly trailing behind you and you’ll understand the gravity of the cruel reality we face (major props to you if you’ve reached this point already). What I’m referring to here is simply the world of vegan advocacy documentaries.
I had been vegetarian for a couple of years prior to going vegan and can only attribute the latency in my progression up the ladder to apathy and intentional naivety. I had already made the decision that killing animals for their meat was bad and to some extent, I was aware of animal agriculture’s detrimental impact on Mother Earth. Through the snippets of knowledge I was drip fed from the scarce vegan population of my friends and possibly through bits of information shared on social media, I had a pretty good idea that continuing my consumption of dairy was hardly innocent. However, like many others in society, I was relatively uneducated on the subject and I was hesitant to learn. I knew that once I had achieved full comprehension of both the practices in the dairy and egg industries and their impact on my health, I wouldn’t be able to return to my blissfully ignorant milk-addled state. Due to this, I was yet to watch one of the many vegan documentaries I’d seen thumbnails of through squinting eyes. BUT, I decided it was finally time to face the truth and once I had, go back I abso-fucking-lutely did not.
“Documentaries?!” you exclaim with disdain and a screwed up face - well, yes. The medium of film has long been considered an unequivocally powerful format and in the arena of vegan activism, there’s no exception. It's also no secret that there is an overabundance of information available elsewhere, be that plastered across your social media feeds, in the news, on podcasts or otherwise. In actual fact, I run the website gofuckingvegan.com (and it’s accompanying IG account @gfv.uk) in an attempt to house this wonderful plethora of information in one place. A plant-based encyclopedia, if you will. You’ll find lists of products, restaurants, vegan IG accounts, documentaries, podcasts, other websites and my ramblings. ANYWAY, enough of that. Documentaries are so bloody brilliant because of their concise nature - their ability to convey so much in so little time - their fantastic metaphors and analogies, their incredibly moving and often upsetting footage: put simply, their propensity to directly deliver such crucial information without you having to do any of the work. The films I will recommend below are unapologetic, yet rational and entirely substantiated. They’re so incredibly informative and hence harrowing, but still entertaining and leave you feeling inspired and most importantly, ready to make change.
If by this point you’ve grown tired of my overzealous prose, I’ll bore you no longer. Just make certain that in the near future you will watch Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (Netflix), What The Health (Netflix) and Earthlings (Youtube). That will engulf approximately 4 hours 56 minutes of your precious time - a while, I know. However, if somebody were to offer you 5 hours to completely change your life and the life of others, shift your perspective and open your mind, for something that is critically important, would you accept? Hopefully, that's rhetorical. If you aren’t already completely on board with veganism, or you’re looking for something to cement your ideas in the same way that I did mine, I have every confidence that the aforementioned 3 documentaries will give you everything you need.
For those of you that are still reading, thank you. You da real MVPs. Alongside the cherry-picked titles above, we’ll also take a look at Vegucated (Amazon Prime), The Game Changers (Netflix), Forks Over Knives (this is difficult to find, use Google), The Most Important Speech You’ll Ever Hear (Youtube), Dominion (https://www.dominionmovement.com/watch), Vegan 2020 (Youtube) and a couple more.
We’ll start with the one that started it for me:
CowspiracyReleased exclusively on Netflix in 2014, it generated an enormous buzz and has continued to do so in the subsequent years. For many, it was the first film or piece of content in general that explicitly linked animal agriculture with climate change. Produced by environmentalist extraordinaire Leonardo Dicaprio and budding environmentalist Kip Andersen (the narrator and protagonist), the film confronts the aforementioned issue head on, revealing much of the corruption that lies within multiple industries, even in environmental charities. The narrative follows Kip’s discoveries as he delves into the truths of the animal agriculture industry and the huge role it plays in the depletion of earth’s natural resources. He even interviews and challenges representatives from organisations like WWF and Greenpeace, who are seemingly proven to be complicit with the issues that they supposedly endeavour to fight against. Whilst the content of the film proves to be shocking and eye-opening, it is delivered using entertaining and often humorous mechanisms, utilising creative illustrations and graphics to convey its vital message. Its controversial nature even meant that the producers saw sponsors pull out and they wrestled with ceasing production for their own safety, referencing the countless murders of environmentalists in Brazil who embarked on similar projects.
What The Health
The natural progression here is What The Health. This too follows producer Kip Andersen (co-produced by Joaquin Phoenix) who had described himself as a compulsive-environmentalist in his previous endeavour and a recovering hypochondriac in this one. This is in reference to the hauntingly extensive list of friends and family that he has lost due to various cancers, which lead him to become a “health freak”, notwithstanding his meat and dairy consumption. The film examines the relationship between diet and disease, alongside the questionable connection between the animal product and pharmaceutical industries. Thematically, it is very similar to Cowspiracy, as Kip once again investigates the unscrupulousness of the animal agriculture industry as an amateur, just through a different lens. What The Health is perhaps even more shocking in what it uncovers: from the American Cancer Society advocating the consumption of carcinogenic processed meats, to a hospital admitting that it profits from patients and hence doesn’t promote diet as a preventative measure for sickness, to all manners of illness-related charities and societies helping themselves to funding from the very sponsors that make the products that cause the illnesses. Although the subject matter is dark, What The Health prevails in its ability to show you the solution to the problem so plainly. A must watch.
Earthlings is no less significant and would perhaps be categorised as the most noteworthy of my top three, if you were to ask a veteran or OG vegan. This is entirely justifiable, as the film’s key principle is to unapologetically showcase the barbaric nature of the 5 main animal-exploitative industries: domestic pets, food, clothing, entertainment and science. Animal welfare and ethics are the foundations of veganism as they were the founding pillar of the lifestyle and were a vital issue long before the now evident relationship between animal products and health or environment. Possibly the most artistic yet most difficult to watch of the documentaries discussed thus far, Joaquin Phoenix narrates, whilst Moby provides the soundtrack. Their pairing and Phoenix’s articulation are nothing short of poetic and despite its 2004 release - okay, it’s not that old - it remains one of the most powerful exposures of animal cruelty. No detail is spared in describing the gruesome processes at hand within the animal industries, which are accompanied by footage sometimes acquired by hidden cameras, or more worryingly, cameras in plain sight. Earthlings is indeed a difficult watch, but if you still consume animal products of any sort, I’d argue that the least you can do is pay attention to the processes ‘required’ to give you the end product. “Wild animals are not a reusable resource, having value only relative to human interest.”
Dominion is the ideal segue here, as a more current depiction of the disgusting ills of animal agriculture. It boasts a star studded list of narrators, once again featuring Joaquin Phoenix, who is accompanied by Rooney Mara, Sia, Kat Von D and more. Released 14 years after Earthlings, Dominion has technology on its side, much to the detriment of the animal agricultural industry. Using drones, hidden and handheld cameras, it paints a horrifying palpable picture of the truth that lies inside the walls of factory farms and the likes. Viewer discretion is certainly advised as this is quite the antithesis of an easy watch. Whereby graphic details may have hid behind pixelation and low resolution footage in Earthlings, the same cannot be said here. Possibly what strikes as most poignant with Dominion is the light it shines on how far animal agriculture has come in the last 14 years, but firmly in the wrong direction.
Forks Over Knives
Whatever your motive may be for either being vegan or considering steps towards a vegan lifestyle, it’s essentially irrelevant. Whether the key reason is for health, the environment, the animals or to help solve world hunger, you’re still creating change. Never let anybody else tell you that your reason is less valid, as whichever cause you’re fighting for, we all work together to achieve the same results. With that in mind, we’ll move away from documentaries focussing on animal rights. Forks Over Knives looks a little dated although only released 10 years ago, but its message is no less clear or relevant. It has a bold focus on health, centring around two incredible doctors from New York state, who both grew up on farms in the 1930s. They famously used previous findings to instigate a large scale research project on the relationship between diet and disease, known as The China Study. It is known as the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and in essence, proves the link between consumption of animal products and chronic diseases. This is discussed at length in the film, which is also littered with interviews from a multitude of doctors, physicians and nutritionists. It also follows subjects who live with chronic illnesses that are being ‘treated’ with pharmaceutical drugs, who begin to follow a plant-based diet and see dramatic health improvements. Unlike many other similar documentaries, Forks Over Knives makes a point of investigating much more historical evidence to support its argument, such as the diet and health in pre and post-WWII Europe. A brilliant, convincing and rather wholesome watch.
On the subject of dated yet effective documentaries, it seems relevant to discuss Vegucated. Somewhat cheesy as its title may imply, this film isn’t quite as tactful, but remains a worthwhile watch all the same. It follows three naive meat and dairy-loving Americans on their journey into veganism, as they initially trial the ‘diet’ for six weeks. The attitudes of the wider general public towards veganism have certainly improved in the years since Vegucated was released (2011), but vox pops around New York illustrate just how little the average consumer understands about nutrition. This is reflected in the three subjects of the film as they go from next to no knowledge on a plant-based lifestyle, to practically becoming experts. The way the entire journey is encompassed within this film makes it a thoroughly enjoyable, relatable and informative experience, particularly for those of you that may be starting from scratch.
The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear
Now, my next recommendation is not a film or documentary per se, rather a speech by omniscient activist and public speaker Gary Yourofsky. Potentially the most powerful, direct and comprehensive watch of all listed here, if you’re happy with amateur handheld camera recording and a lack of visual stimuli. Entitled “The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear”, it may prove to be just that. Many versions are available on Youtube and as you will hear Yourofsky outline, there are no professionally recorded versions of this content as it is not of interest to him. However, I consider this speech to be the most persuasive and convincing pro-vegan argument I’ve heard anywhere. A must watch and if you aren’t already vegan, good luck consuming animal products guilt-free after this.
The only reason that I have left it until now to mention 2018 Netflix Original The Game Changers, is in the hope that you’ve already heard of it. It's another film honing in on the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, but more specifically on its effects on performance in sports. It peaked the attention of millions because of the sheer amount of vegan sportsmen and actors it features, who confidently advocate a vegan lifestyle and usually attribute their success to it (in sport, not acting. Research into veganism’s effects on acting ability is still in its infancy). Prior to this, veganism in sport was really yet to be given such a great platform, but after its release, was near impossible to ignore. Production credits include Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, Chris Paul, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, James Cameron, James Wilks and many others. The film follows Wilks in a biographical fashion, contextualising his move towards veganism as a result of an injury he sustained fighting in the UFC. It evidences the dramatic improvements it made to his recovery and performance, which we then see time and time again amongst other athletes, from powerlifters, to ultra-marathon runners, to cyclists, to NFL teams, to the world’s strongest man. An expertly crafted and produced piece, The Game Changers is equal parts surprising, fascinating and entertaining. Ultimately, it's very much worth your time.
We’ll round things off with a brief look at a new angle of vegan activism documentaries, which is as relevant now as ever. Plant Based News unveiled their annual year-in-review film Vegan 2020 in December and unsurprisingly, much of it concentrated on Covid-19 and with good reason. Splicing together news clips, interviews and footage from 2020, it examines the role of animal agriculture in pandemics, revealing that a staggering 3 in 4 originate within this industry, Covid included. If this doesn’t act as a stark warning that this can and will happen again, probably increasingly more so, I don’t know what will. In January, the first trailer for The End of Medicine was premiered; a film which will also hold a magnifying glass over zoonotic disease. Produced by Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Cowspiracy producer Keegan Kuhn, alongside award-winning director Alex Lockwood, I have high hopes. It looks to raise awareness of the way we treat animals in the food industry and the terrifying consequences that we are on the cusp of seeing dramatic effects from. Not only are pandemics likely to become commonplace, but many doctors are forecasting that we will soon reach a post-antibiotic age, due to the copious antibiotics we consume via animals. A scary thought, indeed.
Watch everything I’ve listed above and I will officially grant you a vegan guru. Okay, so whilst there is no such title to be had, you will acquire a metric shit tonne of knowledge and that’s what it’s all about. Unlearn, relearn, apply and then educate others. Of course, documentaries are not the only source of vegan information and there are many amazing podcasts, websites and social media accounts to indulge in. Please click here for my list of favourites that I compiled for my website Go F*cking Vegan. I’ll also leave a list of other vegan documentaries below that I’m less familiar with but that certainly may be of interest to you.
Thank you so much for your time. If you feel as though it’s been worthwhile, please do give this a share.
Food, Inc. (Amazon Prime), Land of Hope and Glory (https://www.landofhopeandglory.org/), Plantpure Nation (Amazon Prime), Eating Animals, The Milk System (Netflix), Food Choices (Amazon Prime), The End of Meat (Amazon Prime), Live and Let Live (Amazon Prime), The Invisible Vegan (Amazon Prime), Eating You Alive.