Best Vegan Documentaries (Our Must Watch List!)
Whether you’re thinking about eating less animal products, or you’ve been a vegan for decades, watching a documentary that focuses on vegan-related issues is a great way to inspire friends and family to think about a plant-based lifestyle.
It can also strengthen your own resolve when it comes to living a compassionate lifestyle.
One might organize these vegan documentaries into three main categories: veganism and ethics, veganism and the environment, and veganism and health.
If you’re particularly focused on a certain theme, or you want to expand your knowledge for other dimensions of veganism, there are a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
Animal Rights Documentaries
The ethics of eating (and not eating) animals is one of the biggest and most powerful draws to veganism.
For many of us, myself included, the first day of veganism began immediately after watching a leaked video of slaughterhouse footage.
While you can read all day about where cheese comes from and the cramped conditions of pigs in gestation crates, adding the visual aspect of the film makes it all the more powerful - and influential.
These documentaries focus on the ethical aspect of animals as food, fashion, research, and entertainment.
Some are disturbing to watch, and some focus more on the plight of individual animals or the industry as a whole, but all are important to watch, whether you’re just starting to think about a plant-based lifestyle, or you’ve been a long-time vegan.
The first documentary listed is, in my opinion, the most important - the one that each and every person on the planet, vegan or otherwise, should be required to watch. Dubbed “the veganmaker”, Earthlings is a 2005 documentary that utilizes hidden camera footage to chronicle the cruelty practices that occur when animals are used for consumption, research, clothing, and entertainment.
The documentary is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, features music by Moby, and was co-produced by Maggie Q, all of whom live a vegan lifestyle.
It’s important to note that Earthlings is not easy to get through - the footage included in the movie is graphic, violent, and most importantly, real. It is an honest portrayal of the way humans treat the rest of the species with which we share our planet.
In a world where we are so shielded from the reality of industries that use animals, Earthlings will feel like a jarring, disturbing glimpse into the behind-the-scenes truth.
However, this is the documentary that has kept my resolve strong for nearly ten years - whenever I am craving cheese, beef, or any other animal-based products, I still have flashbacks from this movie.
As difficult of a movie as this is to get through, it’s important to open your eyes and see the reality that our choices contribute to. Try it for yourself - see if you can eat a cheeseburger after watching this documentary.
2. Food, Inc. (Free on Amazon Prime)
If you’re interested in learning about the larger food & meat industry, Food, Inc. is a must watch.
An eye-opening glimpse into the inner workings of the modern meat industry, this documentary shows how much food is mechanized and controlled by a handful of corporations to put profits over animal welfare, the safety of workers, and the livelihood of America’s farmers.
It’s a refreshing look at veganism and animal rights, as the documentary focuses less on the graphic footage, but provides a deep dive into the institutional processes in place that have made the food industry a terrifying machine.
This knowledge is important to the vegan cause, as a huge part of animal cruelty in the food industry comes from putting profits over all else, which leads to things like cruel gestation and veal crates, chickens bred to grow bigger breasts whose legs are crushed by their own weight, and unsafe slaughterhouse conditions for human workers.
I highly recommend Food, Inc. as a well-written glimpse into what people eat, how it’s produced, and how it affects society.
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This vegan documentary follows photojournalist and activist Jo-Anne McArthur, who is “more concerned with changing the world than making art”.
Instead of relying on graphic footage like Earthlings, The Ghosts in Our Machine focuses on rescued animals, such as “spent” dairy cows at Farm Sanctuary, and a pair of beagles adopted from a research laboratory.
For these reasons, this documentary might be a good choice if you’re not someone who is able to stomach the graphic, disturbing nature of Earthlings.
The documentary focuses on animals used for food, fashion, research, and entertainment, and has been reviewed as a well-written movie that does not engage in any sort of lecturing or self-righteousness.
This would make it easily received by people who might be hesitant to adopting a vegan lifestyle, as it may not cause as much defensiveness as other vegan documentaries. It’s a good choice for people who want to get a good understanding of the ethics behind animals in these industries, without the graphic slaughterhouse footage.
While not touted as an exclusively “vegan” documentary, Blackfish plays on an important pillar of veganism - the exploitation of animals for human entertainment.
Blackfish centers on the plight of Tilikum, the orca whale at SeaWorld who has killed three people as a result of two decades of confinement, isolation, and lack of emotional and intellectual stimulation.
The documentary combines footage of Tilikum himself, expert testimonies, and heartbreaking interviews with Tilikum’s former trainers.
With the graphic footage and outrage of the meat industry usually taking up the spotlight, Blackfish sheds light on this aspect of compassion to animals that is often left out.
The film calls in the ethics of keeping animals like orcas captive, and will likely change the way you view killer whales - and all animals kept in captivity for human entertainment. The film has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.
Environmental Documentaries: The Impact of the Meat Industry
The environmental impact of eating animals and animal products gets less of a spotlight than the ethical view but is certainly a large and impactful reason to go plant-based.
In addition to animal suffering, the meat, dairy, and egg industries are responsible for pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption.
Globally, it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses, and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the main source of water pollution.
Because the environmental lens rarely gets as much time in the spotlight as the animal cruelty viewpoint, the following documentaries can help you flesh out your knowledge of the impact of animal industries on our Earth.
Cowspiracy explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and investigates the policies of environmental organizations like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and Rainforest Action Network on this issue.
It examines not only the effect the meat, dairy, and egg industries have on the Earth, but also the complex political network that keeps efforts to solve it down, and why even environmental organizations are unable to come out against these powerhouse industries.
A real grassroots effort, the film, was crowdfunded on IndieGoGo, raising more than double their goal, so they were able to dub the film in Spanish and German and provide subtitles in more than ten languages, including Russian and Chinese.
Cowspiracy won the Audience Choice Award at the 2015 South African Eco Film Festival, as we as the Best Foreign Film Award at the 12th annual Festival de Films de Portneuf sur l’environment.
It was also nominated for Cinema Politica’s 2015 Audience Choice Award. A new cut of the documentary, executive-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, premiered globally on Netflix on September 15, 2015.
When most people think of the causes of global warming and harm to the environment, they think of things like the pollution pumped out by cars.
But did you know that it takes 7-8 kilograms of grain to produce a single kilogram of beef?
This means there is huge overhead to raising meat alone - chopping trees to create space for that grain to grow, watering those crops to feed to the livestock animals.
Meat the Truth sheds light on the role of factory farming in the warming of our planet.
The film is intended to be a partner and criticism of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary which brought the concept of global warming to the forefront of society.
The main conclusion of this film is that the livestock industry is the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and includes interviews with several experts, former ranchers and livestock workers, and heads of organizations like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States.
Vegan Health & Weight Loss Documentaries
While there is a vast amount of conflicting information out there, there is a clear body of evidence that bowel and stomach cancer is more common among those who eat the reddest meat and processed meat.
Alongside animal rights and the environmental impact of animal products, personal health is a third reason why many people choose to explore a plant-based lifestyle.
The following documentaries explore the effects of a vegan lifestyle on all aspects of health, such as obesity, cancer risk, the prevalence of heart disease, and other medical issues.
If you’re looking to a plant-based diet for personal health, choose any one - or all! - of the following documentaries for your next viewing party.
Forks Over Knives is a documentary that advocates a low-fat, whole food, plant-based diet as a means of preventing or reversing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
While it shares the pillar of plant-based eating with veganism, Forks Over Knives also suggests that all processed foods and oils should be avoided.
The film examines the careers of American physical Caldwell Esselstyn and Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry T. Colin Campbell to make their claims about a plant-based diet’s effect on disease.
The film also provides an overview of the two-decade study that led to the book The China Study, in which Campbell suggests that coronary artery disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer can be linked to the Western diet of processed and animal-based foods like meat and dairy.
The documentary is extremely factual and informative, which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the audience.
Many viewers find it helpful and inspiring in dealing with their own illness, but reviewers also note that the film is very heavy on fact, and could use help from some charisma or humor to keep viewers captivated.
If you’re interested in the science behind a plant-based diet’s effect on health, this documentary will be a good pick for you.
8. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (Free on Amazon Prime with Add-on Subscription)
A bit less science-heavy and easier to watch in one sitting, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead follows the 60-day journey of Australian Joe Cross as he turns to juice fasting to reverse his plethora of health problems under the supervision of Dr. Joel Fuhrman.
During his experiment, Cross dropped 100 pounds and discontinued use of all medications he was taking previously.
The film also focuses on morbidly obese truck driver Phil Staples, whom Joe meets during his travels and inspires to try juice fasting for himself.
The film won the Turning Point Award and shared the Audience Choice Award - Documentary Film at the 2010 Sonoma International Film Festival.
While the film is inspirational, easy to watch, and has an element of charm and humor, it doesn’t focus as much on the science of why these changes are occurring in the body. However, if you’re looking for some inspiration and a way to spend an afternoon, it certainly delivers on that need.
A documentary with a touch of reality show vibe; Vegucated follows three meat - and cheese - loving New Yorkers as they take on the challenge of going vegan for six weeks.
A completely different film style than the other two health-related documentaries, the film includes interviews with Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Professor Campbell but focuses mainly on these three people as they move forward with their journey.
The film quality is a little lower, and it feels like a more personal account than a bigger-budget movie.
The thing that gets Vegucated on this list is that it addresses a lot of the negativity and resistance people have toward veganism and vegetarianism, that it needs to be a “way of life” rather than just a way of eating.
It also investigates the disconnect between living farm animals and the purchasing of meat, the origins of omnivorism, and the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of a vegan diet.
The movie follows the participants as they visit an abandoned slaughterhouse and a factory farm to come face-to-face with the reality of the meat, dairy, and egg industries.
This is an excellent documentary to watch with someone who is hesitant to go vegan, or who has thoughts or opinions about veganism that could be changed by seeing others go through the transformation.
The Power of Film
Each of these documentaries, while focusing on a different aspect of veganism, can provide informative glimpses into the reality of the food industry, the impact of meat on our planet, and the difference a plant-based diet can make on personal health. Watching documentaries with a focus on veganism and vegan issues can help you make the change to a diet that includes fewer animal products, and can also help build your knowledge base for your own resolve, and to have productive conversations with people who may turn to you as an information center for the lifestyle.
Whether you’re looking for a film with straight science and facts, or you’re in search of something more honest, real, and graphic to solidify your resolve and bring you face-to-face with the industry, the documentaries on this list - and off this list - will keep you learning even after you’ve adopted the lifestyle.