15 top documentaries that make an iron-clad case

15 top vegan documentaries that make an iron-clad case (2023)

What do the climate crisis, social justice issues and your health all have in common? All three converge in one place: on your plate. As veganism rapidly gains traction across the world, more and more documentaries are bringing these issues to light. Taken together, they create an iron-clad case that veganism is environmentalism, compassion and health.

Climate-Focused Top Vegan Documentaries

1. Milked (2021)

IMBD Rating: 8.5/10

As we learn in this documentary, the dairy industry in New Zealand (like in other developed nations), wreaks environmental havoc and causes social injustices. By polluting air and water, it causes many chronic health conditions among nearby communities. By marketing to the public from elementary school through adulthood, it disseminates the misconception that cow’s milk is healthful and necessary. And by keeping their practices hidden, it ensures the general public does not know the reality.

There are many layers to the injustice of dairy farming. First, female cows are forcibly impregnated. Then, their babies are taken from them, so humans can take their milk instead. After their bodies are depleted, dairy cows are eventually sent to slaughter, too.

Although cows suffer the most in this system, they aren’t the only ones. Many dairy farmers are distressed by the system and feel trapped in it. Some have found a way out by growing plants to produce plant milk instead. These farmers provide hope for a cleaner, more just future.

The director of the film, Amy Taylor, portrays the power of the documentary this way: “We’re emotional creatures, and storytelling is a huge part of our culture. And I think the impact of watching a documentary versus reading something is quite a different thing. Obviously, reading is great, but documentaries capture stories in an easily digestible way. People can get really inspired, informed, and entertained at the same time.”

Available for free here.

2. Seaspiracy (2021)

IMBD Rating: 8.1/10

By depleting and polluting our oceans, we are draining an essential life source. The ocean environment and its inhabitants function interdependently to provide us with oxygen and absorb huge amounts of heat and carbon dioxide. Yet commercial fishing operations kill and endanger many marine animals.

They drag cathedral-sized trawling nets through the water, wiping out mangrove forests and coral reefs. Whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks are trapped indiscriminately as bycatch. They leave behind vast amounts of plastic via discarded fishing gear. Beyond environmental concerns, they threaten the livelihoods of sustenance fishermen.

At the individual level, as consumers who do not need seafood to survive, we must avoid purchasing it. At the policy level, government should redirect the $35 billion in subsidies given to the fishing industry annually. This way, it can power the transition of workers into safer, eco-conscious jobs. Choosing not to comes at our own peril.

See a fact-checked rebuttal to criticism of the film here and facts from the documentary here. Available on Netflix.

3. Cowspiracy (2014)

IMBD Rating: 8.1/10

This documentary describes the system-level collusion that keeps the animal agriculture industry churning in secrecy. For instance, numerous environmentalist groups, such as Greenpeace and The Climate Reality Project, are sponsored by meat and dairy industries. To maximize donations, they have avoided condemning the animal agriculture industry for its environmental impact. Yet by doing so, they are hypocritically undermining the very cause they claim to support.

Without addressing it, we cannot solve any of the problems it causes. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming, water depletion, deforestation, species extinction, and ocean dead zones. Available on Netflix. To learn more, see the film’s fact-checked statistics, a printable flyer, and the filmmakers’ response to criticism.

4. Eating Our Way to Extinction (2021)

IMBD Rating: 7.8/10

This film drives home the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. It highlights how rising temperatures cause natural disasters, food and water insecurity, economic disruption and conflict worldwide. Footage illustrates how the global meat, fish and dairy industries devastate the planet, human health, and indigenous communities. After a hefty dose of reality, it ends on a hopeful note by inspiring us to take concrete action through our food choices. As the film warns us: We must act now. The clock is ticking. Available on Amazon Prime Video here or for free on Youtube here.

Social-Justice Focused Top Vegan Documentaries

5. Dominion (2018)

IMBD Rating: 9.0/10

Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, Dominion is an absolute masterpiece that questions whether humanity can morally justify its dominion over non-human animals. This Australian documentary exposures the dark truth about modern animal agriculture using footage captured through rand hidden cameras. It even extends beyond factory farming to question the ethics of using animals for our purposes in zoos, aquariums, research, racing horses and breeding dogs.

It crumbles the myth of “humane slaughter” and shows the reality of marketing terms like “free range.” At once mesmerizing and horrifying, Dominion is sure to light a spark inside of you to demand justice. Brace yourself. Full documentary available for free on YouTube here.

6. The Last Pig (2017)

IMBD: 8.3/10

While small-scale animal farming might seem on the surface to provide a viable or ethical solution to factory farming, The Last Pig shows us that this is not the case. Filled with picturesque scenes of a small-scale pig farmer in upstate New York with his herd of pigs who loyally follow him around, the farmer wrestles with the reality of what he does to these intelligent creatures whom he cares for.

In contrast to the often gruesome footage of factory farm documentaries, this film appeals to viewers with endless footage of adorable pigs. Captivating scenes depict them joyfully splashing in the mud and nestling in the earth.

One of the farmer’s particularly poignant lines from the film stays with viewers long after the documentary ends: “After 10 years of looking into pig eyes, I’ve come to understand that they’re never vacant. There’s always somebody looking back at me.” An essential reminder that factory farming is not the root problem of animal exploitation; rather, choosing to kill animals unnecessarily is. Available on Vimeo.

7. Blackfish (2013)

IMBD Rating: 8.1/10

Stories like Blackfish demonstrate why veganism not only encompasses protecting animals against exploitation for food, but for all uses, including entertainment. Blackfish tells the story of how an orca at SeaWorld killed three people while in captivity. Predictably, the industry blamed it on human error in order to protect their profits.

With startling footage and emotional interviews, the documentary makes the case against keeping wild animals in captivity for human entertainment – whether that be aquariums, zoos or circuses. As quoted in the film, “All whales in captivity are psychologically traumatized… if you were in a bathtub for twenty-five years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” Available on Amazon Prime here or for free on Youtube here.

8. Right to Harm (2019)

IMBD: 8/10

An exposé on one of the most hidden sides of factory farming. It reveals how factory farming devastates public health across rural America and how rural communities are fighting back against Big Ag. The film tells the story of five rural communities who push for state agencies to finally regulate industrial animal agriculture. Factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)), produce millions of gallons of waste that pollute the air, water and land in the marginalized communities in which they are placed. Available for free with a public library card or university login on Kanopy or for rent on Vimeo.

9. 10 Billion: What’s on your plate? (2015)

IMBD Rating: 7.2/10

By 2050, the global population is predicted to hit ten billion people. This movie examines how the global food system can produce enough food to feed that population. Even today, our food system is capable of ending world hunger. So, what’s keeping us from ending it? Animal agriculture industries can afford to pay more for the grains to feed livestock than some developing nations. Thus, grains are fed to farmed animals rather than humans in poverty. The film examines how countries across the world cope with food scarcity and the sustainability of local farming practices over commercial farming industries. Rather than using scare tactics, it presents a well-balanced perspective examining the intersection of food production and social justice.

10. The Smell of Money (2022)

IMBD: As a 2022 release, it is as yet unrated.

This film exposes the environmental racism of factory farming. It tells the stories of the mostly Black, low income residents of Duplin County, North Carolina where Smithfield operates a massive pig farm. For years, the factory has sprayed untreated waste water into the air and water, leading to respiratory illnesses and severely reduced quality of life for residents. It highlights the human rights issues of factory farming while also addressing the environmental impactantibiotic resistance crisis and animal rights violations.

Health-Focused Top Vegan Documentaries

11. The End of Medicine (2022)

iTunes Apple Rating: 4.4/5

This documentary illustrates how animal agriculture, the wildlife trade and habitat destruction fuel the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. Testimonials from physicians, epidemiologists, industry whistleblowers, government officials and representatives from antibiotic resistance action groups make an irrefutable case. Their testimonials warns us that if we continue along this path, we will soon face an antibiotic apocalypse.

12. Forks Over Knives (2011)

IMBD Rating: 7.9/10

Forks Over Knives advocates for the power of a whole-foods plant-based diet to prevent and treat chronic disease. The film follows the journeys of Dr. T. Colin Campbell (nutritional scientist at Cornell) and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (a former top surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic). Both conducted multiple groundbreaking studies and independently arrived at the same conclusion: a whole-foods plant-based diet can prevent and often reverse diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many cancers. Available for free here.

13. Eating You Alive (2018)

IMBD Rating: 7.9/10

Similar to Plant-Pure Nation, this documentary examines the diet-related causes and cures of chronic disease and the astronomical healthcare costs required to treat them. As Dr. Neal Barnard says in the film, “Foods are the cause of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and many forms of cancer. If they’re the cause, they can also be the solution. The vegetables, the fruits, the whole grains, these foods have powers that you never imagined. And it’s time to put it to work.” Available for free on TubiTV here.

14. The Gamechangers (2019)

IMBD Rating: 7.8/10

Geared especially towards those interested in fitness, this film addresses the protein myth and improved performance among professional athletes who go plant-based. It also examines how marketing has created a public perception of eating meat as “manly.” Yet meat negatively impacts health and athletic performance. One of the athletes shared that people will ask him, “How can you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?” He replied, “Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?” Available for free here.

15. Plant-Pure Nation (2018)

IMBD Rating: 7.4/10

Weaving together real-life stories with scientific evidence, Plant-Pure Nation makes a solid case for the power of a whole-foods plant based diet to eliminate chronic disease. Although the science is clear, industry-funded studies attempt to convolute the data and confuse the public.

The film also explains that “Big Medicine” in America trains physicians to write prescriptions for costly pills and procedures, not inexpensive diet and lifestyle change. Produced by Tom Campbell, the son of Dr. Colin Campbell, who authored of the groundbreaking book The China Study. Available to stream for free here.

Honorable Mention:

Trailer for The Dying Trade

Although many people believe meat production affects only animals, it is also a human rights issue. As a result of factory farming, slaughterhouse workers and marginalized communities whose air and water is polluted from living near slaughterhouses often develop chronic health conditions. This upcoming film aims to humanize slaughterhouse workers and raise awareness of the psychological and physiological suffering they experience. Production appears to still be in the works as the filmmaker, who is the son of a slaughterhouse worker, is raising funds.

Three vegan documentaries that I would not recommend

Earthlings (2005)

Even more graphic than Dominion, Earthlings may be too much for the average viewer to stomach. If you can’t even get your audience to sit through it, how are you going to communicate your message? Yes, of course, if we can’t watch our food being made, we shouldn’t be eating it. And yes, many activists like Earthling Ed have been swayed by this type of material.

But I fear that many people will be turned away by the fact that the entire film is essentially violent slaughterhouse footage and will not be able to hear the message. Perhaps start with one of the other documentaries listed above.

What the Health (2017)

Although many vegan websites recommend the documentary What the Health (2017), I did not. This is because the documentary stretches the truth to make the case for veganism. Why promote a film that makes vegan advocates seem like an unreliable source of information? It would have created a more credible case by presenting the incredibly strong correlations between animal products and disease, avoiding anecdotal accounts, and transparently including support from perspectives of the climate crisis, animal rights and other social justice issues.

Health and disease risk alone leads to the conclusion that “mostly plant-based” is good enough. The iron-clad case for veganism relies on transparent support from all three causes: healthsocial justice for human and non-human animals, and the urgency of the climate crisis. Taken together, we do not need to exaggerate the evidence from any of them. The case for veganism relies on all three pillars, and that is what What the Health gets wrong.

Eating Animals (2018)

Based on Jonathan Safron Foer’s best selling novel Eating Animals and narrated by Natalie Portman, this documentary offers a thoughtful analysis of factory farming. However, it stops short of sharing a strong vegan message. If anything, viewers are left with the impression that vegetarianism is “good enough.”

The film also errs in that it depicts small scale farms wistfully, as if animals are not exploited in these operations. And small farmers’ lives are often far from idyllic, as they are often in debt and feel conflicted over breeding animals to suffer. Despite the film’s portrayal of small farms, small-scale farming does not solve the ethical, environmental or public health impacts of large-scale farming.

Top vegan documentaries that make an iron-clad case for veganism

Whether you’re looking for top vegan documentaries focused on climate change, social justice, or health, these documentaries have you covered. Regardless of which you watch, you’re sure to walk away informed and inspired.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top