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34 Movies and Series to Inspire During COVID-19

34 Movies and Series to Inspire During COVID-19

By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Howell

While COVID-19 is exposing fundamental flaws in the global food and agriculture system, it is creating the opportunity to reimagine honoring farmers and food workers and producing healthy, nutritious food. The virus is forcing people to press pause on their daily lives, so Food Tank has compiled a list of 34 movies and series to watch from home that remind us of the power of food.

This list may serve as a guide to help you learn about large- and small-scale agriculture, the relationship between diet and health, and the social and cultural implications of the food system. But these movies and series also offer hope. They show how individual choices can foster connections between people, and they may even inspire you to advocate for a more equitable food system during and after the pandemic.

1. 10 Billion – What’s on Your Plate? (2015)

By 2050, the global population is expected to hit 10 billion. This documentary from German film director Valentin Thurn looks at how we could feed that world. The film explores food production and distribution, analyzing potential solutions to meet the enormous demand on the global agriculture system. The most-viewed film in German cinemas in 2015, "10 Billion — What's on Your Plate?" provides a broad look into the issues in current food production and offers a glimpse of hope through innovation.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube

2. Always Be My Maybe (2019)

"Always Be My Maybe" is a romantic comedy that follows a successful chef named Sasha as she reunites with her childhood best friend as an adult. During her stay in San Francisco to open a new restaurant, Sasha, played by Ali Wong, and her old friend rediscover their connection though eating, and she remembers the influence her friend's family had on her love of cooking. "Always Be My Maybe" shows Sasha's journey as she falls in love and reconnects to her Asian American culture.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. A Tale of Two Kitchens (2019)

"A Tale of Two Kitchens" is about two restaurants — Cala in San Francisco and Contramar in Mexico City — owned and operated by acclaimed Mexican chef Gabriela Cámara. The film tells the stories of the restaurants' staff, alternating between personal accounts and shots of employees interacting with customers and preparing meals. "A Tale of Two Kitchens" offers an inspiring look into how people find personal and professional growth in the restaurant industry and how restaurants can become second homes for those that work in them.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Barbecue (2017)

Embarking on a journey across 12 countries, "Barbecue" tells a story of the culture behind grilling meat and how it brings people together. The film offers a portrait of those who stoke the flames, showing that barbecue is not just about the meat, but about the rituals, stories, and traditions that surround the process. "Barbecue" won the James Beard Award for Best Documentary in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

5. Before the Plate (2018)

Filmmaker Sagi Kahane-Rapport documents John Horne, Canadian chef and owner of the prestigious Toronto restaurant Canoe, as he follows each ingredient from one dish back to the farm they came from. "Before the Plate" offers a look into what it takes to grow and distribute food and the issues farmers face in today's food system.

Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video

6. Caffeinated (2015)

Working with coffee connoisseur Geoff Watts, this film explores the life cycle of a coffee seed, following the process from bean to mug. The film focuses on the social and cultural landscape around coffee and how it shapes the lives of thousands of individuals worldwide. "Caffeinated" filmmakers interview coffee farmers, roasters, and baristas to provide a comprehensive idea of all that goes into a cup of coffee.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play

7. Cesar Chavez (2014)

"Cesar Chavez" is a biographical film that reconstructs the emergence of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s. The film focuses on Chavez, co-founder of the UFW, whose commitment to secure a living wage for farm workers ignited social justice movements across America. The film inspired a "Follow Your Food" series by Participant Media and the Equitable Food Initiative as well as won an ALMA Award for Special Achievement in Film.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

8. Chef Flynn (2018)

"Chef Flynn" tells the story of Flynn McGarry, who became famous after running a fully functional kitchen in his bedroom at age 10. The film chronicles McGarry as he outgrows his bedroom kitchen and sets out to join New York City's innovative culinary scene. With a focus on the relationship McGarry has with his mother, "Chef Flynn" shows how far McGarry was able to go with the support and dedication of his family.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Hulu, Google Play, YouTube

9. Chef’s Table (2015- )

From David Gelb, the filmmaker that created "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," comes "Chef's Table," a series that profiles professional chefs around the world. Each episode of "Chef's Table" spotlights a different chef as they share the personal stories that have inspired their culinary ventures. The series has won a variety of awards, including a James Beard Foundation Award and an International Documentary Association Award.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Cooked (2016- )

"Cooked" is a series based on Michael Pollan's book by the same name. In each episode, Pollan focuses on a different natural element — fire, water, air, and earth — and its relationship to cooking methods throughout history. "Cooked" brings together different aspects of cooking to show its ability to connect us all as human beings.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. Dolores (2017)

"Dolores" documents the life of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the first farm workers union, United Farm Workers (UFW). Filmmaker Peter Bratt chronicles Huerta's life from her childhood in Stockton, California, to her work with UFW and becoming a leading figure in the feminist movement. Huerta has often not been credited for her equal role in establishing UFW; "Dolores" argues this is because Huerta is a woman, and the film strives to spotlight her heroic efforts in the fight for social justice.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube

12. Eating Animals (2017)

Based on the 2009 book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, filmmaker Christopher Quinn examines factory farming and its associated negative environmental and public health effects. "Eating Animals" spotlights farmers, activists, and innovators who are raising awareness about where our meat comes from and standing up to big companies to tell their stories.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Hulu

13. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2017)

In the 1940's, New Orleans' food and drink business generated less than US$1 million a year; today it is a billion-dollar industry that attracts tourists from around the world to the city. Many credit the transformation to the Brennan family, guided by Ella Brennan. "Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table" tells the story of Ella Brennan and how she revolutionized creole cuisine and helped push it into American mainstream dining culture.

Where to watch it: Apple TV, Commanderspalace.com

14. El Susto! (2020)

"El Susto!" tells the story of a sugar tax in Mexico, implemented in an attempt to curb the prevalence of diabetes. The film documents the battle between public health activists and the corporate wealth of the "Big Soda" industry, offering a look into the reality of challenging powerful industries. The film premiers this May as part of the virtual Vermont International Film Festival.

Where to watch it: VIFF virtual cinema

15. Farmsteaders (2018)

"Farmsteaders" follows Nick Nolan and his family as they try to resurrect his grandfather's dairy farm in Ohio. Once a thriving agriculture economy, Nolan's rural community has given way to the pressures of agribusiness and corporate farming — left with unused fertile farmland, abandoned buildings, and skyrocketing health issues. "Farmsteaders" gives a voice to a new generation of family farmers, showing the hardships those who grow our food are having to endure.

Where to watch it: POV – link through movie website

16. Fed Up (2014)

Filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig and journalist Katie Couric investigate the role of the American food industry in rising obesity rates and diet-related diseases. "Fed Up" uncovers the sugar industry's influence on American dietary guidelines and argues that hidden sugar in processed foods is the root of the problem. With the tagline "Congress says pizza is a vegetable," the film shows how interactions between industry and government can directly affect the health of the nation.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play

17. Food Chains (2014)

Supermarkets' buying power and farm contracts often set the substandard wages and conditions farm workers face. To improve their livelihood, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers demanded a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. But Publix, Florida's largest grocery chain, refused. "Food Chains" follows farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, as they prepare for and launch the resulting hunger strike at Publix headquarters. The documentary aims to expose the exploitation of farm laborers and the complicity of corporations in the creation of conditions the filmmakers liken to modern-day slavery.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube

18. For Grace (2015)

"For Grace" tells the story of renowned chef Curtis Duffy as he builds his dream restaurant, Grace, at a difficult time in his personal life. Filmmakers Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski offer a look into each step in opening the luxury dining spot, Duffy's troubled past, and how he came to seek refuge in the kitchen. "For Grace" gives a bittersweet look into the restaurant industry and the sacrifice it requires.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV

19. From Scratch (2020)

"From Scratch" follows chef, actor, and producer David Moscow as he travels worldwide making meals from scratch. Each episode begins with a chef presenting a dish that Moscow then has to hunt, gather, forage, and grow each ingredient to recreate. "From Scratch" reveals the overwhelming amount of work that brings each part of a meal into the kitchen.

Where to watch it: FYI

20. In Our Hands (2017)

This one-hour documentary takes viewers on a journey across the fields and farms of Britain. "In Our Hands" discusses diversity of the land, the importance of generational knowledge, and the need for innovation to create a more sustainable food system. A project by Black Bark Films and the Landworkers Alliance, the film advocates for sustainable methods and the rights of small producers through a feminist lens.

Where to watch it: Vimeo

21. Just Eat It (2014)

"Just Eat It" explores the enormous amount of food waste that exists in the supply chain – from farms and retail to an individual's home. The filmmakers pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discarded food for six months. Featuring interviews with food waste experts and food writers, "Just Eat It" exposes the systematic obsession with perfect produce and confusing expiry dates that has ultimately cost billions of dollars in wasted food each year. The film has received multiple awards from film festivals across North America.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play

22. Maacher Jhol (2017)

A Bengali film directed by Pratim D. Gupta, "Maacher Jhol" tells the story of a Paris-based chef returning to his home in Kolkata after 13 years. Challenged to cook a bowl of fish curry, a quintessential Bengali dish, the film shows the master-chef return to his roots and reconnect with his family.

Where to watch it: Netflix

23. Polyfaces: A World of Many Choices (2015)

"Polyfaces" documents the Salatins, a fourth-generation farming family, who moved from Australia to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the United States to practice regenerative farming. The film follows the family for four years as they operate Polyface Farm without chemicals and provide food to 6,000 families within a three-hour radius. "Polyfaces" shows how working with nature, not against it, is a way to reconnect to the land and to the community.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video

24. Rotten (2018- )

Zero Point Zero and Netflix combined to produce "Rotten," a series that highlights the problems in the process of supplying food. With a human-centered narrative approach, each episode focuses on one food product, interviewing manufacturers, distributers, and others involved in the process. "Rotten" reveals the corruption, waste, and dangers involved with eating certain foods.

Where to watch it: Netflix

25. Salt Fat Acid Heat (2018)

"Salt Fat Acid Heat" follows chef and food writer Samin Nosrat as she travels the world to explore the core principles of cooking. Based on Nosrat's New York Times bestselling book of the same name, Nosrat uses each episode to travel to Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the United States, where she began her culinary career. "Salt Fat Acid Heat" helps the audience learn about each element of cooking and how to incorporate them into their own recipes.

Where to watch it: Netflix

26. SEED: The Untold Story (2016)

A winner of 18 film festival awards, "SEED: The Unknown Story" follows the story of farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers in their fight to defend seeds from the control of biotech companies. The film highlights the importance of the seed in the future of our food and presents a heartening story about the efforts to reintegrate an appreciation of seeds into our culture. "SEED" features Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jane Goodall, Andrew Kimbrell, Winona Laduke, and Raj Patel.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

27. Soul of a Banquet (2014)

"Soul of a Banquet" shows the journey of Cecilia Chiang and how she introduced America to authentic Chinese food. Chiang opened The Mandarin, her internationally renowned restaurant in San Francisco, in 1961 and has since greatly influenced the culinary scene in the United States. Through interviews with Chiang as well as Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl, the film documents Chiang's life in Beijing, her move to the United States, and how she became a restaurateur.

Where to watch it: Hulu, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon Video

28. Sustainable (2016)

"Sustainable" investigates the economic and environmental instability of the current agriculture system and the actors in the food system who are working to change this. The film presents the leadership and knowledge of some prominent sustainable farmers around the United States, like Bill Niman, Klaas Martens and John Kempf, who are challenging the country to build a more ethical agriculture system. The film offers a story of hope, with a promise that our food system can be transformed into one that is sustainable for future generations.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube

29. That Sugar Film (2014)

"That Sugar Film" looks at the impact of high-sugar diets on an Aboriginal community in Australia and travels to the United States to interview the world's sugar experts. When director Damon Gameau decides to test the effects of sugar on his own health, he consumes foods commonly perceived as healthy, revealing the prevalence of sugar in each item. The film documents how sugar has become the most dominant food in the world, infiltrating both our diets and culture.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Documentary Mania

30. The Biggest Little Farm (2018)

"The Biggest Little Farm" follows John and Molly Chester for eight years as they transition from city living to a 200-acre farm. Directed by John Chester, the film shows the couple start Apricot Lane Farms and follows the farm's expansion to include multiple animals and fruit and vegetable varieties. Through their work, the Chesters find that the importance of biodiversity extends far beyond the farm.

Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play

31. The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (2018)

Director Maya Gallus profiles seven female chefs as they face obstacles in a profession dominated by men. "The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution" shows how the culture of restaurant kitchens has bred toxic working conditions and how women are working to change it. Through the women's stories, the film documents the greater challenges female chefs face as they attempt to rise to the top of the restaurant industry.

Where to watch it: Tubi, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video

32. The Lunchbox (2013)

"The Lunchbox" tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a lonely housewife and a widower. The housewife, played by Nimrat Kaur, decides to prepare her husband creative, elaborate lunches, sending them along with a note through the famously complicated Mumbai lunch delivery system. The lunchbox ends up with the wrong man, played by the late Irrfan Khan. The housewife recognizes her mistake and sends Khan another note to apologize, starting a conversation between the two and sparking a relationship as they discuss life's joys and sorrows over the exchange of delicious meals.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

33. Ugly Delicious (2018- )

"Ugly Delicious" combines travel, history, and cooking as award-winning chef David Chang takes the audience on a journal to culinary hot spots around the world. Each episode explores one dish or concept and tells the story of how it is made in different regions and how it has evolved over time. Chang brings guests, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Kroll, and Peter Meehan, to join him as he celebrates different cultures through food.

Where to watch it: Netflix

34. Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (2017)

Executive-produced by the late Anthony Bourdain, filmmakers Anna Chai and Nari Kye aim to change the way people buy, cook, recycle, and eat food. "Wasted!" not only explores the effects of systematic food waste on the environment, but also offers potential solutions. The film follows some of the world's most influential chefs who create dishes from typically discarded items and features success stories from around the world. These efforts try to show the audience that any action, no matter how small, can contribute to the fight against food waste.

Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Vimeo

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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