A responsible, informed lifestyle that seeks to reduce harm to self, harm to others, and harm to the environment is a natural outgrowth of my ethic. It is also a natural outgrowth of the amazing documentary films that have influenced my life for the better. I call them “lifestyle empowerment” documentaries. Below you will find a handy-dandy anthology. For each, I’ve included the titles of the films and filmmaker’s name, a fabulous review, and the lifestyle change(s) inspired by the film!

*Note to viewer: at one point in time, all of these documentaries were available on Netflix. Netflix rotates its inventory and there are only a select few films available to me in Belgium, so you will need to investigate availability for yourself. If you cannot find these on Netflix, try Vimeo.

 

I. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

by Joe Cross

Gimmicky, self-promoting, and viewing more like a YouTube video than a documentary, I found this film entertaining. It’s a wet-your-appetite kind of film, which sucks you into its swirling vortex of nutritious juices and makes you ask whether you, too, could transform your health. And that is an excellent question.

Joe Cross, weighing 310 pounds and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, realized that he would soon be dead if he didn’t make some major lifestyle changes. The best his doctors could offer was symptom management, not a long-term plan of care or a promise to turn his life around. So he grabbed a generator and a juicer, and took off on a whirlwind cross-country experiment: 60 days of consuming only fresh juices. His results were staggering.

Why did this documentary float to the top of the list? I am not going to claim that this movie changed my life. Perhaps the weakness of its gimmicks is that it is entertaining, not moving. In order to embrace serious life changes–like veganism, anti-cruelty, and zero waste–I would need to be moved, not merely humored. But humor is a terrific hook. So let yourself get hooked. There is a lot more to see once you’ve scratched the surface of lifestyle change.

What changed? I started juicing after I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and today I juice daily. I also got hooked on the “lifestyle empowerment” documentary genre.

 

II. More Than Honey

by Marcus Imhoof

Have you ever wept while watching a documentary? No? Then you haven’t watched More Than Honey. For all the depth that Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead lacks, More Than Honey plumbs the soul.

Albert Einstein postulated that if bees disappeared from the globe, the human race would have roughly four years to live. Starting in 2006, honeybee death rates almost tripled due to a condition called colony collapse disorder. In 2015 alone, 40% of US bee colonies died. Something is terribly amiss. 

By Swiss filmmaker Marcus Imhoof, this documentary explores the fascinating world of bees, showing how industrialization has shaped the relationships between humans, honeybees, nature and the future. This film, perhaps because it focuses on just one segment of nature which is being lost, gave me the opportunity to wrap my brain around the colossal environmental damage done to the earth by industrialization. It also helped me understand how the welfare of our fellow creatures is intricately connected to our own welfare. The salvation of honeybees and humanity is deeply intertwined.

What changed? I eliminated commercial honey from my diet (it was once a staple sweetener). And I started to pray. Creation needs our prayers, people.

 

III. Forks Over Knives

by Lee Fulkerson

Lee Fulkerson’s film investigates alleged diseases of affluence, such as heart disease and type two diabetes, and asks if the damages caused by affluent diets can be reversed by consuming fewer processed and animal-based foods. 

This documentary helped to solidify the connections in my mind between privilege and disease. When privilege and affluence are abused, the results can be damning for our bodies. Filmmakers take note, I have yet to see a documentary that connects poverty to disease, or one which addresses how impoverished people can be empowered to eat a healing diet. 

This film inspires a “can do” attitude. You will feel enabled to make substantial changes to your lifestyle for the good of your body, your community and your environment. This is no More Than Honey… the cinematography is not going to blow your mind. Scientific studies are presented in an understandable, accessible, but not particularly mind-blowing way. Watching is like eating a hearty, healthy serving of leafy greens: you’ll be better for it. Kudos to filmmaker Lee Fulkerson and team for creating an immensely beneficial website, complete with recipes and tips to kick-start your lifestyle transformation.

What changed? I didn’t implement tangible changes. This documentary introduced the most subtle change, really: I walked away from it believing that I could heal myself.

 

IV. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

by Kip Anderson

If you are like me, by this point in the anthology, you are ready to take on the world. You’re sweating bullets. You’re mad about deceptive food pyramids, you’re skeptical of modern pharmaceutically-driven medicine, you’re furious about the state of bee colonies. You’re sitting on your couch shouting, “Just c’mon, come at me, and I’ll take a swing at ya!!!”

It gets worse. 

Enter Cowspiracy. Kip Anderson investigates why the largest environmental lobby organizations are failing to address the single most destructive force facing the planet today. Pleasing visuals and a compelling story line string together the facts and figures of this animal agriculture documentary. Anderson cuts through the sensationalism of the  “lifestyle empowerment” documentary genre, presents his findings rationally, and provides sustainable solutions to our most pressing environmental issue. After hearing from friends, I know that this film persuades environmentalists toward reducitarianism and vegetarianism in ways that some animal welfare arguments do not.

I approached this film with two assumptions which were rapidly debunked. First, I thought this film was about cows/cattle farms/meat. Not entirely true. Cowspiracy addresses the welfare of humans, our communities, and the millions of miraculous ecosystems that make up this dazzling planet. This is a big picture narrative. Second, I thought that the title sounded titillating and provocative, implying that the film would be sensational. It isn’t. 

Favorite quote: “Dairy is baby cow growth formula. If you are a 60 pound calf and you need to grow into a 600 pound cow, drink baby cow growth formula. If you aren’t, then don’t.” 

What changed? I started making homemade rice milk, stopped buying cheese and eggs, and started converting to a vegan diet.

 

V. Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?

by Jeb Berrier

Perhaps you have heard of (or embraced) a zero waste lifestyle. Jeb Berrier, a self-styled all-American man, makes a pledge to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store and through that simple choice, his life is completely changed. Providing plenty of comic relief and accessible, relatable personal experience, Berrier’s documentary smacks of a home video project and is completely unpretentious, unpolished, and fun.

In addition to the more obvious–but still staggering–environmental ravages caused by plastics, Bag It gave me a more comprehensive understanding of the human rights violations cause by plastic recycling. Recycling, often a conscience-soother for those like me who still want to live a high-consumption lifestyle, should actually be a last resort, Berrier explains. The labor involved in recycling is rife with human rights violations. Reducing and reusing must be our priorities: producing as little waste (zero waste!) as possible. Bag It also contains the most comprehensive explanation of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, helping me see how plastics are toxic, hormone altering, and disease-causing.

What changed? I was already a dedicated plastic bag boycotter (is that a word?) and a water bottle carrying fanatic. This film inspired me to eliminate other one-use plastics from my life: reintroducing simple bar soap to my bathroom eliminated a plastic hand soap pump bottle, a plastic body wash bottle, and a pressurized aluminum can of shave cream. Next up: I’m researching zero-waste shaving tools (straight and safety razors).


What do you think of this list?  

Conspicuously absent are Food Inc. and Food Matters. I found both sensational, from the eerie theme music, to the mysterious lack of narrator identity, to the conspiratorial overtones. While I do not doubt the content of the films, and I generally agree with their findings and conclusions, the presentation was off-putting. Watch them and let me know what you think.

The tremendous grace of awareness is that it stirs response. I hope that these films inspire awareness in you as they have in me. Yes, there are times when I grumble about my lifestyle and inconvenience. Times when I wish to return to the days before I thought about animal slaughter and industrialized human slavery and ecosystems which are being irrevocably lost. I sometimes wish I could turn off the lens that enables me to see how deeply justice is connected to reducing and refusing all the stuff that promises to make us feel less empty. But those days are gone and I like to think that with all this revelation comes great power. We can change, and we must.

Now your turn. What documentaries have inspired you and why? What is changing your corner of the world?

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