A Food Documentary People Will Actually Watch

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A Food Documentary People Will Actually Watch

It’s good to be honest with ourselves about how we define successful marketing, campaigns, videos, documentaries, etc.

Success is relative to the goal intended.

When I watch social and environmental documentaries — which I love — I usually find myself thinking at the end, “They didn’t really help me share this with other people.”

By that, I mean, they targeted their message and tone, images and video, to people (like me) who were already supportive of whatever issue they wanted to shine a light on.

The problem…

My first reaction when I learn more about a problem is to want to influence others — share this new information.  Namely, with the groups of people they mentioned in the documentary who are opposed to the changes for which the film-makers advocate.

That usually won’t work.

The tone is combative, blaming, angry, and paints those groups as ignorant, evil or both.  They also spend 95% of the film talking about the problems and 5% (if that) educating about the various solutions and successful efforts already in action.

You know the documentaries I’m talking about.

When it comes to food: The Future of Food, Food, Inc., Fed Up, and pretty much all of them.

They have their place — mostly educating, preaching to, and poking the choir to action.  But they don’t arm the choir with the tools to be effective in their action.

And they motivate the opposition to dig their heels in to their stance.  Which is unfortunate.

The solution…

American Meat

I’ll let it’s own description on Amazon speak for it first, so you know I’m not plagiarizing.

American Meat is a solutions-oriented documentary chronicling the current state of the U.S. meat industry. Featuring Joel Salatin, Chuck Wirtz, Fred Kirschenmann, Steve Ells, Paul Willis, and farmers across America, it takes an even-handed look at animal husbandry. First explaining how America arrived at our current industrial system, the story shifts to the present day, showing the feedlots and confinement houses, not through hidden cameras but through the eyes of the farmers who live and work there. The documentary introduces the revolution taking root in animal husbandry, led by the charismatic and passionate Joel Salatin. Stories are shared of farmers across the country who have changed their lives to start grass-based farms, and highlightseveryday solutions people can make to support America’s agriculture.


Many people will say, “I’m against meat altogether.  I only want films that promote 100% vegetarian diets.”

This is not your film.

But it is a film farmers and non-environmentalists will actually watch.  Unlike the ones you might prefer.

It’s full of farmers talking about the harsh financial and physical realities of their lifestyle.  It has large and small farmers.  It encourages a whole young generation of farmers (that we need) to look into small-scale, welfare-conscious means of raising meat.  And makes the case that the ONLY way people can get into farming these days and make a living is small and sustainable.

It touches on the problems, but only enough to move on to the solutions.

It highlights success stories, good attempts that met with difficulty, and a variety of ways that people can get involved.

Graham Meriwether, the director and one of the film-makers, came to Iowa to screen American Meat.  He spoke transparently about how he thought he would make “the next Food, Inc.” but then realized his integrity as a journalist required him to go to Iowa to talk to some of these farmers he was scripting as “the problem.”

Instead, he re-thought the whole film, and told the stories rarely told — from the mouth of those living it.

Not only that, but he came back to Iowa and screened the film at Iowa State University and every high school FFA Chapter that would let him.

I know because my high school was one of them.  Juston Lamb, the horticulture teacher and defensive back coach when I was still at Pekin Community High School, held one of the screenings.  Tim Hadley, my good friend and graduating classmate who was a teacher there at the time.

Mr. Lamb and Mr. Hadley let me know that local farm organizations sent members to watch and make sure our students weren’t being shown anti-agriculture propaganda.  Which only made a bigger impact.  Adults and students were having intense dialogue about points made in the film.  Not throwing it out, but offering perspectives and sharing concerns.  Many thought the film raised important questions.  Most of the students were encouraged that there were growing opportunities to get into farming because they were convinced it was not an option for them to make a living.

Now THAT is powerful.

A film that brings environmental viewpoints and agricultural viewpoints into the same room with adults, students, and teachers.

A film that generates powerful, positive conversations with the very groups the film identifies as contributing to the issue.

We screened the film several times in Des Moines, and I gave my dad a copy of the DVD for Christmas.

Check out other work by Graham Meriwether.  In 2010, he founded the non-profit organization, Leave It Better Foundation, whose mission is to empower youth to heal our environment.

What other documentaries are powerful, positive, and you could share with a wide range of people without turning them off?




Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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