The 10 realest documentaries that will change everything you think you know about consumerism

Starting a new series on Netflix has become one of the most dangerous activities of my university life. Having just finished a 22 episode arc of the Good Wife in a week, I let my mouse hover over Netflix’s suggestions for you picks genuinely trying to calculate how many days I had left before my next exam.

You know the rest…

Trying to convince yourself that no, it’s not going to go this way again and I swear, I will only watch one episode. Broken promises. Shattered dreams. Seven untouched assignments and a crumbling GPA.

The Solution?

Somehow procrastination feels like less of a guilty pleasure when I’m actually learning something. I also happen to be really passionate about and interested in food systems, consumerism, and sustainable development in general so trendy west-coast docu-series seem to fit the bill. In saying that, I would recommend to anyone looking for something to satisfy your “me time” to try this stuff out.

And, if you need more reasons to love docs…

  1. Documentaries these days are basically like blockbuster films. They’re colourful, cinematic, and full of action and drama. It’s not like your classroom black n white World History bore on VHS anymore. Also, no Morgan Freeman voiceovers (…sincerely sorry about that one).
  2. Unlike binge watching the entirety of the Mindy Project season 5, documentaries actually end after an hour or two. You’re now automatically more disciplined than your classmates.
  3. Learning is awesome and knowing things is cool.

Convinced yet?

If you’re hanging out on our blog, you’re probably already either passionate or curious about Fair Trade, the environment, global development, etc. So, whether you’re using documentaries to avoid your real life responsibilities, or you genuinely want to learn what the heck is going on with consumerism, why food these days is so toxic, how the people who grow the food we eat are living in the poorest conditions on the planet, why big corps own EVERYTHING, what environmental impact agriculture is having on the planet, why slavery is still a thing, how corporate and political GIANTS keep preventing us from progress... Sorry had to take a breath there… and where Fair Trade fits in, you are perfect candidate numero uno to dive into all this great content.

Here’s my list of the 10 realest documentaries that will change everything you think you know about consumerism – all for free!

Food Inc (2008)

Food Inc is a classic must-see! First time I saw this one I was 15 and it BLEW MY MIND. For anyone who is a newbie to learning about food, this is a great introduction to the realities of an American food system that most closely resembles our own. Food Inc was one of the first major blockbuster documentaries to pave the way for all the popular food and agriculture docu-genre out there today and sends a really powerful message about voting with your dollar. It is available on both Netflix and Youtube!

Food Chains (2014)

Food chains gets a lot more political. This doc veers the food conversation towards the migrant farmworkers recruited from the global south to work in agriculture in the US. The doc exposes the slavery, abuse, poverty, and discrimination experienced by these migrant workers and puts the spotlight on major supermarket chains for directly supporting and perpetuating their exploitation. It then introduces us to the coalition of farmworkers fighting the government for livable wages and labour rights. The full documentary is available through Popcornflix on Youtube!

Migrant Dreams (2017)

Migrant dreams exposes the migrant worker crisis happening in Canada. Did you know that Canada has a Temporary Foreign Worker Program which brings in people from the global south to work in agriculture or other intensive labour industries? These workers are not given rights in the same way citizens or standard work visa-carrying workers are and are often manipulated, discriminated against, and abused. This film starts off with real stories from migrant workers in Ontario and gives an on the ground perspective of the industry at home. The full documentary is available through!

Living on One Dollar (2013)

You’ll either love or hate this one. Three college students travel to rural Guatemala to understand what life is like for families living on a dollar a day. In my opinion this doc is very well done and is careful and sensitive in its methods to help others understand what life is like for the world’s poorest. However, some also see this film as a further perpetuation of the filmmakers’ privilege. I suggest that you watch with a questioning mind and an open heart – regardless, this film is guaranteed to touch you. Available on Netflix!

Rotten (2018)

ROTTEN! This is Netflix’s newest food-related docu-series, released just last winter. It is a 6-part series of 50 minute episodes and definitely binge worthy. The episode themes cover honey and bees, peanuts and food allergies, garlic, poultry, dairy and cod industries. Garlic Breath, in particular, is an eye opener and must-see! Available as a Netflix Original Series, so you can watch it from anywhere!

The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010)

We start to get very industry specific with this film. The Dark Side of Chocolate has been a go-to documentary for many Fair Trade groups running movie nights and outreach events. The conventional cocoa industry is tainted by slavery, kidnapping, human rights abuses, and illegal operations. The film shows us why it is so important to invest in more ethical agriculture like Fair Trade in order to protect and empower those who do not benefit under current trade systems. Available on Youtube!

Black Gold (2006)

Another industry specific doc that focusses on the coffee industry this time, digging into the realities for coffee growers in Ethiopia. The manager of a coffee cooperative travels around the world seeking fairer prices for his farmers. We follow him as he travels from country to country showing us how stakeholders and influencers control and participate in the global coffee trade. This one is also a go-to film for many Fair Trade groups and the perfect start to your fair trade coffee journey. You can find this one pretty easily just through google, or you can rent/buy it from sites like vimeo!

The Story of Stuff (2007)

This one’s a shorty.  Great for a study break or some background tracks while you’re cooking dinner or folding laundry. 30 minutes long, the story of stuff pulls the conversation into consumerism in general. It takes us through the lifecycle of consumer goods – addressing overconsumption, production, pollution, and waste. You can find this one on Youtube or visit the Story of Stuff’s website to watch this or any of their other issue-specific micro-docs!

True Cost (2015)

Much like the Dark Side of Chocolate, True Cost delves into the realities of an industry tainted with exploitation and abuse. True Cost watches like a feature-film and is so engaging you forget you’re watching a documentary. It addresses issues in the fast fashion industry such as living wages, pollution, toxic waste, pesticide use, and death. The end of the documentary pulls together solutions from fair trade affiliated brands who are trying to make a dent in the status quo. Available on Netflix!

The Machinists (2010)

Admittedly I haven’t seen this one, but I have read rave reviews. The documentary focusses in on the experiences of two women and their families living in Bangladesh and dependent on factory work that doesn’t pay well or consistently. They share their day-to-day stories about their struggles to provide for their families within a system that refuses to pay living wages. The documentary also gives a look into the social movements happening in Dhaka working to fight these injustices. The full documentary is less than an hour long and available on Youtube!

Rana Plaza Collapse Documentary: The Deadly Cost of Fashion | The New York Times (2014)

This is a very very very short micro-doc by a New York Times Photojournalist. The journalist travelled to Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh just after the 2013 factory collapse that touched the world and recorded the rescue efforts to get people out and the families desperately searching for their missing loved ones. This video will take 5 minutes and will give you the rawest and realist understanding of the dangers garment workers face every day they arrive for work. Warning, it can get quite graphic and may be emotionally triggering for some. I have often used clips of this video during orientations and Fair Trade education sessions, because it is just so intense and eye opening. Available on Youtube! (I have left the full video here rather than just the trailer since it is so short)