Documentary Review: Sustainable

Today’s post is a bit shorter (and a day late again. Agh). As the four of you who currently read this blog may (or may not lol) have noticed, last week’s post was MIA. In addition to my regular job, I’ve taken on a side gig as, more or less, a high school English TA. And last week I ran out of energy. I had several posts in the draft page, but couldn’t bring myself to finish them. So instead of beating myself up over my lil failure, I decided to let myself produce an easier post this week! Baby steps, y’all.

Friday night, after doing my grocery shopping (which, as you will see, is quite apt), I watched a documentary about sustainable farming practices in the US. I chose Sustainable because as someone who 1) loves meat and 2) avoids the farmer’s market because the produce is more expensive, food is my vice of choice when it comes to sustainable living. I have not yet made the switch.

Because of this, I’ll be doing a lot of research in the next several months about how cattle farming, the dairy industry, and modern farming practices affect our planet. In anticipation of that, I curled up on Friday night with my chamomile lavender tea and opened up Netflix. My thoughts on Sustainable were as follows.

Ratings & Overview

Title: Sustainable
Run Time: 1:31
Genre: Food and Travel Documentary
Year: 2016
Streaming: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes

Visuals: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Story: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Argument: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Impact: Fascination tinged with guilt
Watch or Pass: Watch

Initial Impressions of Sustainable

You’ll notice that visuals for this documentary only received 3 stars. This isn’t because the documentary was poorly shot, but rather because the subject matter isn’t the most visually appealing. We get a lot – and I mean a lot – of shots of grain. This documentary isn’t interested in majesty; it’s interested in the facts.

That said, the opening does provide you with a bit of heavy-handed emotional appeal, with gentle music and a stream of pretty shots of cattle silhouetted in the morning light, plants shimmering with dew, and wheat swaying in a easy breeze. In my opinion, this opening might be the worst part of the doc. If you’re someone who doesn’t already have an emotional relationship with food, the opening will feel like a weirdly spiritual attempt to convert you.

But don’t let that scare you! Once you get past the first three or so minutes of waxing sentimental, the documentary provides you with a variety of information from people who work in so many different areas of the food industry. The overall watch is solidly worthwhile!

Farming in Modern America

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Apparently agriculture went bad in the 1950s. The shift toward large industrial farms, as many of you likely know, pushed family owned farms off of their land – land that, in many cases, had been in the family for generations. While the documentary discusses this tragedy, they do not rely on it to make their case for better farming practices.

The focus of Sustainable rests largely in the soil. Much like a nutritionist will tell you to “listen to your body” when trying to decide what to eat, the farmers explain that good farming practices largely involve listening to the earth. Plants, soil, and animals have a natural balance, and that balance is thrown completely off-kilter when we rotate between soy and corn on large swatches of land. Industrial farming relies on pesticides and fertilizers and other agriculture inputs to treat the land, but this is akin to taking Asprin every time you get a headache while refusing to drink water or get a proper night’s sleep. Modern farming treats the soil’s symptoms and not the causes, and that is unsustainable.

Changing Agriculture

“We do get to eat, but we don’t get to eat food that is green and nutritious and fair and affordable. And if those are our goals, then we need a food system that says ‘These are our goals. How do we get there?'”

-Sustainable

The above quote is the central thesis of Sustainable. The bakers, chefs, farmers, and researchers in the documentary are all focused on how we can rethink our agriculture system into one that helps us and the planet. If what the farmers refer to as organic farming practices create yields that begin at 2x the product per plant, then how can we reorient our food production so that every acre is being utilized in this way, in a way that creates maximum health and productivity for the plant?

As I said in the overall ratings, the argument of this documentary is a solid 4.5 stars. Could certain things be better explained? Perhaps, but this is a 90-minute documentary. I strongly recommend it for anyone who is baffled or fully unaware (like myself!) of the state of agriculture in the US. It’s a rational, informative explanation of why organic farming matters. The organic movement isn’t just about GMOs, pesticides, and whether our food will give us cancer.

Because let’s face it: food not giving us cancer is an incredibly low bar.

So if you’re like me, and you’re still coming around to altering your food consumption habits, give Sustainable a watch! It’s worth the hour and a half investment.


I would love to hear your thoughts on Sustainable, organic food, sustainable food consumption, and food in general! Whether you’re a vegetarian or an absolute carnivore, an avid meal planner or a fan of takeout, I’d love to foster a conversation about food and why we love it. What are your “hangups” when it comes to food waste? What do you do to help the planet? Whether it’s composting your veggies, recycling your grocery containers, or shopping the local farmers market, let’s discuss!

Follow me on Twitter: @Blog_D2Earth @AbbyHarrison33

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