Food Literacy

We eat every day and for most of us, three times – if we're like most of our fellow North Americans. Yet for the vast portion of us, our knowledge of food became largely defined not by our grandmother’s canned pasta sauce or neighbor’s fresh tomatoes, but by profit-driven corporations and their slick message makers. We should know. We used to work for one as advertising people. Ever heard of the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger or the Jolly Green Giant? They were created by the ad agency we once jobbed at.

From addressing the basics of food to how the foods we eat get on our supermarket shelves or at the drive-in window of a fast food joint, the films, books and non-profit organizations below can better define what better food is, for the us, our family and the planet. They go on location to places few of us are even allowed to view, to see what many of us would rather not, like the inside of a factory farm or CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). If anything, the selection of films, books and organizations featured here help make our food system more transparent.

We hardly agree with every point made by the directors, authors or organizations represented in this list. That’s not the point. The difference between wisdom and information is the ability to decide for yourself where you stand on a particular topic or issue related to what we eat. That’s food literacy.

Complexity, secrecy and distance are to food what the Iron Curtain was to the former U.S.S.R. How do we care about what we eat if we can’t see where it is grown or raised or who is behind what's on our table? The very length of the supply lines and complexity of the modern food chain breeds a culture of ignorance and indifference among eaters. Shortening the food chain is one way to create more conscious eaters; hurray for the localvores! But deploying technology and information to pierce the veil is another.

The list below is just a start to get a better handle or expand your knowledge of food and farming systems. Because there’s so many delicious and informative blogs on food – and they keep changing – we've also included a run-down of a few that we use to keep up with the latest trends.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Eat Here, by Brian Halweil

Fatal Harvest, edited by Andrew Kimbrell

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser

Food Politics, by Marion Nestle

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

Eaarth, by Bill McKibben

The End of Nature, by Bill McKibben

Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seed, by Claire Hope Cummings

Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods, by Gary Nabhan

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, by Gary Nabhan

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, by Raj Patel

Farmer Jane, by Temra Costa

State of the World, by the Worldwatch Institute

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz

Diet for a Hot Planet, by Anna Lappé


King Corn, directed by Aaron Woolf

Learn how two best friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, manage to grow a bumper crop of GMO corn on one acre in Iowa, then follow their government subsidized pile of corn into the food system.

Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner

Don’t eat a big dinner before you sit down for this revealing expose of the American food system.

Super Size Me, directed and starring Morgan Spurlock

A hilarious and disturbing view of what could happen in just thirty days if all you ate what was on the menu at McDonald’s.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John, directed by John Peterson

An entertaining view into the transformation of a failing family farm into on of the nation’s largest CSAs serving the Chicagoland area.

The Greenhorns

Get a copy of this homespun recruiting film so we can eat well with food grown by the next generation of farmers, and share it with every young person you can.

Fresh, directed by Ana Sofia Joanes

Who’s reinventing our food system and how is it that they can feed us without polluting or destroying the planet?


It won’t take you long to figure out what inspired this free-to-download animated short film about the realities of CAFOs, coming soon to a family farm near you.


This list of national organizations is dwarfed by the plethora of regional, state or community-based organizations. It's meant as a starting point and due to the wide range of issues or foci for many of these organizations, is in no particular order of importance.

Sustainable Table

Created by the non-profit organization, GRACE, this program addresses the problems associated with the industrial food supply in the U.S. by providing solutions and alternatives.

Environmental Working Group

This organization uses the power of public information to protect our public health and the environment. Their shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce is a keeper, especially if you happen to find yourself in a supermarket and not farmers’ market. They cover the latest on health and safety of our food supply without the influence of corporate special interests.

Kitchen Gardeners International

Kitchen Gardeners International

A worldwide community of people who are growing some of their own food or helping others do the same. It's about self-reliance through kitchens gardens, home-cooked meals and more sustainable local food systems.

Food Democracy Now This grassroots national organization is dedicated to building a sustainable food system that protects our natural environment, sustains farmers and nourishes families.

Organic Consumers Association

A clearinghouse of news, resources and information related to health, justice and sustainability, especially as it relates to food safety, genetic engineering and industrial farming and its impacts on the environment.

Worldwatch Institute

A research powerhouse, one that had guided the discussion and influences decision makers and the practices of individual citizens as we search for what it means to have an environmentally sustainable society. Related to food, the Institute's research stresses the potential of agriculture to serve the public interest by protecting ecosystems, ensuring that no one goes hungry, and providing a stable economic base for rural communities. Future food-related research at Worldwatch will look at ways of making food systems more localized, and at the prospects for urban farming.

Rodale Institute

A research and information resource for anyone who believes that healthy soil leads to heathy food and therefore, healthy people. Their focus is what they call regenerative farming for food and fiber production.

Renewing the Countryside

Celebrating what’s working in rural America and re-establishing connections between rural and urban communities.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Food, sustainable agriculture, rural communities and natural resources are all important to this alliance of organizations that have helped reform federal policies and keep democracy vibrant through citizen participation.

Green America

Supporting social justice and environmental sustainability through economic transformation, this organization shares resources, a business directory and action campaigns so that all communities are healthy and safe.

Farm Aid

Music and food have always gone together. This collaboration of musicians join forces with farmers and eaters to support family farmers everywhere.

Family Farm Defenders

A grass-roots driven organization advocating for eaters' "right to know" about their food and on a mission to "create a farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food and fiber system, based upon democratically controlled institutions that empower farmers to speak for and respect themselves in their quest for social and economic justice." This organization is fighting the good fight against a global food system that gobbling up the planet for profits. They came about, in part, as a result of the stealth introduction of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) into the nation’s milk supply.

Organic Trade Association

Always on top of the latest issues related to organic foods, trends and opportunities, this membership-based association for the organic industry in North America is a leader in advocating and protecting the national organic standards, provides introductory fact sheets on the organic industry and summaries of the latest research and policy changes.

Union of Concerned Scientists

For the latest findings related to the impacts of climate change, the risks of genetically engineered crops, potential dangers of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and related topics, you can turn to this organization for a perspective and conclusions that can be trusted.

Slow Food

An international organization dedicated to preserving endangered plant and animal species and foods that are unique to various regions or that are produced by artisanal methods. From tasting events to conferences, the organization stands in direct opposition to what is represented by "fast food."

Pew Charitable Trusts

Fostered independent scientific research on sustainability issues, including those related to the proliferation of Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) and the decline in marine ecosystems and fisheries.

Sustainable Farmer

Sustainable Farmer is dedicated to providing information about how to raise food and fiber mindfully, paying attention to the needs of the environment, especially the plants and the animals that sustain us.


A one-stop wonder to learn more about "biological pioneers," whether on their website, radio series or their mind-blowing annual conference. They have a food and farming campaign devoted to seeding sustainable, local food systems.

Transition USA

This US organization serves those communities in the US that draw from their collective creativity to unleash an extraordinary and historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is more vibrant, abundant and resilient; one that is ultimately preferable to the present. Start a Transition Initiative in your town, community or neighborhood -- as soon as you can. Many communities find their local food system a great place to begin.

Center for Food Safety

This organization both challenges harmful food production technologies and provides sustainable alternatives. Learn about the issues, take action or use their resources to make your voice heard in Washington DC or at your state capital.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

National organization that's supporting women in sustainable agriculture.

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)

Resource for new and transitional organic farmers. Hosts the nation's largest organic farming conference in Wisconsin. Farmstead Chef co-author, Lisa Kivirist, directs the MOSES Rural Women's Project that provides outreach, training and networking for women farmers and food-based ecopreneurs.


Civil Eats


Eat. Drink. Better.


Food Revivial

Wild Fermentation

The go-to place for recipes, resources, and a newsletter on everything fermented.