The Geography of Food in Film

The Geography of Food in Film

National Geographic staffers weigh in with their favorite food movies.


5 - 12+


Arts and Music, Experiential Learning, Geography, Filmmaking

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This group of films explores the geographies of food from many cultural perspectives—from environmental and health issues to fun children’s stories.

Rated G

Babette’s Feast


The first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1987), Babette's Feast follows the life of a mysterious young Parisian refugee who shows up at the doorstep of two elderly and pious Christian sisters in Jutland. A wonderful look at the severely beautiful Danish countryside, and an intriguing look at the culture of that place and time. Babette spends 14 years as a cook for the sisters and their aging congregation, until the year that she wins the lottery. Instead of taking her winnings and going back to Paris, she decides to spend all the money on ingredients for a fantastic feast for the sisters and the congregation. She sends away for foods and spices that the villagers have never seen or heard of before—causing some concern that such a lavish feast must be the work of the devil. Babette's wonderful food overcomes the superstitions and other obstacles and the villagers spirits soar, and Babette's mysterious past is revealed.

Kim Hulse, NG Education

A Bug’s Life


A misfit ant attempts to defend his colony from annual grasshopper invaders by recruiting some bigger, badder bugs. The group he gets ends up being a circus troupe, making the task all the more daunting. The film offers countless vistas of the landscape from the insect perspective, which makes for a great foray into the geographic principle of scale. This children’s film subtly deals with complicated issues of the production and consumption of food for a population that is subject to outside pressures from both human and natural systems, all while being one the most celebrated and successful animated movies in the last 20 years.

—Evan Gover, NG intern

Rated PG

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs


This movie, though fictional, completely connects the economic geography of a region to food! In the beginning of the flick, we see that [the] Swallow Falls economy is directly related to its production of sardines—when the sardine industry cans (pun intended) so does the livelihood of poor Swallow Falls. However, soon after, Flint Lockwood creates a machine that turns precipitation into food. I’m not sure how a physical geographer would explain that, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. With giant food falling from the sky, Swallow Falls finds its way back on the map as a major tourist destination. Though this excitement is short-lived by the increasingly dangerous and mutated food byproducts, it really illustrates how economics is directly related to the geography [that] surrounds a region. Whether it's sardines or giant jellybeans, food is a dynamic and defining aspect of an economy through jobs, production, as well as tourism attention.

—Winn Brewer, NG educational media specialist

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


The film documents the life and culinary prowess of Jiro Ono, a world-famous sushi chef in Japan. The movie showcases how he selects ingredients, where the food comes from, and how his fierce dedication to quality encourages him to always remember that sustainability matters. It's also beautiful to look at!

—Dan Reiner, social media manager for NG Education projects

Rated PG-13



A bohemian mother and her daughter move to a quiet, traditional French town and open a chocolate shop that sells exotic chocolate treats. Basically, the woman changes the town through her chocolate and through her interactions with the townspeople . . . and she, too, is changed. The mother is a wanderer and has the spirit of an explorer. It is through her travels that she learns all of her chocolate recipes.

—Livia Mazur, NG mapping specialist

Rated R

Big Night


The film, which Stanley Tucci wrote, directed, and also starred in, is about two brothers from Italy who come to America to open an Italian restaurant. It captures the promise America holds for people around the world, and the struggles immigrants face as they try to integrate within a new society without giving up too much of their heritage. Primo is the uncompromising chef, a culinary genius who cannot accept the standard American perceptions of Italian cuisine. Secondo is the smooth manager, who desperately tries to keep the business afloat despite limited clientele and his brother’s inflexibility. Luckily for the duo, the owner of the successful Americanized Italian restaurant across the street locks down a famous musician to play for them, so the brothers prepare everything for a make-or-break feast to save the business.

—Carol Johnson, editor



Waiting . . . is not the kind of movie that will get you hungry. Rather, this comedy may make you lose your appetite as it follows a new employee learning the ropes at a chain restaurant called Shenaniganz. I have worked in restaurants before and some of the nutty characters in Waiting . . . ring true to me.

—Stuart Thornton, writer/reporter

Not Rated

Eat Drink Man Woman


I like how the movie emphasizes the role food plays in our everyday lives—something we take for granted has phenomenal impacts on our relationships with family, friends, and strangers. The movie has long periods of no dialogue, where we just watch food being prepared—sometimes for a school lunch, sometimes for a special family occasion. While watching the movie, we can also examine the role of conversation while we are eating and cultural traditions that define who we are as a family, region, or country.

—Elena Takaki, NG Education

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National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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