Hungry Planet feeds people’s desire to be better informed about food

Hungry Planet on PBS Digital, photo provided by PBS
Hungry Planet on PBS Digital, photo provided by PBS /

Almost every hour of the day has food television programming. From culinary competitions to how-to demonstrations, people are tuning in to those shows. While there seems to be an appetite for all things food related, a bigger story needs to be told. On Hungry Planet, the PBS show digs deeper into the food conversation to ensure that the bounty can be harvested for years to come.

For those unfamiliar with Hungry Planet, the show looks to inform viewers while inspiring them to do better. By explaining the science in an approachable way, the concept is to help people think before they eat. Food might be the great connector, but it is a precious resource. Without care, its bountiful existence may be threatened.

Given that PBS Digital Studios uses its YouTube programming to promote educational science, Hungry Planet is that engaging show that will have viewers watching, talking, and watching again. It is more than just compelling visuals that captivate the audience.

As Maribel Lopez, Sr. Director/Head of PBS Digital Studios commented, “We also know from research that our target audiences are interested in programming about food, and food science sits at an interesting intersection of science, culture, and community, which makes it a powerful pathway for expanding and diversifying on our science slate. So, we’re interested in exploring the science of our food—where it comes from, how it’s being threatened, and what people are doing about it.”

While host Niba Audrey Nirmal helps guide the story in a meaningful way, the stories are just part of the reason to watch. If one person can modify their actions, the show will have an impact.

Hungry Planet on PBS Digital
Hungry Planet on PBS Digital, photo provided by PBS /

Recently, FoodSided spoke with Alexis Dainis, PhD, Producer of Hungry Planet. As Dainis explained, the PBS show is multifaceted and has a wide-reaching message.

Cristine Struble/FoodSided: Many food television shows focus on traveling the world to discover the next great food, satisfying a sense of wanderlust, or just longing for adventure. How can these food science based shows create a better appreciation of an interdependent planet needed in order to protect our food supply?

Alexis Dainis: One of the things we’ve really strived to do on “Hungry Planet” is show that solutions to feeding everyone and creating a sustainable world come not just from science but also from community members and organizations. Education around food science, history, and nutrition is a critical piece of the puzzle, as is the need to create infrastructure to get food to areas that need it. By showing multiple locations and communities engaging in providing healthy, nutritious food to the people around them, we hope to show the need for interdisciplinary work on food access.

CS: Making informative food television without becoming “too nerdy” is a delicate line. How can you make these shows engaging without feeling like people are stepping into a classroom?

AD: We try to center Hungry Planet around people, problems, and solutions, rather than around chemical equations and biology notes–though we do love those too! Hungry Planet isn’t about the science of cooking, or the molecular components of our food. Rather it’s about people using science and social strategies to tackle big problems in the food world. This keeps us on the “storytelling” side of the line rather than the “classroom studying” side of the line. However we do hope people learn some science concepts along the way, and gain an appreciation of how science is working to solve real world problems.

CS: Often the story behind food impacts people’s appreciation for its flavor and fosters a deeper connection. How do you tell the story of the people while adding to the overall impact to the bigger conversation?

AD: We try really hard to choose people and organizations who are doing something unique and exciting, while also showing how they each play a role in the bigger solutions to food access. These problems are difficult, and require multi-pronged approaches. We hope to show how each of our community members, scientists, and even viewers themselves can help be a part of those solutions.

CS: Some of the foods covered are vital to both the past, present and future of a community and culture. Do you think that delving into the past can offer a better appreciation of how food connects people across cultures?

AD: Diving into the history of food can help draw connections between how the same ingredients travel across the globe, being used in different ways in different cuisines. Highlighting ingredients like rice, corn, and citrus–all from our first three episodes–allows us to talk about how these ingredients show up across cultures and are used in more than just food. Things like citrus show up in medicinal, religious, and cultural spaces as well. Food is something that ties people together, and we hope to show those ties not just across a single table but across the world.

CS:In a social media world where short form videos are the norm, why is it important to engage people in a longer, bigger conversation? Do you have to be conscious in your storytelling in order to get people to sit and watch a little longer?

AD: While shortform storytelling is an exciting way to reach audiences–and we hope to do some of that with Hungry Planet, as well–each of our longer episodes tries to show connections between science and communities, a goal that requires a little extra time! We bring in multiple guests to show different facets of the food’s story, as well as some science and history lessons from our incredible host, Niba. All of these factors come together in an attempt to build a story that is not only engaging, but flows from point to point as it weaves together different angles on the same topic. We aim to take our viewers on a journey with our storytelling–a delicious, colorful, flavor-packed journey!

Hungry Planet, from PBS Digital Studios, can be watched online via

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