Monday, June 30, 2014

Disappointment - What does it take to be an Agvocate?

I received a phone call today.  The call came after a post I made on facebook featuring a picture of a menu from a local restaurant.  Here's the situation...

I love this particular restaurant.  They bill themselves as a "wholesome cafe" and I am fine with the moniker.  I have always been satisfied with everything I have tried.  My favorites might just be their blackberry scone filled with big, juicy berries which burst in your mouth with every bite and their yogurt parfait with layers of fresh fruit and homemade granola.  Despite my love for the place, I am not a regular.  It is not a convenient location for me and I tire of all of the people hanging around trying to gain hipster points and be seen.  I know, I am getting old.

Anyway, my post essentially said...

I love (name of cafe).  I have enjoyed everything I have tried immensely and highly recommend you give them a try too.  However, I am disappointed with their marketing.  Don't they know all US produced chicken is already hormone and essentially antibiotic-free?  (Person A), (Person B) and (Person C) have you ever talked with them about it?  What are your thoughts?

Well, Person A gave me a call and told me he was extremely uncomfortable with me tagging him in the post.  He wondered why I would have done so.  I told him I tagged all three because I know they each enjoy eating there, have relationships with the owners, and are all agvocates!  He asked if I would remove the post.

I was a bit conflicted but in the name of respecting the wishes of a friend, I obliged.  Soon after, I was disappointed with myself for having done so.  Why couldn't he just ignore the post, make a statement, or even pose a question then just leave it at that?  Why was this kind of post soo unsettling to him?  Was I wrong for including him in the conversation?  I genuinely wanted to know his thoughts.  I was looking to him... to get him involved... to act as a bridge among the agricultural industry, the consumer, and the cafe.  I guess he wasn't ready for such a role.

We spoke at length about the importance of having open, respectful conversations about food with others.  I wondered aloud if the owners were taking the route Chipotle and Panera have by using similar scare tactics.  Such terms only cause consumers to reflect on chicken they have eaten elsewhere, wondering if it too was "hormone and antibiotic-free".  If it was not clearly labeled as such, they may not choose to eat in those other restaurants.

I wondered aloud if the owners were simply marketing to their customer base, knowing they expect to see such labels.  The cafe is located in a "trendy" party of town... the downtown area where a lot of consumers (those who view the "organic, vegan, sustainable, raw, grass-fed, etc..." food movement to be a lot like wearing the latest designer's clothes) enjoy congregating. 

I also wondered if the owners were unaware US produced chicken is already "hormone and virtually antibiotic-free" and labeling it as such is not only redundant but perpetuates the misconceptions rampant in our nation.

Person A agreed with my wonderings but continued by saying this cafe has supported many of his own business clients and he did not want to damage the relationship.  He also said he had had conversations with them before about their use of the term "local", wondering what they meant by it since not all items labeled as such came from the community.  Rather, a few things had traveled nearly 100 miles or more.  He later admitted he didn't know enough about the use of hormones and antibiotics to be able to communicate effectively.  We both agreed it is confusing ground.

I know hormones are not permitted in poultry or pork production and growers do use antibiotics (regulated by the FDA) to keep animals healthy and to treat diseases.  This is much like what I do when I am sick or one of my kiddos gets sick.  I also know there is a withdraw period before those animals can be harvested for consumption.  This prevents the antibiotics from being passed on to the consumer.  (SHAMELESS PLUG:  By the way, I learned this when I was in 4-H and FFA.)  Antibiotics prevent suffering and death.  Saying you want none to be used on animals is a pretty cruel choice.  When you get sick, do you get a prescription?  Yeah... that's what I thought.  :-)

As the conversation wore on, I realized something.  Person A may have a degree in agriculture but does not possess the confidence or the competence to be able to communicate effectively about the industry.  Don't get me wrong, I don't know everything either but I know the basics and have enough good contacts I can call upon to get more detailed information when needed.  I also possess the willingness to have good, open, respectful conversations with others.

Now, I know Persons A, B & C will likely see this post and I did not publish it with malice in my heart but rather with the intent to engage in deep reflection about agricultural education and agricultural communication.  As a result of this meditation, I pose two questions...

First, what does it mean to be an agvocateJust Farmers had a great post about the terms Agvocate versus Agtivist.  I like what they proposed...

Agvocacy is not about targeting any selected group, such as media or elected officials – it’s representative of ag proactively telling our story.

I believe our industry, Person A included, is filled with amazing AGVOCATES... people to communicate and educate about the agricultural industry.  Our society is the furthest removed they have ever been from the farm.  They don't know much about agriculture.  They are buying into the latest hot trends in food and eating, more than ever before!  They are intelligent.  They want to know more.  The problem is, they aren't getting the RIGHT information WHEN and WHERE they need it.

Agvocates, we need to extend ourselves even if it isn't comfortable.  Blog, post, speak, host, help, question, offer... we must do whatever we can to exert an influence in our local communities. (FFA members will remember this little gem within the FFA Creed.)  If we work together to chip away at these inconsistencies, redundancies and miscommunications in a calm, respectful tone, we might just have a better shot at being heard!  RISK BIG, friends!

My second question has me wondering, what is the problem here?

Being a professor in a College of Agriculture, I believe I am required to critique my own program.  Are we doing enough to prepare our students to brooch such topics?  Have we given them adequate practice with responding to viewpoints unlike our own?  Have we taught them to listen first and speak second?  Have we taught them to begin where the consumer is... sharing what they want to know rather than what the industry wants them to know?  Have we given them enough feedback so they feel confident filling the widening and, in some cases, fragmented gaps between the consumer and the industry?  Have we helped them develop their own unique style in hosting such conversations so they can effectively share their stories, their personal connections to the industry? 

I am not sure but I do know...

There is so MUCH work to do!!  
Stand up!  Speak out!  Let your light shine!
If not you, who?  If not now, when?!  

Our industry depends on YOU!!

If you are interested in learning more, check out these resources.
  •   You can find the US Poultry and Egg Association's video series on YouTube here!  There is some GREAT information offered from the mouth of a veterinarian on the topic of antibiotics in poultry production!!  He explains what an antibiotic is, how it is created and approved, the use, and the withdraw period.  Very clear!!

          Egg laying hens are not given hormones. Some egg cartons say that the eggs are hormone
          free; however, this is true for all eggs in commercial egg production in the United States.

         Some egg cartons say that the hens were not given antibiotics. This statement is true for all 
         eggs produced in the United States, even if it is not specified on the carton. Hens may be given 
         antibiotics for therapeutic purposes when ill; however, when they are ill, hens typically stop    
         laying eggs.

  • Dairy Carrie is a dairy farmer with a very popular blog.  She recently took Panera to task for similar scare tactics used in their marketing.  Check out her posts

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