ENTERING THE FOOD DEBATE

Very obviously, my job is in the agricultural industry.  I was raised on a farm, virtually everyone in my family farms or works within the industry, and I take pride knowing that we are a bunch of moral, decent, hard-working human beings that do an excellent job at what we do.

john deere
My grandpa and my kids in the field a few years ago.

I’m what you might call “passionate” about the industry.  Unfortunately, that has led to many heated conversations with others outside of my workplace that don’t share my passion or find themselves on the other side of my positions.

Specifically, I can remember a time during a Saturday morning scrapbook session where one mom waxed poetic about the virtues of feeding her son organic strawberries, heard my testimony about conventional farming and organic farming without really “hearing” it, and never showed up at our monthly scrapbooking session again.

I feel bad, but I just can’t keep my mouth shut about things that really matter to me.  And farming really matters to me.  So does agriculture.  So do the members of my family that are attacked daily for raping the land and poisoning their community members.

But one Sunday a few weeks ago while standing near the Welcome Center at church, I had the opportunity to talk to someone who willingly listened to me and thoughtfully considered what I had to say.  I felt like the heavens had opened and the angels were singing because as much as I want everyone to have the same opinion as me, I’m just as excited to talk to a thoughtful person who is willing to consider my history and expertise in agriculture.

I don’t remember how the conversation began actually, but at some point, we began talking about being a vegetarian and the meat production system in the U.S.  Take a look at the conversation I had with Kelsey*:

Kelsey: I just don’t agree that we have to kill animals to survive and I don’t eat meat because I choose to put my money where my mouth is.

Lindsay: That’s fine.  And if that’s your stance on the issue of livestock production then you have the right to that stance.  But do you believe that long term, society as a whole will quit eating meat?

Kelsey: No.

Lindsay: So you do agree that livestock farms will likely exist forever, in some form, somewhere on the planet?

Kelsey: Yes.

Lindsay: If you wanted to eat meat, if you had kids someday and wanted to feed meat to your family or if you wanted to feed your dog something that wasn’t vegetarian, would you prefer to feed them meat produced in the U.S. or in China?

Kelsey: I don’t know what the difference is.  An animal is dying either way.

Lindsay: I’ll tell you what the difference is.  In the U.S., livestock farmers are regulated.  Meat processors are regulated.  You can put a piece of meat in your mouth without fear that someone’s finger is also in your sandwich or that you are eating a rat tail.  In China, I’m not sure that the same level of regulation and food safety exists.

Kelsey: Ok.  I’ll buy that.

Lindsay: So every time you support causes and activists groups in the U.S. that seek to end livestock production, what you are actually doing is pushing livestock production out of the U.S. and into another country.  You aren’t *really* saving an animal, you are simply risking the safety of the food supply for another family that still chooses to eat meat.

Guess what?  Kelsey never thought of it that way.

While I’m reasonably sure that I didn’t change Kelsey’s opinion, I think we had a valuable interaction.  And I want to publically give a shout-out to Kelsey for listening to what I had to say even as I tried to listen to her concerns (and probably did poorly) about the livestock industry.

This is the future of our food production.  Listening.  Learning.  Being interested in other families and other Americans.  I left the conversation invigorated for having had a reasonable and interesting discussion about food production in the U.S.

I hope to have many more.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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