…definitely not something I consider in my daily vocabulary, but a conversation we should all be a part of. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I should consider myself a ‘foodie’ (term used loosely). I spend every day concerned about my food. I think about where it comes, learning more about how to produce it, and where my next meal will come from. When I was a kid, most of our meat came from our pastures or the neighbors’, and we often had fresh vegetables from the garden. I love to cook, try new recipes, use raw ingredients; however, anyone can accuse me of loving my beef. And when a news story comes out about how our food is produced, it definitely catches my attention. I am certain there’s more out there with those same concerns.
Last week I attended a campus Food Policy Council meeting. This isn’t exactly a meeting I would have considered on my own, but the advertising flyer caught my attention. Hung on the door of a building on Ag campus was an orange flyer that simply stated, “Don’t let UT feed you pink slime. Food Policy Council meeting…” How would I respond?
Pink slime caught my eye as soon as the stories started flying on social media. I watched the ABC news report, and read many responses from the beef community. I even shared my thoughts on the topic, but there is no way I will profess myself to be a meat scientist. So I utilized my resources, contacted a few colleagues and professionals within the meat science community, and became more familiar with this lean beef product, which someone decided to label as ‘pink slime.’ I need to learn more, and I wanted to have an answer when/if someone asked me about the topic.
The Food Policy meeting was definitely a good experience. Many students appeared to be from urban backgrounds, from areas on campus like Arts, Science, and Business. Well… let me put it this way. My invited friend and I were the only ones wearing Wranglers in the crowd :) But remember, we all have an interest in food, and I felt like I needed to be there.
We talked about many food issues, the concern of bringing more local, organic food to campus, and issues to be addressed later in the semester. When the time came for open floor, I introduced myself, explained I was a ranch kid, and wanted to address the issue of pink slime. I knew if someone else had attended the meeting after seeing the flyer, they may have had the same concerns and first impressions as myself and those expressed by the media.
I shared my thoughts on pink slime – in my best effort at proposing a conversation, explained the process to the best of my ability, and offered up my experience to answer any questions about food. The faces were friendly in the crowd by the time I finished and hopefully I answered a few questions about this beef product. After the meeting, I answered questions from about half the group and look forward to the next meeting.
Why IS this food conversation important?
This Food Policy Council isn’t unique to my college campus, rather it’s a reflection of society as a whole. Communities who have questions about how food is raised and how it ends up on our grocery shelves surround us. Unfortunately, those who are raised in urban areas may not have the opportunity to experience first-hand food production, and must rely on mainstream media, or what they are told from others to learn about food sources. This is where the Agriculture community steps in.
This campus Food Policy Council is a good thing – even a great thing! We need everyone to be concerned about food sources and learn more about them. But the Agriculture community must be involved in the conversation. Like I mentioned earlier, people who live food production day in and out have first-hand knowledge of how things work and not everyone is privileged to those experiences. Food Policy cannot be dictated solely by those who do not have a hand in production. Non-ag consumers need farmers. Farmers need non-ag consumers. We have to work together in this. If not, it’s just another rally cry for attention that will do little more than burn money on campaigns.
It would be a shame for the Agriculture college not to become involved in this Council that can have a huge impact on how the campus community eats. Not because I want to dictate what comes out of the meeting, but because someone should be there to answer questions from hands-on experiences, address misinformation, and learn what we can do to better satisfy the desires of non-ag consumers.
Conversations are a two-way street. It’s time to step up and become a part. Stop waiting for the conversation to come your way. Go be a part of the conversation.