Tag Archives: Agriculture

How to lose an argument on food and agriculture topics

how to lose an argument in food and agriculture conversationsA few weeks back, I shared several lessons learned while sticking my neck out and engaging in discussions centered around food and agriculture topics. Today, I share a few lessons learned by failure; sometimes my own.

  1. Assuming science will give us all the answers; it only gives us some of the answers. Pick a topic, any topic. Chances are you can find “scientists” on either side of the issue. Many people in the general public do not trust science or believe it can be bought-off. Often times, questions may be more about the ethics than the science.
  2. Using economics as the justification for all of our practices. If you own a business or depend on something for your livelihood, chances are who know what makes sound economic sense. “Of course we treat our cows well or they wouldn’t produce for us,” probably doesn’t convey the right message to a non-farm consumer. Making more money and welfare of animals/environment doesn’t always go hand in hand.
  3. Assuming that you have to speak up in defense of all agricultural practices. Chances are you don’t have experience in all areas, you’ll get backed into a corner and lose all credibility. Also, not all practices are defensible. (Read more) Wait, why are we waiting to play defense?
  4. Being reactive rather than proactive. Be candid. If you know it’s a (possible) issue, be transparent now. Waiting until it meets your “trigger for action” means you’re already behind. (Read more)
  5. Assuming we can’t do better. There is always room for continual progress. Just because a practice was the best we knew how to do 10 years ago, does not make it the best available practice today. (Read more)
  6. Attacking everyone who disagrees with you in a negative, critical manner. Food is a personal issue to most folks. Many folks associate animals with their pets at home. These are emotional topics for everyone. If you get defensive and attack, you’re not contributing to productive dialogue. (Read more)
  7. Not being willing to listen because we are so busy responding. Communication is a two-way street. You have two ears and one mouth. Often times we need to stop and ask questions, listen, and hear what others are saying. (Read more)
  8. Assuming that the lunatic fringe is the general public. We spend way to much time focusing on lunatics and not working with the public. (Read more)
  9. Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are stupid, evil or both. Good people can look at the same issue differently. Not everyone’s situation or circumstance is the same. There is more than one way of growing food and livestock. Respect that fact. (Read more)
  10. Not working to branch outside your comfort zone. Stop preaching to the choir. Engage in other conversations, seek out other perspectives. The more you learn about other perspectives, the more you’ll discover how much (or how little) you know about your own. (Read more)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” — Darwin

But sometimes, honestly, you just have to know how to lose gracefully. And then some will argue it’s possible to lose the argument, but win the cause.

Tips for approaching controversial subjects…

  • When possible, set the stage to avoid fear of retaliation from opposing viewpoints
  1. Listen respectfully, without interrupting
  2. Respect one another’s views
  3. Criticize ideas, not individuals
  4. Commit to learning, not debating
  5. Avoid blame and speculation
  6. Avoid inflammatory language
  • Consider your own biases or confusion surrounding the issue
  • Recognize the diversity of the group. This is an asset and can lead to authentic conversation
  • Set a framework and objectives for the discussion that lead to engagement and consideration of opposing viewpoints
  • When possible provide a foundation and context for better understanding
  • As a moderator, foster civility and prepare to deal with tense or emotional moments
  • At the end of the conversation summarize and reflect, then always leave the door open for follow-up conversations.

Read more tips for approaching controversial subjects in an earlier post.

#FoodForThought Where’s The Disconnect?

Thinking out loud here. Where’s the disconnect when it comes to food? I’ve said it many times in the past few years that most Americans are disconnected from agriculture and that we farmers, ranchers and those of us involved in agriculture need to advocate, share our stories, and work to fix that disconnect. That people need to get out and talk to a farmer to learn what actually happens on today’s farms and ranches and to learn more about where our food comes from.

But, now I want to turn the table and pose a different question. Why are farmers and ranchers and those of us involved in agriculture so disconnected from most Americans?

For example, take a millennial guy in an office in New York City. Is he disconnected from agriculture or is agriculture disconnected from him? #FoodForThought

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Lessons I’ve learned while sticking my neck out

Image via larsbredahl.com
Image via larsbredahl.com

This isn’t my normal kind of post but it’s something that I want to share. It seems like more and more I’m incredibly frustrated some days by the conversations I find. It’s amazing how well people think they know me just by reading a few (or sometimes just one) of my posts on social media. And those folks can be pretty quick to place judgment. If you’re willing to stick your neck out there to voice and opinion, especially on a site like CNN, you better be willing to take some flack and critical feedback. I thought I would share a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way as an agvocate.

There are a lot of lazy people out there.

I’ll be honest; I like cattle and horses a lot more than I like people most days. I understand horses and cows. What I don’t understand is how people can buy into information and never make the effort to look at all sides of an issue. Seriously, where do people come up with these things? If you saw it in a documentary, then found it again on a website, it has to be true, right? Forget the other perspectives, common sense, or science. Emotion rules!

Agriculture needs to do a better job of recognizing and talking about improvements that can be made in the food chain.

While I knew this was the truth, this has been made even more loud and clear to me after reading the conversations/posts from consumers in response to my CNN articles. We’ve done a terrible job of showing our customers the improvements we have made and we avoid the hard topic of what we need to improve on next.

It is the responsibility of Farmers and ranchers to tell their story and listen to their customers.

And we’re terrible at listening. There’s a lot of pride and independence instilled in farm and ranch life. Why should we bother making an extra effort to tell people about what we do? Because other people are telling the general public about farming and ranching and those stories are not true. As the people most directly connected to what our customers eat, we are the real experts. Sad part is, people believe the stories that are being told about us and it’s an uphill battle to fight first impressions.

People are jerks.

If you want to find the cruelest community in America, scroll down to the comments section of any major news outlet. Seriously, people actually say those things? You bet! And there’s not much use in arguing with them. On top of that, you have people that seem to comment just because they like to see their name show up. They add no value to the conversation. There must be great Wi-Fi reception underneath bridges where the trolls live.

Respect your peers, regardless of production practices.

I am human, I share my perspective based on my life experiences. Just because I describe my experiences from one type of farming/ranching, doesn’t mean I don’t support other production types. It’s not all or nothing, but if you listen to my critics, you would think that was the case. If you thought being a jerk was only true for the general public, go see some of those within the agriculture community who label themselves as “independent thinkers”.

The pendulum swings both ways.

I akin this to the swing in fad diets. One day Atkins diet is the rage, the next day carbs are manna from heaven, and next thing you know everyone thinks they have celiac disease and wheat is the devil. People go to extremes and when they do, folks on the other end of the spectrum are always wrong. This goes for the methods of agriculture we choose to discuss and we can be so wrapped up with the infighting that we forget to talk about the middle ground. Not that we don’t have it, we just forget about it at times.

Transparency is the answer. Even that will be attacked.

The only way to address all the misinformation out there is with honesty and transparency. However, when we are transparent we can be heavily criticized for what is revealed. To make it worse, when we aren’t transparent, critics think we have something to hide. Agricultural tools have changed drastically over the past few decades and we’ve done a terrible job of being transparent about those changes, why they were made, and the improvements they provide. Most people can understand these changes, if we take the time to explain them.

It is possible to become overwhelmed by social media.

Holy cow! I can’t tell you the number of days in the past 3 years when I have wanted to throw away each and every mobile device in my hand and rip out the internet connection on my laptop. All the previous points are just introductions to the reasons for that. Social media gives people a bullhorn and the filters turn off when people hit the keyboards. Taking in and responding to all of the messages that come across your social media fields can be overwhelming and depressing. They can make you angry and want to take off for the pasture never to return.

But we have a responsibility to join the conversations and be present when people have questions. Otherwise we lose our voice in the conversations and essentially any representation when it comes time to make decisions that determine our ability to continue making a living in the world we live in. The stupid people may have the bullhorn, but we have to remember there are lots of folks out there silently listening, watching our (re)actions, and wanting to learn more about where their food comes from.


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My Challenge to Chipotle on CNN Eatocracy

...but probably not marketing with integrity.
…but probably not marketing with integrity.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is at it again with their “Food With Integrity” campaigns. This time, they’ve spent $1 million on a four-part series of :30 videos on Hulu titled “Farmed and Dangerous”. This is a good opportunity the agriculture community needs to take advantage of. Be there to share your experiences and talk about the issues that arise in the video series. Don’t use this opportunity to lash out or be defensive toward others.

“No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is.” Irwin Himmel

Here’s a copy of  my CNN post. Click here to read the full entry on Eatocracy and be sure to join in the comments section.

Farmers and Ranchers are upset about how a burrito company is portraying their business. If you haven’t seen them already, Chipotle has run a series of ads during the past few years centered around “Food With Integrity” and the idea that we can “Cultivate a Better World” by eating their burritos. These ads depict modern food and livestock production through Chipotle’s marketing eyes and as their spokespeople tell us, the motive is to raise awareness about learning more about where our food comes from. But does Chipotle practice what it preaches?

The Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill sets itself apart from most other chain restaurants by serving burritos with a side of buzzwords. Many of their ingredients are labeled natural, organic, and Responsibly Raised(R) meat without antibiotics and Chipotle has even gone as far as labeling ingredients that may contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) on their website. However, Chipotle has struggled with sourcing enough ingredients for their over 900 locations to meet those claims leaving customers paying premium price for standard ingredients.

Chipotle’s marketing campaigns rely on stirring up emotion with imagery that paints a bleak picture of a futuristic food system that is factory-like and systemic problems with nefarious and imagined solutions. Chipotle wants to stand out from other fast food chains by convincing their customers that eating at Chipotle will help fight the good fight against the ‘bad guys’. With everything from Scarecrows to serenades by Willie Nelson, Chipotle captures the attention, and emotions, of their audiences with plenty of fear and misinformation.

For a company with gross sales over $3.2 billion last year, Chipotle touts themselves as champions for the little guy in the food supply. Maybe that is what is ironic about their most recent marketing campaign titled “Farmed and Dangerous”, which portrays the greed and aggressiveness of a dark and industrial food chain. The four-part series, due to premiere solely on Hulu later this month, which features “PetroPellet” a fictitious petroleum product resulting in exploding cows, reportedly cost Chipotle $1 million in production.

According to Chipotle’s chief marketing and development officer, Mark Crumpacker, the series is intended to be a satirical comedy that points out Agriculture’s aggressiveness to earn a profit, no matter the cost to animal health or well-being. While their over the top characters and exploding cows may be humorous, the underlying message has farmers concerned.

If the advertisement is meant solely as comedy, why go to such lengths to portray the petroleum feed, PetroPellet, as an actual product, complete with website and promotional videos for a fictitious company, Animoil, which only mentions Chipotle after a visitor digs around the site for more information.

Farmers and ranchers are not happy with the continued attack from Chipotle. With such a production budget and a marketing team that knows how to sell to emotions of the consuming audience, Chipotle continues to win over fans with information and portrayals that are much less than accurate of our modern food growers. If Chipotle is so adamant about getting us to learn more about where our food comes from, why spend millions on animations and comedies? Why not talk to actual farmers and ranchers who are on the ground and know more about growing food that marketing executives?

The national entities who are supposed to represent American farmers and ranchers, who are a likely target with Farmed and Dangerous, have done a poor job of representation and amplifying farmers’ perspectives. Farmers and Ranchers do not have the marketing budget like Chipotle’s, but they are working to share their perspectives, address the misinformation and form dialogues with consumers in their communities and across social media.

I send out a challenge to Chipotle’s marketing team. There is no need to hide behind a satirical comedy series or paid actors. Practice what you preach to your audience. Go, seek out the farmers and ranchers producing our food and I do not just mean those growing your “Responsibly Raised”, organic and natural products. Go talk with the farmers and ranchers that you are attacking with your ad campaigns, start a dialogue and let the conversation come from both sides of the plate in order to learn where our food comes from. I am more than happy to help you if you will just stop the attacks on those growing our food.

Related posts from the inside and out of the agriculture community:

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