A wise man once said: “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. Then you’ll be a mile away and he’ll be barefoot.”
Last week I was at my favorite buffet for dinner, eatin at an empty table and the place was quite crowded. In walks a football player, we’ll just call him Colt. There’s not many empty seats in the place, and as he passes my table, I invite him to have a seat. Seeing as there aren’t many options he takes me up on the offer.
We get to talking and of course the subject of football comes up. I say “Colt, what’s up with that last season at Texas? I mean really, a shoulder injury in the first quarter against Bama? The winningest quarterback in NCAA history and you chicken out with a shoulder injury in the biggest game of the year.” Colt kinda stumbled around as I picked out plays during the season that just “could have been better,” I keep on picking out flaws in his NCAA career, things that he should do differently in the game, and then Colt stops me in mid-sentence.
“Ryan,” he says, “what exactly gives you experience to tell me how to play football?” “Experience?” I say. “Come on Colt! Well, I played intramural in college. Even grabbed a few flags and caught a few balls. Almost made a touch down in one game! I’ve watched all the news coverage and read every commentary.” Colt just shrugs off the topic with a “Oh, ok…”
A few minutes later I notice Colt has all sorts of vegetables, beans, and pasta on his plate, but no meat. I inquire about it and he says, “I’ve switched over to a vegan diet. After seeing all those commercials on tv, news reports of how antibiotic use in livestock is killing us, I decided to take a second look at what I eat. Then I saw those videos on the internet of dairy cows, pigs, and chickens that were in horrible conditions. Being kicked around, punched with pitchforks, and pumped full of antibiotics. That was just over the top for me and I’ve decided it best for everyone that I stop consuming animal products. Farmers are horrible, and I can’t support that behavior.”
I sit and ponder this for a minute. How can I respond to that? How would you respond to that?
Alright, let’s take a step back and take a look at what’s on our plate. Obviously this is a fictitious account of meeting Colt McCoy. I have no clue what his thoughts are on the treatment of animals and use of antibiotics, but knew that his is a name everyone could recognize (and the fact that the book Growing Up Colt is sitting on my coffee table. No offense meant by this Colt, I’m a fan). But could this conversation easily happen with any consumer we meet in real life? Sure it could. American consumers are constantly being farther removed from food producers, with less than 2% of Americans actually in production Agriculture. So take a minute and think about how you would respond…
This conversation depicts how I feel about journalists and consumers criticizing livestock and food production methods. When was the last time they walked in my shoes, worked with the livestock and understood their needs as a result of that relationship? When did they spend years studying and learning about the production cycle, the animals’ needs and behavior? What experience do they have of producing healthy food or livestock? In the above conversation I had no right critiquing the football player because I had watched the film and read the reviews. And same goes for consumers and journalists who have never walked a mile in the shoes (or boots) of a farmer or rancher.
My response to the above conversation would likely include accounts from my own experiences in cattle production. I’d address the concerns raised by explaining how my cattle are raised, how I go about using antibiotics to keep cattle healthy, and situations concerning animal handling that I’ve encountered.
I hope I share a little insight to these topics in most, if not all, of my blog posts and during conversations about cattle production. This is why it is so important to be ever vigilant, why I post videos from the ranch, include photos of my cattle in their environment, and sometimes even the stuff that may make consumers a little uncomfortable. (I know I received several comments on a picture of a placenta I posted, but it’s still a part of learning to care for my cows.) It’s not all flowers and sunshine folks! Sometimes we have to get down in the mud and take care of business. But when that time comes, will you be prepared?