As I scrolled through my Facebook this morning, I came across a treasure trove of misinformation and fearmongering. Some of my friends writing in the comments how they agree that our food system is a big conspiracy and we are the test subjects. I may roll my eyes like most of us that work in agriculture and think this is a hopeless mound of Trump-like “alternative facts”, but this is something that is impacting our children, friends, wives, brothers, husbands, and even parents. The peddling of fear from people like the Food Babe or David Wolf has sometimes only one degree of separation, it can be coming from within our circle of trusted sources.
This past week a friend of mine contacted me with a question. After a lunch with friends, she was told dairy in all forms is not good to give children. They recommended that alternative milks, like almond or rice, would be better. She was then left wondering if it would be better for her baby, who has just turned one to have organic milk, or if conventional milk, which she and her husband already drink, would be good enough, or no dairy at all. As a nurse who works in a children’s hospital, she left this lunch with a lot of insecurity and felt like an inadequate mother.
I get these questions a lot as in a previous life I managed a health food grocery store and now work in agriculture. I do think consumers have the right to choose whatever they want, but they should do so with all of the right information. This is why I never want to put soameone down, but open up a healthy dialogue of, “Where did you hear that?” and “May I offer you some feedback from what I know?”
Farmers, as well as industry experts, can be the trusted source that people come to seek out. We may not always have the answers. However, it is important to always help those with questions to find the right sources. Our instinct may be to avoid these topics all together, especially with friends as it can be awkward and uncomfortable telling them that watching a documentary on Netflix, or several, does not make their sister-in-law an expert, and that they should be speaking to a health professional or nutritionist.
I do feel like my own food evolution has a lot to do with my openness with friends and whoever may come my way to talk about the food dilemma that a lot of people are facing. It usually comes down “To eat or not to eat, that is the question.”
It can be hard to remember that most consumers do not have a farmer in their circle, or any of those direct contacts. Those of us who work in agriculture should never take for granted that all we have to do when we have questions is pick up the phone and call a farmer, talk to a scientist, discuss public trust surrounding these issues with anyone in the agricultural value chain. We all need to become that source of trusted information for others.
Our urban lives have pulled us away from the land, and the realities of modern agriculture. This is why I believe that as an industry we must rally together, and truly share our passion and experience with the people in our lives. If I had a farmer sit with me a few years ago and say to me, “Ask me anything about agriculture and farming, and I will answer it or find you the answer”, I would have been thrilled.
I now know because of my experiences over the past year, that modern agriculture has a good story to tell. As a consumer, I want farmers to have all of the best tools at their disposal. It has been shown that people trust farmers, not farming. Drawing the lines together so that modern agriculture is connected back to farmers will help build some much-needed bridges.
I trust our food system and feel like we are getting better and smarter as an industry every day, taking opportunities to be innovative, sustainable, and efficient. I think that the confidence we all share within our industry should give each one of us the courage to have challenging conversations with people about food, and see our “wins” as something even as simple as a second thought about their sources, or even just listening to what you have to say. We don’t need to change people’s minds, this is about sharing and building trusting relationships.
The fear around food must end. Bridges need to be built, and much like a drop in a pond, that ripple effect can help shape what information people have to make informed choices, with real science, real facts, and with the people they trust.