Home > Uncategorized > Day 1 @ CIC12: Beef Advocacy Meeting

Day 1 @ CIC12: Beef Advocacy Meeting

The first meeting that I rushed off to after cleaning up was with the folks in charge of the Master’s of Beef Advocacy (MBA for short, I know it’s funny) and some fellow graduates. We had a presentation from US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a check-off funded program in the US on advocating for more conversation with consumers. Then some role-playing of engaging in conversations and a quick update on future directions that the NCBA is taking with the MBA program. There was a lot of conversation with the people in the room, there was maybe 20+ of us, so a nice environment.

The USFRA presentation was from Kim Essex. She went over their research on how beef messaging is perceived by foodies, consumers and other stakeholders and how we can improve our conversation. I’m not sure of their methods, basically if their sampling was stratified properly to support their conclusions. So caveat on extending the results to all situations, but overall it was quite interesting.

The message that beef production is creating a “safe, affordable and abundant” food source was basically proven to be blase and all around meh. People were most concerned about the unknown, long-term health effects of food. It was neat to see that someone standing up and saying “we’re not factory farming, we’re family farms and producing efficiently” as their message was received very poorly while someone who said “consumers rightfully want to know and we’re committed to responding. Farming is innovative and committed to continual improvement. We’re committed to using what we have in more responsible and sustainable ways” was perceived positively.

So although the presentation did say that maybe it’s not what we say, but that we’re in the conversation, my take away was that it does matter what we say, but we still have to be in the conversation. Avoid contrasting with what we’re not, and be receptive to other views. I thought of it as ensuring that when talking about an issue, you have to be aware of the imagery you’re painting with your words, tones and body language. After all, we humans use so much of our senses to interpret.

What was frustrating for me in that meeting was the contrast between “us” (presumably beef producers) and them (the public and consumers). There was a feeling in the room that misunderstandings that lead to negative public perception was hurtful to the farmers, because of how personal their work is. Most farmers and ranchers live and breathe their job, 24/7/365. And are passionate about it. But everyone eats.

Regardless of whether they are working in food production or spend 12 hours a day at a computer, eating is a very personal thing. I look at eating as the one part of the day where I actually physically choose (as I am lucky enough to have choice) what becomes a part of me and nourishes me. It’s a very physical and personal experience. I don’t sit in reverence every time I eat, quite often it’s on the road or while I work at my computer. But I still am amazed when I get to thinking about the whole act of eating and food production. Ag-vocacy has the vision of engaging in a two-way conversation and educating about the reality of food production. But this us-them divide leads to a division of the vision.

This was echoed in the presentation from the MBA program’s dean, Daren Williams, on a move to represent what many call the beef industry as the “beef community”. The basis was that it’s hard to change our image from “factory” farms when we use a synonym ourselves. The imagery is based on the idea of pooling resources for the common good of raising beef with respect for the need to conserve. Although it might be tempting to shove this off as more marketing mojo, I believe it gets at the heart of what most beef producers are doing.

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