Sometimes hold my breath while I wait for a stranger's reaction to my telling them what I do.
“I work in the cattle feeding industry. ”
This is my usual response to the question.
Some days I’m pleasantly surprised with the reply, and some I'm disheartened. There have been extremely supportive replies, some hesitant, and some that only nod and smile because they have no idea what that even means.
I feel I walk around with a target on my back, placed on me by a society that has labeled what Ido as dirty, cruel, unnatural, greedy, polluted, etc. I often wonder if my grandfather ever felt this way when he was feeding cattle in the 1970’s.
Did he feel respected for what he did, or did he feel how I feel?
When did cattle feeders become the villains in our food system?
How did a population, 3 generations removed from agriculture, become so sure of our intentions? Without speaking with us. Without ever seeing what we do in real life.
Probably a product of the media’s tactical gambits, a bad experience, ignorance, lack of effort in research or a bad combination of all the former.
This generation specifically cares more about where/who their food comes from and how it was produced than its predecessors. Who weren’t so much concerned with the where, who or how, as long as they didn’t have to do it.
Because of this, shifting the narrative and being the tellers of our own stories is vital for the survival of our industry.
We are too comfortable letting the media tell our stories for us and ignoring the backlash, while we keep working waiting for the dust to settle. We are complacent. In a society where social media is over consumed by the general public, misinformation spreads quickly. If we want to preserve our way of life, it is our responsibility to bring the truths of the fed cattle industry to the forefront of the information the public consumes.
Don’t underestimate the power of your presence. Whether it's online or in the flesh. Conversations we have with consumers, might be the first and only interaction they have with the agricultural community.
The way consumers perceive us (producers) as human beings, is the way they will perceive agriculture as a whole. For that reason, how we speak to the consumer matters a great deal. It molds how they regard us and what we associate ourselves with (agriculture). If our conversations aren’t cooperative, well intentioned, competent, or informative, it would be better to not say anything at all than risk further disconnection from our consumers.
No matter who you are and what your connection to agriculture is, you as an individual, are are presentative for an entire industry. Represent each other well.