The current print issue of Farm Futures magazine features some frightening cover art: a huge, menacing woman pushing a shopping cart through a cornfield, with farmers (five male and one long-haired and possibly female farmer about to be flattened) running for their lives ahead of this monster.
And who is this cart-wielding monster? Why, she’s your average middle-class consumer, who, according to the article’s authors, Mike Wilson and Jacqui Fatka, has been “preyed upon” and led astray by “special interest groups” encouraging her to take a good hard look at how her family’s food is produced.
I’ll be the first to agree with one of the article’s assertions–that the average consumer often doesn’t understand what goes into farming and how food gets from the farm to the table. But consumers are educating themselves. The problem, according to the article, is that the sources they’re turning to aren’t friendly to industrial ag.
People who want local, organic, and/or sustainable foods are characterized as “luxury food extremists” bent on starving the rest of the world’s population through their desire for these choices, while the article conveniently fails to mention that 25% of the U.S. corn crop goes into our gas tanks (that fact is noted elsewhere on the magazine’s website, where it can be seen in a more positive light).
The article’s hoped-for outcome seems to be a kind of Stockholm Syndrome for farmers–attempting to convince them that their captors (the magazine’s major advertisers) are the “good guys,” while consumers starting to question the environmental and nutritional impacts of industrial agricultural practices are the enemy.
Too, the article quotes a Wellesley College Professor of political science, Rob Paarlberg, about fears that the general public will begin to see farmers as “villains,” which is funny on a couple of levels:
- The Industrial Ag behemoth shouts down another non-ag prof who speaks for the “know your farmer, know your food” contingent because, as a journalism professor, he’s supposedly not qualified to talk about agricultural issues, and
- That other non-ag professor (Michael Pollan, of course) has contributed heavily not to the vilification of farmers, but to the recent status elevation that has some calling them the new “rock stars.”
Pollan doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t agree with everything he says or writes, but I do think he’s right to start asking questions, and encouraging others to do the same if they care about what they eat and how it was produced.
Further, the authors seem certain enough that their readers have not seen the film, Food Inc. to assert that the film vilifies farmers, though having seen the film myself at a theater owned by farmers and in the company of other farmers (some of whom have grown “conventionally”), the consensus was that the film actually vilifies some of Farm Futures’ major advertisers for their victimization of farmers.
Maybe the most important education for consumers is that anger over farm payments or subsidies should really not be directed at farmers themselves–for the most part, they are simply acting as middlemen to transfer the bulk of that money to the seed and chemical companies they’re wedded to.
In this respect, the article’s warnings about what the Obama Administration might do seem pretty spurious in terms of what they are doing–which is to start looking very hard at the monopolies some of those companies enjoy on a worldwide scale.
Interestingly enough, the final line of the article, “It’s up to farmers and their organizations to get on the same page as their customers,” is something I can agree with.
But I don’t think that page will be one that denies climate change science and fights each and every regulatory change that could help make the bulk of U.S. farm enterprises account for the true cost of their production.