Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Not Let Paula Deen Do the Agricultural Education?

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification program for my animal science class.  While listening to the speaker, I was shocked by two statistics which, unfortunately, reflect the United States general view of agriculture.

2008 Consumer Confidence Survey
by the Center for Food Integrity
1.  Only 54% of consumers trust the U.S. food supply.
2.    Only 33% strongly agree that the U.S. had the safest food supply in the world.

Now, I’ve always known that the average American was iffy when it came to their country’s food and fiber production.  With hormone injection questions and antibiotic resistant bacteria conspiracies flying around left and right and constant recalls of food products, who doesn’t question what they put in their body?  However, these doubts by the American public seem to overshadow the fact that, according to BQA and various other entities, the United States truly does have the world’s safest food source.

In a recent study done by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, it was reported that 70% of the agriculturalists surveyed believe that the average consumer has “very little knowledge” about American agriculture.  Furthermore, 16% believe that consumers have “no knowledge at all” about food and fiber production.  With an 86% negatory response, it is clear that both producers and consumers feel that the United States is not doing a good job at educating its citizens on where their goods come from.

The question is “How can we bridge this gap between producer and consumer?”.  I believe that I stumbled upon an answer for this dilemma when I sat down with Dr. Tracy Rutherford, a professor of Agricultural Communications and Journalism at Texas A&M University.  According to Dr. Rutherford, only about 2% of agricultural goods per year receive airtime from U.S. media sources. 

This 2%, of course, seldom depicts the positive aspects of the American food and fiber system and usually focuses on product recalls, illnesses inflicted by agricultural products, and protests over modern crop-producing systems, leaving the 98% of farm and ranch products that benefits its consumers to go unnoticed by Americans.  Our country does, however, have a means of informing its people about this invisible majority of agricultural products, and it’s called Food Network.

Everyday Food Network, its magazine, and their counterparts give people a (literal) taste of the positive side of agricultural production, yet these people do not realize that they are being educated about agriculture.  Sadly, I am not so sure if Food Network even realizes that it is a form of agricultural education, but if we, as  agricultural advocates, were to help these entities realize their role in the Ag industry, the gap between producer and consumer could finally be bridged!

By prompting these food media sources to delve deeper into Ag production systems, producers would finally be able to show consumers that their product is actually quite safe.  Next time Guy Fieri visits one of America’s greatest Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, he could invite a local corn farmer to explain the life cycle of corn before it ends up in your chowder, and, instead of Paula Deen just providing her viewers with an infinite number of ways to cook with butter, she could tour a local dairy to show them how her favorite ingredient is produced.  The possibilities are endless, but this modern form of agricultural education can only come to fruition if you as a consumer take an active role.
I challenge each of you out there to contact whatever food media source you can think of, be it a company as large as Food Network or even just a local cooking show, and urge them to start providing more education about the origins of food.  Only by taking this active stance can we truly help the average American learn that agriculture is not a bad thing, so, before you pass the pot roast, please pass along a message saying that you’re tired of people not understanding agriculture!

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