By Matt Reese
With a poof of disdain amid a cloud of black language, the Backyarditarian stormed into the breakfast meeting of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance late last month.
At the Chicago meeting, food related bloggers were invited to meet with the nearly 20 farmers (including my wife, Kristin) at the event to share breakfast and open conversation. Because
Kristin represented by far the smallest farm there, all of the bloggers invited were tolerant of her, though some asked her how she could associate with these other large-scale farmers. The bloggers, in general, were very extreme in their disdain of “Big Ag.”
From their comments and conversations, it appears that the staunchest opponents of “Big Ag” at the event do not care about: food prices, farm profitability, a shortage of food in the absence of Big Ag, technology and efficiency, efforts to maximize animal care, or environmental stewardship efforts. They DO care about hating large farms and putting them out of business. Period.
While the bloggers in attendance clearly had a set agenda, most of them had legitimate questions that led to constructive conversations with the farmers. The Backyarditarian, however, took things to a different level of pure, cold, industrial factory farm hate. While most of the bloggers were firm in their one-sided and skewed beliefs, none even approached the lack of professionalism or unwillingness to have a legitimate conversation demonstrated by the Backyarditarian (a lady who blogs regularly at backyarditarian.com).
Here is excerpt from her blog following the meeting with farmers representing operations of various sizes. Please note that I have edited the foul language that appeared in its full regalia in her actual blog and from her actual mouth in conversations at the event in Chicago.
“I was, in a textbook sense, very bad today. I pushed a nice Virginia lady to near tears, told a cherubic Ohio mom that what she did was f—ing evil and, in an exasperated moment of utter despair, equated the work of a bunch of ‘family farmers’ to the evil doings of Wall Street at it’s worst…Industrial farmers, the people I talked to today, their work is tearing apart the very health of our society — degrading the animals they raise, polluting the environment and, if you did a little research, you’d learn and take heed, damaging your health.
Oh, and you should know — the ‘farmers’ and ranchers’ that are perpetrating the atrocities of factory farming, they actually believe that what they are doing is right and just.
It’s legal, even.
Just like Wall Street!
Me, I’d rather just get financially raped by Wall Street than have to face the horror that the people on the front line of our food supply are, I dunno, shockingly ignorant? mindbogglingly clueless? utterly inhumane?
So while I was, I admit, audacious in my outrage, what I learned today is that outrage may be our only salvation.
Because these people who produce our food are not listening.”
“After today, I realize that if you don’t know your farmer, you are probably eating something grown, raised or harvested — let alone processed — by someone who, really, you should not trust. And I realize that I need to jumpstart my research and remembering. I need to pay more attention to the food community and not just worry about my own food. I need to worry about the food of people who don’t know to worry or, maybe, don’t have time.
Maybe that is to say I need to worry more actively — and proactively.
Because today, I met the farmers and ranchers who grow your food.
And they frightened me to the very core of my being.”
It all seems to boil down to the fact that she is really upset. She is not exactly sure at what and she is not exactly sure why, but it is all included in Big Ag. She spouts off about atrocities of animal care, a chicken’s ability to express its “chicken-ness” and hormones in food, but cites no credible evidence to back anything up, at least in this particular blog post. Here is another enlightening excerpt from her blog:
“I don’t retain a lot of facts about it. I don’t have to, really. I am just me, choosing what I want to eat and what I feel is responsible. To be honest, I don’t really have time to get involved with the politics of food beyond posting a few articles on Facebook — which is, I believe, a personal endeavor — or having a conversation with people who, pretty much, already heartily agree with what I think.”
In short, she doesn’t like what she sees and does not agree with it, so it must be wrong, right? And, in skimming through the comments on her blog, she twists every positive suggested by “Big Ag” proponents into yet another evil and turns every pro into a con. She is very gifted at doing this, along with her clear talent for proficient and artistic use of the f-bomb.
She wraps up her blog with this (again, I will let you fill in the blanks for the choice words):
“But you know, maybe, just maybe, I ended up realizing that inappropriate outspokenness is what is needed. Maybe we need to tell these people that what they are doing is, in fact, f—ing evil. Because it is.
Because from what I witness this morning — they are too clueless, methinks, to understand nuance. They trot out their homespun families and talk about, oh, how hard it was for grandpa to weed the fields or tend the pigs. They marvel in the technology that manages the carefully calibrated environments these animals live in.
They are frightening. And they are the front line of producing your food.
It is time for you to tell them all to go to hell. When you do, make sure it is loud and proud.”
Wow. Those are some strong words directed at the people behind the safest, most productive food system in the history of the world.
I did some additional surfing around on the Backyarditarian’s website and did find some very impressive stuff (I am not being sarcastic, it really is impressive). She goes to great lengths to produce her own food or procure it from a farm that meets her standards. She even went so far as to butcher a hog in her urban dwelling. I think everyone at that breakfast meeting would have loved hearing about her efforts and passion for local food, but they never got the chance to find any common ground with the Backyarditarian because a thick shell of wrath obscured it. That was unfortunate for all parties involved.
She clearly has a passion and a talent for great food, but so do those farmers she hates, whether she knows it or not. And, though we know that her hate is based on inaccuracies and exaggerations, she doesn’t. And, honestly, I don’t think that there is anything anyone can tell her or show her that will change her mind. But, I will say, her most recent blog post and continued dialogue with farmers of all sizes, hints at possible signs of future open-mindedness.
Her views are very extreme, but most consumers (by the way, the food bloggers also hate the use of the word “consumers”) are closer to her side of the spectrum than the side of farmers who are producing their food. And, though their views may be very different than yours or mine, most people really do have a legitimate desire to learn more about agriculture, and rightly so. Those in agriculture need to be open to questions and provide clear and relevant answers. Agriculture needs to do a better job of listening to concerns and appropriately addressing them in our farming operations.
There is an old Bob Dylan song about how, no matter who you are or what you do, you have to serve somebody. Being the on the front line of food production, environmental stewardship, and use of natural resources, farmers have to serve everybody — even foul-mouthed food bloggers from Chicago.