It feels like 2020 has gotten a rough start for modern agriculture. The Golden Globes went vegan for its pre-show meal due to concerns about the environmental impact of meat, 60 Minutes ran a segment about antibiotic use in the pork industry that left a lot of context on the cutting room floor, Starbucks hinted at encouraging customers to go for plant-based options to help reach the brand’s sustainability goals, and Michelob Ultra ran a Super Bowl commercial promoting organic farming.
Every time a celebrity or brand comes out with an announcement we don’t agree with, it can send us running for our keyboards to type out a rant or call for a boycott. But I have to wonder – while expressing our frustrations can momentarily make us feel a bit better, is it really helping us build bridges with key influencers and stakeholders? Or is it just making the walls between agriculture and most consumers even taller?
When we hear news that upsets us or hear commentary about animal agriculture that isn’t quite right, we’d benefit from taking a beat to really listen and think before firing off a response with our initial, unfiltered thoughts. Many times, we end up “breaking into jail,” or drawing more attention to an issue that most of the general public was unaware of with our responses. We also may not put our best foot forward in our knee-jerk reaction, and mocking a company, journalist (or even consumers) for decisions they’ve made, which I’ve unfortunately seen far too much of, won’t win us any admirers or earn any trust.
We may also be tempted to declare that we are “done with” a brand and won’t support them again, such as refusing to watch the Golden Globes or when many in the dairy industry declared they are “done with” Starbucks after the sustainability announcement. While I certainly understand the sentiment, I am not sure that walking away from the table and opting out of the conversation is an effective strategy. If we stop watching things or frequenting restaurants that many of our consumers enjoy, the gap between farm and fork is only going to widen.
We all only have so many hours in the day. Is our time better spent playing whack-a-mole in reacting to every perceived slight against our industry or being proactive in engaging with consumers and influencers around values we all share? I would opt for the latter. We should channel our passion into proactive, positive outreach – not into ranting after a decision has already been made. It is always better to engage than to defend.
Let’s focus our energy on building bridges – not walls.