Monday, March 14, 2011

A Face to a Product

I love conversations on Facebook that spur good banter. A city-gal, with whom I'm friends, commented on watching the movie Food, Inc. Her comment was very much the norm. As Joe would say, so eloquently, "she drank the Michael Pollen Kool-Aid." However, knowing that this particular lady is very smart and savvy, she just watched it as an agricultural outsider, and the movie did what it was produced to do: PERSUADE CONSUMERS.

However, it wasn't the comment she made about the food processing plants or the production side of agriculture that got me to think. It was the anti-Monsanto sentiment. When I asked Joe if he believed that Monsanto had cornered the soybean market, or if they were taking over the agricultural chemical or seed production business, he took a second to respond. We had a good conversation about how this particular corporation could be seen as a monster, as it has been its practice to swallow all other little guys in the same business. However, I look at Monsanto with different eyes.

I see our dear friend Andy, who is working hard to take care of his two little girls and helps us out a lot. Joe and I see our friend Ron, a really awesome guy who knows his stuff and does great things for this company. We see Chris, my dear friend's husband, who works long hours and uses his Master's degree to do a good job for his farmer customers. We can rattle off many guys and girls we went to college with, who are not evil. They're just doing their job, in a field they love...they're farm kids with insurance benefits and a steady paycheck (WHO KNEW??)!!

When suburbanites and those who are not in the "agri-biz" watch something like Food, Inc. and hear that Monsanto is a terrible company, they don't have a face to put to the product. They don't have an Andy or a Ron or a Chris. They have a big, nasty corporate dude in their line of sight. I see a guy I go to church with.

It's the same as livestock farming. Until American consumers are able to see the faces that produce their beef or pork or chicken or whatever, big companies like Hormel or Tyson or whatever will just be big corporations with no heart, no family, and no need for good insurance.

While I'm not saying that life wouldn't be better for us if our Monsanto bill was a little smaller, I do truly believe, that like everything, there are always two sides to every story, and we as consumers need to be ready to understand that while we're all able to tell our stories, those who know the "real" story, should maybe yell a little louder.

6 comments:

  1. I have been enjoying reading your blog.

    While I come from a family of farmers, most do not farm any more or the family tradition of dairy farming has not been passed down thru this last generation with the exception of my brother who does it more as a hobby than a living.

    Teri

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  2. Great post! My husband farms, sells seed and is part of Agri-biz. I've also read all of Pollen's books, watched King Corn, and am well read on social entrepreneurship in developing countries. I often wonder, where is the middle ground? How can we leverage technology here and in the developing world without creating or perpetuating the haves and have nots?

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  3. Another great post! Here is a link to a review I did of Food, Inc. http://multi.media.illinois.edu/j410sp10mk/elliott/project3/Site_2/Food_Inc._Review.html

    The real problem with Food, Inc. is that it only tells the partial story of agriculture and targets a small segment of producers-- producers whose statements are taken out of context and are not allowed to elaborate on their views. Also, why wasn't the President of American Farm Bureau or National Corn Growers Association interviewed? I bet they would have presented a different view of agriculture. But we know that telling the full story doesn't sell movies or win Academy Awards. What a sad state our media is in today (but that's a rant for another day).

    Sadly too, Monsanto is targeted. Consumers need to step back and realize what state our world would be in if it weren't for technology--especially biotechnology. This goes right along with one of my biggest peev's though- people do not take enough time to question ideas presented to them and evaluate information. Amazing how folks get all up in a bunch by movie's like Food, Inc., yet don't dare take the time to do research about where their food actually comes from. I know, I know, I'm preaching to the choir here.

    Thanks again Emily and fellow blogger followers. Let's keep at this communicating.

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  4. Awww Emily - you called me a "city-girl" and "suburbanite." I admit I am secretly flattered, but can't honestly own the title.

    Here's the truth...my inheritance (if my dad chooses to include me in it after this) is being turned and prepped to have rows and rows of corn and soybeans in it this summer (likely MONSANTO beans). I grew up on a farm in KY in the days when farmers almost begged to have signs along the road indicating their fields were test fields for Northrup King or Dekalb PFIZER GENETICS (yes, that was their name and my dad worked the countryside for both). When genetically modifying seeds was a new concept. When soybeans and corn were WAY less profitable than the KY crop king of tobacco. I enjoyed several posh trips as the daughter of a successful seed salesman (no doubt on the Pfizer dime).

    I remember what it was like to watch farmers go bankrupt in one season (after a lifetime of farming) at the cruel blow of blue mold or other airborn crop killers. I watched my dad (who gave up sales for the dream of a family farm) personally experience it. I am the daughter of three generations of farmers. My cousins are the same - all now suburbanites (aka "up in a bunch" consumers). My extended family still farms the same land - and the land of many other families who lease it out to them because it is no longer a profitable venture for the little guy.

    I owe a thank you to many of the efforts of biotechnology in agriculture. Entire farms aren't so easily lost to disease and insects or an unpredictable Mother Nature - and the few who still are kind enough to farm the land for a living can do so with a *little* less risk. Thank you Jesus.

    I am also the mom of a child with severe unexplainable food allergies. He's one of MILLIONS of children with similar allergies in his generation. Hear me out - I am not saying genetically modified seeds are the cause of this. Really I'm not. However, there are some studies that suggest this could be a contributing factor (along with millions of other suspected factors). I want the chance to continue to study it and choose unmodified/unprocessed foods if I want them.

    (continued in next post)...

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  5. (continued)...
    What I found disturbing about the info Food Inc. (sorry I don't know how to italicize in blog comments) presented on Monsanto is that all of its soybeans are genetically modified. They hold stake in 90% of the country's soybean seeds and are predicted to be 100% within the decade (again, according to this producer).

    I simply want farmers and consumers to have a CHOICE in what they purchase. It broke my heart (as intended) to watch farmers lose everything when Monsanto took them to court for copyright infringement and washing seeds to later use. My mind flashed to my grandpa, dad, uncles,and cousins who all could have suffered the same accusations and could NEVER have afforded to fight them.

    I'm guessing it wasn't your friends (who work for Monsanto) taking these farmers to court. They're providing for their families. In the same spirit, it's also not me or any of my banker friends taking the bailout money from the government and not helping the consumer. The bank funds my pension and 401k and offers better health insurance than small businesses, so I work(ed) for them. It also buys up community owned banks and puts them out of business to MONOPOLIZE the industry and reduce our CHOICE in savings, credit and loan options. Monopolies are dangerous, as we learned a few years back with Microsoft.

    Food Inc. begs us to take a closer look at what we consume and how it is produced. Yes, it is VERY one sided and NO, I'm not taking it all for fact or not evaluating. I apologize if my Facebook status indicated that - the danger of character limited status updates is we can all be misunderstood or taken out of context.

    The Webel family is high on my list of American heros - you're doing what so many others don't dare to do and producing products that feed the world (and I hope a few of them are without genetic modification or hormones, hehe).

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  6. I suppose I'm going to have to watch Food, Inc. now that I'm agvocating and see what it's all about first hand. I made it through An Inconvenient Truth, so I better see this too.

    Great post on putting a face to the people working at Monsanto. Before I came back to the farm, I used to work for Rural King at which the feed department was a large part of the business. All the feed came from Cargill, a "monster" of a company. In my six years at the store I met a lot of Cargill employees and they were always some of my favorite people to meet. All very well educated on their product and company and cared very much about their customers. For a time my in-store rep was the wife of a guy I had a few college classes with, and he happened to be one of our farm's seed reps. Just another example showing that real everyday people work for these huge corporations. I've always said I want my big companies (which are the biggest targets) to make lots of money as long as they are doing it ethically. Why? Because they employ lots of people and pay lots of taxes.

    I understand why someone totally unfamiliar with production agriculture would think it's silly that a company would take a farm to court for keeping seed through to the next year to grow another crop. To the uninformed it just seems like a way for the company to take money from the poor farmer, but in reality the environmental groups ought to praise this action. If not for regulation by the gov't and biotech companies there are surely people out there who would abuse this technology. The current system lets us know where all these hybrids are planted including their associated refuge acres which keep the technology viable.

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