Jolley: Five Minutes with Michele Payn-Knoper and the food fight
The division in the food plate is the result of several familiar forces, such as generations being removed from the farm, the 24/7 availability of food, the constant drum of activists berating some facet of agriculture and social pressures. However, the disconnect is also caused by farmers and ranchers not standing up to tell their story until they're mad enough to be in defense mode.
The book’s design lends itself to exploring both sides of the issue. One side of No More Food Fights! offers six senses for those who primarily consume food—chefs, healthcare professionals, foodies, dietitians and retailers. Flipping the book reveals the other side, which features 6 ½ steps geared toward those who produce food—farmers, agribusinesses and ranchers.
Q. Two of the most controversial issues are animal welfare and biotechnology. We’re witnessing an almost monthly stream of videos of horrible abuse taken ‘under cover’ by groups like PETA, HSUS and Mercy for Animals. What’s been the effect on the public’s perception of agricultural practices and how can it be countered?
A. No More Food Fights! gets into these issues—as well as other hot topics—on the food side of the book, where farmers and animal care experts share their own perspective. The videos aren't going to stop, as activists are determined to shock the public. I have found that the response to those videos is mitigated when a viewer knows a farmer and can reference what that farmer has told them about animal care. A relationship with a farmer or rancher, whether in real life or virtual, causes the viewer to stop and question the validity of the video.
The book cites research by USFRA and others that show people still trust farmers, but don't trust the act of farming. We need to do a better job helping people understand the practices of farming and ranching. Working with animals involves dirt, sweat and blood; I included a couple of my personal stories about the struggles of working with cattle to try to demonstrate how to connect in a way that positions a farmer to be seen as a human, not a profit-driven thug.
Q. Biotechnology is being attacked on several levels. There is a continuous drumbeat against ‘big’ agribusinesses that promote biotech, and an even louder drumbeat calling the food products that contain biotech produced ingredients as bad for your health. Does biotechnology serve a real purpose?
A. It boils down to choice. I believe farmers deserve choice, just as food buyers deserve choice. No More Food Fights! includes examples of from a farmer choosing to use biotechnology to reduce environmental impact and increase production, a chef who doesn't believe in biotech and a scientist explaining the background of biotech. I also attempt to explain why labeling biotechnology food would be so difficult and costly. Interestingly, I found very few explanations of why many in agriculture are against biotech labeling and even fewer details about the complexity of labeling.