Posted By Cathryn April 20, 2012
Today, the Associated Press demonstrated why common sense is no longer common and often does not make a significant amount of so-called sense. In a story written to promote a Eurocentric anti-modern meat agenda, the media source rambles on about the evils of administering antibiotics to sick cattle, pigs and chickens. Fear-mongering at its finest, the author uses sparse quotes from agenda-driven groups, unaccredited consumers and specialty producers who would personally benefit from a ban, to supplement the single, credible quote from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which states clearly, when taken on its own, that indiscriminant antibiotic use is not favorable.
The questions ignored are myriad. Do antibiotics have a role to play in animal agriculture? How are they actually used on a normal American farm? Why do the current regulations remain in place?
The author, through crafty copy, attempts to sway the reader from asking these basic, simple questions through a subtext appealing to the idea that all readers with common sense would make the same assumptions he does. If using antibiotics can be bad, it cannot ever be beneficial. If the interest groups and niche marketers seem like good, conscientious people, then the family farmers who day in and out produce safe, nutritious, affordable food choices in abundance for the country must be the party at fault. The more modern technology, here in the form of medication, used to produce that food, the higher the chance that it will not be as wholesome as what our forefathers and mothers ate.
Useless nostalgia for a past seen through rose-tinted glasses aside, Americans today benefit from the safest food supply in recorded history. They have a much wider array of healthy, safe choices than could have been conceived in a pre-penicillin past.
How can the average person find information, both facts and firsthand accounts, from knowledgeable sources willing to explain what they say? In the case of food questions, CommonGround volunteers across the country share true accounts of how they grow and raise food on their own farms. Plus, their stories are supported by credible, complete information from actual experts.
If you want to know more about antibiotics than the mainstream media is able to provide, take a moment to meet Teresa Brandenberg, a cattle rancher from Kansas. A young mother who cares deeply for both her family and her cattle, Teresa understands the government regulations for antibiotic use, the reasoning behind those rules and how it affects families, both hers and yours.
Maybe, it could more accurately be said that common sense still plays an important role in the life of most Americans. With so many urban and suburbanites far removed from the farm, asking questions about what feeds their families both natural and responsible. Talking to the people who live that story makes a lot of sense.
Listening to over-hyped, sensationalized accounts of farming written by Washington media? Maybe that is what doesn’t make sense after all.
Posted By Cathryn April 4, 2012
No matter how great a product may be, a bad name can lead to a serious uphill battle. Veterans of the war to correct misinformation about high fructose corn syrup understand this problem intimately. Now, cattle ranchers have found that the public may turn on a food ingredient, despite previous clamor for the benefits that it provides, if it goes by the unfortunate nickname of “pink slime.”
As many blog away or create infographics for social media dispersion, Nebraska CommonGround volunteers hit the aisles of a local HyVee grocery store last weekend to speak with customers about what the so-called “pink slime” really is and does in person.
The grocery store, which had previously issued releases and fact sheets about their use of the product, welcomed the women, who brought a more intimate understanding of beef to their discussions than even the meat department employees could offer.
Hurried shoppers took a moment to pause, speaking with women like volunteer and cattlewoman Joan Ruskamp, about not only “pink slime”, but also hormone use in meat production and organics. Together, the farmers and shoppers alike built a mutual understanding through conversations that highlighted both consumer concerns and shared a rancher’s unique understanding of the meat she produces.
Embracing an opportunity to start real, meaningful conversation, the Nebraska volunteers laid the groundwork needed for an ongoing dialogue about food between the farmers and ranchers who grow it and those who eat it. Taking a moment out of their packed days, the consumers also played a key role in opening a dialogue sharing their concerns and insight.
Real progress takes time and effort, but it is worth everything invested. So take a moment to consider the real questions that underpin gut reactions to a seemingly off-putting food name. Take a moment to ask them if you are a consumer. Take a moment to discuss them if you are a farmer. Together, we share a food system. Let’s take another step toward improving it for everyone involved.
Posted By Cathryn March 29, 2012
Many amazing farmers volunteer to agvocate as association leadership, through social media or as part of larger programs, like CommonGround. In taking valuable time away from their farms and families, they act upon their belief that creating a dialogue that acquaints the public with modern agriculture is essential to ensuring a bright, vibrant future for the way-of-life that they love.
State and national communications staff appreciate that, for farmer volunteers, leaving busy operations involves a major investment by farmer and family alike. In light of such, it is essential that those helping organize these programs evaluate the effectiveness of every opportunity, carefully weighing the potential benefit against the possible impact upon the volunteers.
Let’s face it- it takes a lot to walk out the farm gate, onto the stage and showcase such an integral part of every grower’s life, his or her farm. Volunteers face public scrutiny and, at times, even criticism based in misunderstanding of either farming practices or of the specific operation itself.
Watching a lovely grain farmer who grew up around cattle gracefully handle sharp criticism of poultry-raising techniques, despite the fact she herself had never set foot into a broiler operation, can spur the thought, “I really hope that something positive comes of this- because she deserves results.”
CommonGround volunteers across the country are seeing positive results as the bloggers, reporters and other food thought-leaders they interact with come to understand and respect the achievements and character of the American family farmer.
On St. Patrick’s day, CommonGround hosted a dinner, upon which the National Corn Growers Association reported immediately following the event. The initial story provided a peak into the thoughtful, creative events many state programs are hosting.
Yet, one question remained. Would the attendees relay their experiences that evening? Did the volunteers manage to make a real connection?
As in many prior instances, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes!” Just yesterday, an influential Kentucky food blogger, who uses the name “foodie girl,” recounted her encounter for her readership. Peppered throughout her step-by-step how-to on preparing the cheese grits served at the event were her thoughts about the farmers she met and her impressions.
Impressed she was too. Foodie girl praised the women for their cheerful, warm demeanor when answering questions, noting that she was struck by their genuine passion for what they grow.
“I look forward to getting to know the ladies of CommonGround better and to discovering the wonderful food they produce with their own, trusted hands,” she said. “Now that is something I can feel good about.”
Opening a positive, constructive dialogue about modern farming is something that we can all feel good about too. While building the connections that elevate the public discourse and create trust takes effort, it is worth it when volunteers, and everyone involved in grassroots agvocacy, can see the how the discussions that will impact the future of farming changing their tone.
Posted By Cathryn March 26, 2012
Every now and then, the dedicated bloggers at Corn Commentary run across something so interesting and in-tune with what they want to say that they, with the permission of the original author, choose to share it in its full form. While looking for new insight into the debate surrounding high fructose corn syrup, a blog post from twitter friend @thefarmerslife surfaced. Read on for some interesting insight into how the sugar industry is obscuring the full truth of the similarity between sweeteners through allegations that HFCS is processed. While true, it turns out that sugar undergoes quite a process prior to reaching supermarket shelves too.
High fructose corn syrup is processed food?
Yes it is. Corn needs to go through a process to become HFCS. A whole lot of people think this is a bad thing. I have a question for those people. Where do you think “natural” sugar comes from? I’m assuming when many use the term natural they are referring to nice, white table sugar that comes from sugar cane. But the sugar cane plant doesn’t grow pods on it full of white crystals ready for consumption. Therefore I must ask another question.
Cane sugar isn’t processed food?
I’ve been contemplating this post for a couple of months, but until now I never sat down at the computer to actually write it up. Luckily for me when I started searching for some info on how sugar cane becomes table sugar I found that Sweetscam.com had already done the work for me. They have some great videos that summarize the processes involved in making several types of sweeteners. Since the videos do such a great job of explaining and visualizing the process involved I’ll let them to the talking for me.
Let’s take a look at HFCS to see how it’s made.
Now let’s do cane sugar. (Spoiler alert! It’s a process!)
No they are not the same process, but you can see some similarity. The point I’m making is that both corn and sugar cane must go through some changes to become the products we eat. A process. I don’t have a problem with cane sugar. In fact, I like it quite a lot. I’m just pointing out that what most perceive as natural sugar can’t just be picked off a tree like an apple an eaten on the spot. Rather than saying cane sugar isn’t natural because it is processed, I would argue that sugar from other sources is just as natural as cane sugar. What do you think?
Posted By Cathryn March 21, 2012
If something is mainstream, why bother defending it? Popular logic would dictate that behaviors considered normal by the majority of society do not require an active defense. Society relegates personal accountability for maintaining our cultural norms to elite academics and social leaders.
Action takes an investment of time, energy and emotion. With so many tasks requiring daily, immediate attention, who has the time?
Right now, hopefully, many carnivores do. The New York Times issued a call for essays explaining the ethical case for eating meat this week. As the winning essay or essays will be published in the news industry heavyweight, a lot is on the line.
For decades, vegetarians and vegans have claimed the ethical high ground in the dietary debate. Issuing carefully constructed diatribes on the fundamental question of if it is right to eat meat, this minority group has dominated the more bookish discussions underpinning something as fundamental as what people should or should not eat.
While the anti-meat minority has not parlayed its philosophical success into popular adoption of the tenets it espouses, a halo hangs over the heads of those willing to eschew their carnivorous cravings in many American minds.
Instead of blithely dismissing actual vegetarians as too malnourished to win a cultural war, carnivores need to take a stand. Surely, many meat-eaters consider their consumption ethical. It is time to climb the ivory tower and issue a proclamation of our own.
Entries are due by April 18 for consideration in the NYT contest. So, take a moment to ponder while enjoying a pork chop. Then, put pen to paper.
Silence is oft construed as an admission of the opposing side’s superiority. Send a message that meat-eaters make ethical dietary decisions. It just so happens that they are delicious too.
While the New York Times will run only the essays it judges to be “the best”, Corn Commentary also welcomes your submission. Click here to send a copy of your submission directly to our bloggers. Then, check back the week of April 23 to view a collection of the best submissions.
Posted By Cathryn March 13, 2012
Every once in a while, someone phrases a sentiment underpinning a social push in such a succinct, crystal-clear manner that it cuts away the superfluous ramblings that obscure the true issue.
“There’s this tremendous push to be paternal over farmers, as if somehow they’re too dumb to take care of themselves,” said William Field, a professor at Purdue University who studies agricultural health and safety. “This language comes from people who have never been in agriculture, who don’t live on a farm and understand the complexities of living there.”
While Field’s quote comes from a longer interview with National Public Radio on that misinterpretations of child safety statistics often cited in debates over proposed child labor restrictions for farms, it sums up a significant amount of the public debate around agriculture recently. People with little to no knowledge of modern farming techniques, tools or practices interject themselves into complex arguments over the nuances of an advanced production system that benefits from cutting-edge research and generations of practical knowledge.
Self ordained experts from lawyers who wish they were scientists to chefs who wish they were nutritionists wrap themselves in a cloak of self-righteous indignation to hide their lack of actual knowledge. For-profit environmentalists bite the very hand that feeds the country, and armchair agriculturalists blast biotech on their blogs.
Something is seriously wrong.
Asking questions about where food comes from is natural. It makes sense to be concerned with what we feed ourselves and our families. What does not seem logical is the seeming mass acceptance of the answers that agenda-driven non-experts provide. If you want to know about how your food is actually produced, why not ask the men and women who grow it?
Today’s farmers are technology-savvy entrepreneurs who run incredibly productive operations that grow more food using fewer chemicals and resources. They thrive because they take the time to learn about the newest, best ways to improve. They understand why they grow their crop in a certain fashion in incredible detail, and many have volunteered to act as a resource for consumers who would like to learn about it.
An informed public has every right to ask questions about food. They have every right to come to the table and discuss this with the people growing it for them. Allowing propaganda and misinformation perpetuated by anti-experts unwilling to understand the very practices they criticize places American agriculture at risk.
Farmers know enough about the industry they so love to allow most Americans to live off of the farm. Take the time to benefit from their knowledge.
Posted By Cathryn March 7, 2012
Who doesn’t love sampling something delicious for a taste test? Momentarily throwing daily calorie counting to the wind, for science of course, to issue an expert opinion on which option really is the best? The time honored tradition, from the simple bake-off to the meticulously conducted research testing new candies, continues to elevate everyday eaters to connoisseurs willing to share their opinion with the broader public.
Today, National Corn Growers Association staff selflessly participated in just such an experiment for Director of Biofuels Pam Keck. An accomplished baker, Keck decided to combine her interest in Distillers Dried Grains, an ethanol co-product popularly used in animal feed, with her culinary craftsmanship whipping up a batch of oatmeal cookies. Splitting the ingredients into two distinct portions, Keck then added a fiber and protein packed punch to one set by mixing DDGs into the dough.
This morning, Keck placed her handiwork in a prime location- directly across from the office coffee service. As coworkers sauntered in to prepare their caffeine fix, they caught site of the treat. As anyone who has worked in a similar environment knows, home-baked goods never last long when craftily situated so close to the java. So, the test began.
As DDGs are not yet widely used in foods produced for human consumption, Keck clearly labeled each batch, knowing that her peers clearly understood the safety and dietary benefits of her addition. By mid-morning, the piles both dwindled rapidly and, while some voiced a preference for the traditional batch, many found that they preferred the new concoction.
Both varieties of the oatmeal and craisin cookies offered a moist, mildly sweet background punctuated by tart berry bursts, but the version containing DDGs also left a wholesome-tasting nutty flavor with a pleasant chewy texture. Keck’s culinary acumen certainly played a large role in determining the quality of the cookies, but, without additional alteration to the recipe, the power-packed batch baked to a fantastic finish as well.
The real message of the taste test came across loud and clear to the corn-conscious crowd. In an era of false food-versus-fuel debate and fever-pitched skirmishes over almost every aspect of nutrition, simple answers still await those willing to explore the possibilities. An ethanol co-product that packs a nutritional punch into crave-worthy craisin cookies? It is time to wake up and open our eyes to the possibilities just waiting for us, sometimes right next to the coffee.
Posted By Cathryn February 23, 2012
Bill Gates, respected for his visionary work as founder of both Microsoft and the philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called for a new digital revolution today. This time, instead of promoting software to improve office productivity, he passionately advocated for application of the advanced technology to help end world hunger.
Many stop reading the story here, assuming that through massive donations Gates will provide the cash needed to revolutionize farming in the developing world. A closer look turns up a more interesting, nuanced viewpoint, one which requires public recognition of the amazing technologies American farmers use today.
In short, supporting the Gates Foundation’s fight against hunger does mean supporting the use of advanced farming techniques including genetically-engineered seed varieties.
While Mr. Gates may not have always been known for his ability to fit-in or follow the “cool” crowd, he changed the world around him for the better by having the intellect to analyze a situation fully, evaluate each facet meticulously and act accordingly even when doing so required courage.
As he turned his attention to the plight of global hunger and malnutrition, Gates encountered a wealth of information on possible farming practices. Most consumers in the United States have access to a great deal of the same sources today because of Microsoft innovations he fostered decades ago. Instead of unquestioningly buying into bogus arguments cloaked in a soft, fuzzy, nuevo-hippie, organic wool sweater, he delved into the science.
What he found was that to feed our world’s growing population we need to use the most productive, innovative techniques available. To grow more food using fewer resources and creating less waste, we need the rapid-paced developments brought about by biotech engineering. Using what many consider a “dirty word”, Gates outspokenly promoted wide-spread public acceptance of biotechnology.
Afterward, when reporters questioned him during a roundtable, Gates refused to back down encouraging doubters to “go out and talk to people growing rice and say do they mind that it was created in a laboratory when their child has enough to eat?”
Pragmatic and effective, Gates sees what many do not. He sees that failure to embrace agricultural advancements directly impacts the ability of farmers to achieve their potential productivity. At the same time, feeding the world requires them not only to meet it but to push beyond its current bounds.
Join the real, active movement to end hunger by embracing Gates’ message. Farmers, scientists and their allies are working hard to create change with palpable results that fill empty bellies and nourish real people who are really hungry right now. Have the courage to be like Bill. Billions of lives depend on it.
Posted By Cathryn February 16, 2012
Today, Corn Commentary features a guest blog entry from Jennifer Elwell, Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, CommonGround team member and author of the popular blog, Food Mommy! Following the CommonGround Shared Voices Conference, Elwell took a moment to share her thoughts on the volunteers that she met, the state of agriculture today and to suggest that her readers take advantage of the valuable resource that they have in CommonGround volunteers.
I remind myself everyday how lucky I am to work for farmers. The world of agriculture is like a family to me, and I have built some very strong relationships within my state and across the nation. The exciting part is that my family continues to grow.
For the past year, I have been witness and huge nurturer of a sprouting seed called CommonGround. Farm moms and women are becoming empowered to talk about life on their farms and how they are working to raise safe, nutritious, ethical and environmentally-responsible food. And for the first time in my career, I am working with young, vibrant ladies who represent all facets of food production!
From Shana Beattie who raises corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, beef cattle, 8 million pounds of pork and her four children alongside her husband on a 100+ year old farm in Nebraska to Mary Courtney, who raises vegetables for local customers through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Kentucky. She and her husband bought a new farm and are working to support their two young children with one on the way. Linda grows organic produce and crops to enable a livable return on their small farm and Ashley farms several thousand acres of grain in which her family is able to support 14 families by providing jobs in their community. Did I mention they voluntarily participate in an environmental certification program? The best part is that they all support each other.
As a mom of two, I embrace the concept of CommonGround: being able to have a conversation with my peers. I have learned so much by listening to these ladies, and I feel better than ever about making a trip to the grocery store. I also know that I want to support local farmers like the Courtney’s, because I have a connection with them, and I know that getting produce closer to the source tastes better. And… wait for it… I no longer look at organic food as some evil marketing scheme trying to dupe me out of my money. It takes a lot of work to comply with certification standards, and a farmer willing to do that should be paid more for his or her labors.
There is room on my table and in my refrigerator for it all, and I can feel good about what I am feeding my family. I have developed trust in my farmers because they are willing to be open with me about why they choose to grow my food in the manner that they do. They are also willing to listen to my concerns and tell me if they can do better. That is meeting on CommonGround, and I am proud to support the movement.
My plea to my readers is that the next time you hear of a food issue in the news or from a fellow friend who may not get their knowledge first hand, seek out one of these fabulous ladies and just ask. You can find them at http://www.findourcommonground.com/. Bookmark it! You can also find many of my farmer friend’s blogs by clicking on the tab at the top.
Follow Jennifer at www.facebook.com/foodmommy and www.twitter.com/foodmommy.
Posted By Cathryn February 13, 2012
For years now, musicians and actors have taken time out from patting themselves on the back during awards ceremonies to advance politicized causes. The mega-produced shows, which take a public willingness to indulge the already pampered in self-congratulation all the way to the bank, now serve as a platform for entertainers to remind us that they are thoughtful, culturally-aware types. Seemingly, it wasn’t enough for them to be richer and more attractive. Now, they have to prove an intellectual and moral superiority by raising a ruckus on the hot issue of the day.
At the Grammy Awards this year, Chipotle cashed in on this trend releasing a two-minute commercial decrying the evil of modern animal agriculture. Willie Nelson, long known to be a fan of a different type of farmer, strummed and sang to a Coldplay tune as cartoon images of a farmer and sweet little cartoon piggies drifted across the screen.
Personal repulsion to the insufferably self-aggrandizing, overly-produced, pseudo-intellectual impersonation of actual pain that underlies Coldplay’s music aside, the commercial plays upon the tendency of people to project what they want onto what they see.
Without a word, the ad strums along with melancholy nostalgia. The pictures show that many animals now, yes, live in barns. The sweet little cartoon pigs are shown actually locked behind a jail cell door like criminals. The farmer debates medicating himself, as shown through a thought bubble with a pill inside, or releasing his pigs back into pastures and blue sky with chickens running about too.
Luckily, it isn’t an actual depiction of how tender piglets might fare in a cold Iowa winter or how chickens do interact when left to their own devices. Instead, it is the same sort of wishy-washy, rose-tinted vision that most people would like to be true, despite the many difficulties with the realities of such a situation. If you are already projecting an actual message for Chipotle, it isn’t a stretch to willfully block out the fiction underpinning the situation.
Instead of buying into the portrayal of agriculture in the commercial, Nebraska farmers and ranchers fought back by showing the amazing story of the livestock industry in a commercial of their own. With solid information presented by actual human beings, the ad stands in stark contrast to Chipotle’s. Unlike its counterpart it offers a forthright message too – Farming is ethical. Learn about it and become a fan.
As a public, we should applaud this effort. Unlike the fast food giant, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska trust that an informed public will see how amazing agriculture actually is today. They stand behind their production practices and invite those outside of the industry to learn more. They do not create a dream world with sappy music and emotionally evocative drawings. They treat thinking adults as such rather than signing them a lullaby.
So become a fan. Farmers work hard every day to produce a wide-variety of healthy, quality food options for us to enjoy. So many in fact, that it would be easy to avoid Chipotle, demonstrating an unwillingness to accept their uninspired brainwashing, in favor of a those other options until they hit a less condescending note.
BTW: If you want to know about the actual Chipotle, the one that they obscure through this kind of advertising, check out past reporting from Corn Commentary here.
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