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Scarecrows, Scare Tactics, Scary Food

September 18, 2013

Traditionally scarecrows were put in gardens to keep birds from eating the seeds and damaging the garden before it, literally, took root. The family’s food supply could depend on the timing, and protecting the crop from pests including birds. That hasn’t changed today.

Many years ago John Cougar Mellencamp sang about a scarecrow – a song about the farm crisis, loans burying farmers who wanted fair prices, not handouts. Get bigger, we were told, be more efficient to compete. Not all made it. Farmer suicides were too common…and no one wanted to talk about it.

Does anyone who criticizes the modern agriculture system remember those days? Back in the ’80s when the entire year’s work may not break even. Many had to alter what they did, some farms got bigger, some ceased to be. Then in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe late 90s small farms in central Illinois selling hogs were begging for public support, buried under the 9cent hog weight. The ham sold in the grocery store cost more than the whole hog. Few looked as small hog farmers begged for support. They sold out, big farms got bigger, were more ‘efficient’.

Now today we have many criticizing the ‘evil factory farms’ and restaurants demanding food from those small farmers that aren’t there anymore. Those of us trying to supply choices are in the wrong area, or some other reason why it won’t work to support us rather than why it can.

So along comes another scarecrow – that of Chipotle’s game application, dishonestly (for a place that prides itself on integrity and honesty) showing farms blow up chickens to twice the size and keep each cow in a small box. Neither based on reality. And, as many know, I’m not a fan of their “ethics” and marketing.

I don’t like fear factor marketing. The qualifications of “whenever possible” and use of meats from the farms they criticize when their chosen type isn’t available, without reducing the restaurant price for the lesser quality (their indication) meats. Few have held them accountable for squeezing out small restaurants, in the same way they criticize farmers for the choices of consumers.

So, as much as I dislike this, I don’t think their scarecrow is all bad. In talking with a new friend, who downloaded the application, actions needed to be taken or no action was seen as not making a difference. It’s opened up opportunities for conversation – and this time it seems it is conversation not condemnation from those thinking about food choices for the first time – or the first time in a while.

While I’ll concede that good point, I still don’t agree with fear factor doom and gloom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScary food is perspective. I think every person in the food chain – from farmers to transporters, processors, grocery stores, restaurants etc – everyone has an obligation to strive for food safety and as much as possible information for consumers – not just customers – about the food choices they offer. Condemning another production as ‘poison’ or ‘unethical’ while serving it in their restaurants even part of the time means they’re poisoning their customers? They compromise their integrity for the sake of a dollar – or ten – rather than taking it off the menu?

It’s good that we have choices. It’s good to know what those choices are. Silly me – I think that’s possible by presenting what those choices are without scaring people into choosing them. If I build up a big story and say ‘just buy here and we’ll take care of you’ does that, really, build trust? To me it builds dependence.

I want people to trust their food choices, whatever they may be. I think it’s possible. And I think if we’re honest, it’s the ethical thing to do. Choose – don’t settle.

Scarecrows have a place. Directing or dictating your food choices isn’t one of them.  All food choices are important. Keep the rain off the scarecrow. The race to the bottom. Choose – and buy with confidence.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nikki A Little permalink
    September 22, 2013 3:34 PM

    Loved your post! Your exactly right about the food choices! Consumers need choices with details on food security. If you give consumers choices than they will buy what they feel comfortable with not what they are scared into buying. Besides the consumer needs to look at their choices too! Coming from a small hobby farm, it’s not too terribly hard to ask what seed and where a product was grown, &c. Perhaps consumers need to start taking some responsibility too in asking where their food comes from instead of believing everything they see like the Chipotle commercial!

    • September 23, 2013 2:55 PM

      I think we in agriculture can do a better job of getting out there so the information is available. Sometimes it seems there is such a gap folks don’t know where to ask. We know our corner of the world where we’re comfortable – and that’s not all bad! I keep putting things out there like this to encourage folks to ask questions, seek out answers and knowing the majority will not ever buy anything from us. That’s ok too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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