When ‘Foodie Enlightenment’ Goes Too Far
I am not a farmer.
I am also not someone who puts farmers on a pedestal.
I’m glad they do what they do. Just like I’m glad my homebuilder built my home, my A/C guy keeps me out of the brutal Texas heat, and my utility company keeps me supplied with water, gas, and electricity.
I respect farmers. They are creating something out of nothing. They are entrepreneurs. In a sense, they put it all on the line, year after year, to grow their business and maintain their lifestyle.
Ranchers, too. I’m using the term “farmer” to encompass both farmers and ranchers. Yes, I know some ranchers won’t like that.
I recently spoke to Jerod McDaniel, a Farmer and Rancher from Texhoma, Oklahoma on the podcast. We started talking about data and blockchain, but also wandered into an interesting conversation about consumers.
I think most consumers are just like me. We respect the work farmers do, and are glad to pay for the essential goods they provide. We understand the freedom this gives us to pursue passions of our own, whether that be business or technology or art or whatever.
Some are willing and able to pay up for what they view as a premium product (organic, non-GMO, natural, free-range, local, grass fed, fair trade, etc.). My thoughts on this has always been: good for them! They should vote for their values with their dollars.
I truly believe this, even if I don’t personally subscribe to many of these labels. This still leads to new markets where farmers can sell a premium product instead of just selling a commodity, which sounds to me like a win-win.
I have realized lately where this starts to be problematic. Over time, some of those premium consumers start to experience a sort of “lifestyle inflation”. This is the concept that as their income goes up, so does their lifestyle. Often this goes to the point where they feel they absolutely “need” the things that were once unattainable.
To show how this becomes problematic, let’s use a fictional example of someone we will call Duke.
As a college student, Duke lived in a tiny apartment and lived off of Ramen noodles and mac ‘n cheese. He also drank often with his friends, and ended up gaining about 25 pounds in college.
Then he gets a job in the big city making great money with an investment firm. His income and lifestyle give him the ability to join an expensive gym. He becomes committed to his health and starts exercising regularly.
He also drastically changes his diet, and can now afford to buy premium foods. He goes from eating chicken nuggets to organic chicken to organic pasture-raised chicken.
Because he can afford it.
He looks back at his college days and wonders “how did I live like that?”
“I was young and naive!” he thinks (he forgets he was also broke).
He thinks he has now reached foodie enlightenment.
“Why don’t more people know about this?” He wonders.
Duke thinks about all of those still eating chicken nuggets with pity. He feels like he has a new mission in life: to help others reach foodie enlightenment.
“But how?” he asks himself, “I can’t give them the disposable income that I have…”
Then it hits him: fear. He’ll show people why they should be scared of cheap food. He hopes when they start to believe there’s a problem they will rush to the same path to enlightenment that he took.
He makes a documentary telling others that that they are being poisoned by modern agriculture and that they need to get on the path to foodie enlightenment ASAP. He drives home the fear with talk of “factory farms”, “GMOs”, and “glyphosate”.
He leaves out the part that on his journey, his income went from $3,000/year to over $100,000/year. He leaves out the part that his healthier lifestyle involves spending 5+ hours/week at the gym.
Netflix is eager to distribute the documentary. They have the data that shows how well fear sells, especially about food.
Obviously, most of the viewers of the documentary cannot change their lifestyle like Duke, due to constraints on their time or money or both. But it doubt starts to enter their mind.
“Am I being poisoned?” they ask themselves.
They start to make subtle decisions based on this fear. They don’t have the facts. Even if they did, they don’t know who to trust anymore. They forget what words like “factory farm”, “GMOs”, and “glyphosate” mean, but they associate them with harmful production practices that go into their food.
Yes, this is a fictional example. But the narrative is not far from the truth. Someone like Duke has great intentions. He really wants everyone to be healthier. However, his impact is a lack of trust in the food supply based on fear tactics.
This is not the answer. Healthier habits are the answer. But fear and blame are much easier than real lifestyle change.
I have no problem with those that choose to spend their disposable income on food products they view as superior. I do have a problem with the blind arrogance of spreading fear, especially to those who may not have the same lifestyle luxuries.
This is not a debate about organic vs conventional, GMO vs Non-GMO, or local vs industrial. All of these CAN and SHOULD co-exist.
What shouldn’t exist is the spread of fear without facts. Especially when that is spread from those privileged enough to have options that others don’t.
More specifically, we shouldn’t fear every new technology that shows potential to grow food more efficiently. Especially considering almost none of those individuals who spread the fear are willing to try farming for themselves.
In my interview with Jerod McDaniel, he warns against farmers giving in to a consumer that is dictating terms that are not based on facts and reality.