We’re hosting a nutrition class from Clarion University at our farm this Thursday.  The event is organized in part by a national beef promotion society whose mantra for decades has advocated beef in its most generic form.  Today they’re experiencing turbulence in a consumer climate that’s looking for relationships and specifics, not one-size-fits-all advertising.  A campaign encompassing the whole of an industry flounders in the face of specifics: when program funding is extorted from everyone in the village, the message must remain perfectly featureless so as to avoid favoritism.  Blah.

I can’t stand lily-white, common marketing strategies.  In fact, I’m a firm believer that broad-stroke beef promotion is largely responsible for horrendous consumer perceptions of animal derived proteins.  Not all products are created equal, but public institutions inexplicably associated with wisdom have made the overriding message to consumers clear: beef is beef is beef.  As a result, when a study links the cheapest, pulverized, extruded, irradiated ‘ground beef’ to public health issues, or environmental issues, or animal welfare issues, people react negatively to all sources of the product.  Polite society is increasingly avoiding beef because one (very big) bad apple is ruining the whole bushel, yet dollars continue to fund promotion of the blemished example, compounding the problem.

With our event just days away, I’m still pondering what message I’ll offer to the group of students.  Certainly it will not be a whitewashed, thumbs-up chat highlighting a few important minerals found in beef; that’s a tame, safe subject easily adopted by even the largest food companies selling the worst products. In other words, I won’t be dancing to the tune played by our co-hosting organization.  Instead, I think I’ll introduce the idea that nutrition and agriculture are not separate entities and, thus, one cannot be fully understood in isolation from the other.  Local food is the only conduit that can accurately connect each domain to its counterpart via real-time relationships; those attempting to understand ‘beef’ from a nondescript source must rely on biased propaganda from both the pro-beef and anti-beef side of the fence.  Nobody gets a clear answer when the message is passed through so many different entities.

Truly, I’m excited to learn something from this experience.  It is a summit that should occur regularly because nutrition cannot exist without agriculture, and agriculture cannot carry on ignorant of nutrition.  Our farm business and our mission stand in stark juxtaposition to that of generic beef proponents, and it will be interesting to see what message students align with throughout the day. 

Progress occurs when people in seemingly unrelated domains connect to discuss ideas.  What ideas do you think should be on the docket this Thursday?