I was back in New York last winter speaking to the Beef Producers Association. I have been on the East Coast often and have developed a good sense of how their urban neighbors look at the ag industry.
In turn, I have spoken 200-plus times to ag producers on the West Coast and have got an idea how their urban consumers, especially those from L.A., San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, treat their farming neighbors.
East Coast urbanites seem to have a no-nonsense attitude about producers. The diversity in cultures in New York allows them to be tolerant of others’ tastes. They are not squeamish about the slaughter of animals, from veal to lobsters, or sushi and beef tongue.
They’re busy and count on farmers to do our part humanely and safely within realistic standards. They are wary of animal rights groups that get goofy. Most Yankees have an idea where their food comes from and have confidence in the process.
My experience with modern urban California consumers is that they are suspicious of any food process or description that includes scientific words like chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. Those words scare them – even through they have no real knowledge of what they mean.
They are comforted by the words organic, all-natural, hydroponic, omega 3, sustainable farming or home-grown. Their fear and lack of knowledge makes them gullible to vague claims made by pills and powders and heart-wrenching accusations of animal rightists and enviromites.
Their whole impression of ag producers is tainted by the barrage of Chicken Littles who usually make a living maligning modern agriculture. They never get a chance to find out where their food comes from; they can’t get through the professional distracters’ blizzard of buzzwords.
In the geographical part of the country where the rest of us live, there seems to be a common sense that doesn’t exist on either coast.
The Midwest, South and Mountain time zones produces the vast majority of the food Americans eat. Granted, ag producers in the fly-over remain a tiny portion of the population, but they still have a chance to mingle with urbanites.
Even in cities like Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver, Atlanta and Dallas, the urban population is overwhelming but 10 miles outside of town you begin to see corn growing, cows grazing, plowed fields and farm machinery. These urbanites have a lot of opportunity to see where their food comes from.
I see these geographical differences as stages in a maturation of our civilization; California is bombarded by Mexican and Asian food … what’s next? Midwesterners will take portion control more seriously? New York citified may take a farm tour upstate?
But regardless of our differences, no one doubts that the American farmer will be able to keep your plate full, be it a Karaoke salad, a thinner pork chop or a pizza with organic sardines. PD