Previously my colleague from Drovers wrote about his daughter’s high school graduation and the message from the graduation speaker. This week while I vacationed in California with family for my niece’s high school graduation in the Santa Clarita Valley outside of Los Angeles, I have my own story to tell. But this one is about food.

I have two beautiful nieces: Liz, the new graduate, is 17; Emma, (also visiting for graduation from Portland, Ore.) is 13. Both girls live in very urban areas, so I took the opportunity to talk to them about some of their attitudes about food and the messages they get.

Liz is an intelligent, articulate young lady. I will preface her comments by saying since she was a child she has spent quite a bit of time visiting the rest of the family in Kansas and Nebraska, including trips to our family farm, going out on the road with me a few times, visiting the veterinary school at Kansas State (where my dad got his DVM) and reading my magazine, Bovine Veterinarian (if anything to just get grossed out by some of the pictures). She’s no farm girl, but she’s not a 100% city kid, either. Oregonian Emma has had a bit less exposure to the agriculture industry than Liz, but has also enjoyed her visits to the Midwest.

I asked the girls where they hear messages about food the most. Both of them said at school and from teachers. Liz says she has had high school teachers who talk about books and show videos about food. “Most of them are trying to get us to eat healthier and comment on what we are eating,” she says, which is no surprise in health-conscious California.

Emma says her 7th grade cooking class teacher showed the movie Food, Inc. this year. “She wanted us to see where our food came from,” Emma says. I asked her how the movie made her feel. “I had mixed feelings,” she says. “It didn’t make me want to become a vegetarian. But it showed how cows were eating grain and said they weren’t meant to and how they grow chickens bigger and faster.” I was relieved when I asked her if she believed all of the messages and she said that she “didn’t trust it all the way,” but that most of her peers believed it all.

I then asked the girls who they most believed and who they did not trust to tell them the truth about food. I used many of the same categories as some of the surveys that Farm Bureau and others have used: veterinarians, farmers, government, teachers, celebrities, PETA/activists. It wasn’t a surprise to me that both girls trust veterinarians the most – I’m sure part of it was a nod to Grandpa, and part of it was having an edge over their urban peers on what food animal veterinarians do for a living. Liz says veterinarians see livestock production from the standpoint of animal welfare and caring for animals in the first place, and that they understand how livestock production needs to work in order for it to be efficient for consumers (did I mention she’s a National Honors Scholar?). Both ranked farmers second.

And the least trusted? Celebrities and activists. Liz sees celebrities out and about in L.A. every day, so she’s a bit immune to their “expertise” on subjects. She notes that most of her junior and senior peers readily question information that is given them, but that freshman and sophomores are more gullible to propaganda. She believes that activists are “expert arguers” and she likes to compare their information to what she knows or has heard, and then form her own opinion. Emma says she probably knows more about agriculture and livestock than her peers do, and that they are more easily swayed by what they see on TV and in movies.

So I asked them the $64,000 question. How do we (livestock industry) reach you (junior high/high schoolers) with information that you can trust on how we raise our food? Both girls boiled it down pretty easily. Show us, they said. “Show us every aspect of what you do and get ahead of groups like PETA who want to show us their version of what you do,” Liz recommends.

Soccer-playing/track star Emma adds: “I’ll always remember seeing Food, Inc. Have farmers say something positive about their jobs and have them want to tell us what they are doing with their animals and why eating meat is good for us.”

“Show how it’s good for you, normal, natural and safe to eat beef,” says my brilliant new graduate Liz. “Target to our age group. Take a page from PETA and make bright, open exciting slogans. Cattle ranchers have a fundamental connection to their animals. They are intimately tied to their own life and livelihood. They take the time vaccinate, feed and run facilities. It’s not an easy job. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t be in this business in the first place.”

Welcome to the world, new graduate, and Emma, you’ll soon be right behind her. We need some good thinkers like you two on our side.

Source: Geni Wren, Editor, Bovine Veterinarian Magazine