Oxpeckers And Zebras

There are dozens of instances where smaller animals coexist with much larger animals. African oxpeckers, for example, feed on the backs of zebras, elephants, hippopotamuses and other large African animals, according to Cosmos magazine. The relationship isn’t all symbiotic, as the Oxpeckers are actually vampire birds that do eat ticks, but then suck the blood out of open-tick wounds.

Over the past several weeks I’ve sat in on presentations by a number of small, startup companies that produce and market alternative food products. One product was produced from grass-fed Guernseys. Another yogurt was made from family-owned organic dairies in Oregon. 

One of the more interesting presentations came from Miyoko Schinner, CEO and founder of Miyoko’s, a company that makes vegan cheeses. We decided to interview Schinner and provide her remarks for everyone to see. You can read her comments here.  

As you read the story, you may feel your heartbeat accelerate, your face get red and an anger well up inside you, because she says things that drive dairy people nuts. The fact that she calls her vegan products cheese, for example, even though there’s no dairy in them.  Or that they milk cashews. Or that she calls our current methods of food production unsustainable. 

One might ask why in the world we decided to print such false information. Good question.

A colleague once told me that it is important to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I think what he meant was we need to know as much as possible about those who have opposing views so we can see things from their viewpoint, and thereby learn in the process. 

I’m not calling Schinner and her company enemies, by any means. I think they are more like the oxpecker, living off of the much larger dairy industry. Had the dairy industry not laid the brand development groundwork for things like artisan cheese and yogurt it would be hard to imagine that Schinner’s product or other products in that category would be successful. 

That being said, I would assume that the larger dairy industry derives at least some benefit from these smaller, niche market products. If someone is eating yogurt because it comes from milk from grass-fed, locally owned Guernseys, at least they are eating dairy products. And maybe if someone eats a vegan cheese that tastes like high-end cheddar, they will at least appreciate what full-fledged cheddar tastes like.

Even though the dairy industry is huge and these startups are very small in comparison, it does accentuate the fact that a considerable effort needs to be made to educate consumers about modern agricultural practices. Swisslane Farms has developed a Dairy Discovery center to educate kids and their parents about life on a dairy. It’s also comforting to have experts like those at the National Dairy Council to make sure dairy is prominent in dairy nutrition guidelines.

While I appreciate that these small companies are trying to carve out a niche for themselves, I could do without the disparaging remarks these companies make against modern production agriculture. They’re playing on uneducated consumer emotions to gain differentiation, and that’s not right. After all, you’d never hear the oxpecker say a disparaging word about a zebra.


What do you think? Should dairy alternative companies be allowed to market their products as dairy? Send me your comments at mopperman@farmjournal.com