Is Agriculture a Dirty Word?

Published on: 09:51AM Sep 20, 2011

I often discuss the politics of food production in this blog forum, and the same issues that I first covered back when I started three years ago are, if anything, even more trenchant and high-profile today.

Which brings me to the day after tomorrow.  On Thursday, Sept. 22, a variety of organizations and associations representing the full spectrum of American farming and ranching (calling itself the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance) will organize and conduct what is being called the Food Dialogues.  This is a unique opportunity to have an extended national dialogue about the whole range of issues involved in food production.

We know that consumers want to have this kind of exchange because of the concerns they have about where food comes from.  We also know that those in agriculture want to have the same conversation.  So Thursday, at a series of four regional forums, as well as online, that conversation, in a high-profile setting, will take place.

So, first let me urge anyone interested in these issues to participate.  You can go to the Food Dialogues website to stream the event, and/or access it through a special Facebook page if you have a presence there.

You can view the list of everyone participating in the process at this page, and I think it’s worthwhile pointing out that we have a variety of perspectives, from those involved in actual farming, to those who regulate the industry, to those who cook up and sell food, and even to those who are critical of various aspects of food production. 

Now, some people will dismiss this effort even before it begins (witness these comments from Marion Nestle, who even as she criticizes the process, admits she was invited to participate in the NY session).  Like any conversation, the exchange of information is going to be two-way; this isn’t about just telling people what we feel they should know, but a process of give and take.

But only by having this type of dialogue can we honestly and effectively dig into the issues sprouting up from the current cultural landscape.  Much of the promotional material for this event asks the question “when did agriculture become a dirty word?”  Regardless of the reasons behind why some ask it….regardless of whether it has a basis in fact….regardless of to whom that question really should be directed…despite all these caveats, the question is on the table.  Farmers and ranchers need to be at the same table to help answer it.