‘No More Food Fights’ Seeks Civil Plate Dialogue

March 11, 2013 12:00 AM
‘No More Food Fights’ Seeks Civil Plate Dialogue

A new book lets readers literally flip the conversation between food producers and consumers while laying the groundwork for positive relationships. Above all, people on both sides of the equation should view their counterparts as human beings first, says Michele Payn-Knoper, the author of "No More Food Fights" and a lifelong farm girl.

"If we actually were proactive and went out and developed relationships with people as human beings, we would actually be able to put points on the scoreboard," says Payn-Knoper, comparing the ability to successfully lead proactive conversations about food to successful leadership on the basketball court. (The Michigan State University graduate is a big fan of the Spartans and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo.)

In her mind, food is a personal choice. No one should dictate what a person eats, nor should anyone dictate how farmers care for their land or animals. So it’s important to connect people on the food side of the plate—think food buyers, foodies, dieticians and microbiologists—with people such as farmers, ranchers and agribusiness professionals on the production side, Payn-Knoper says.

That’s why "No More Food Fights," released on Valentine’s Day this year, is composed creatively: One side features farmers and other production experts talking to the food audience about the six senses they can use to learn more about where their food comes from. The farm audience can then flip the book upside down and turn it over to read observations from people who are on the food side.

Each section pivots around a common chapter describing how readers can connect at the center of the plate. In all, "No More Food Fights" features more than 50 personal stories including that of Payn-Knoper and writing from 35 contributors.

"I took stories (from) the people from the farm side and allowed them to share their story on the food side, and then likewise on the farm side I had a chef, an Olympic athlete, dietitians, a health care representative and foodies share their perspective," she says.

For Payn-Knoper, a professional speaker, the book is deeply personal and is intended to advance conversation about agriculture. Conflict between food producers and consumers has arisen in part because of intense interest about food and subjects such as local production, organic versus conventional farming and biotechnology. Additionally, she says, declining farm populations mean fewer people in agriculture are responsible for correcting misinformation and being increasingly proactive about outreach in the face of ever-growing activist pressure.

Another way the author aims to break down barriers in her book is by including a four-page glossary at the end of the food side that explains terms such as irrigation pump, heifer and steer. The book’s cover features a broken plate whose cracks form a peace sign.

"My point is, really, translate agriculture to food people and food interests to agriculture," she says.

Social media remains an important component to building that conversation. Payn-Knoper located several of the experts in "No More Food Fights" through the #agchat and #foodchat discussions she founded, and continues to help the AgChat Foundation moderate, on Twitter. The AgChat Foundation hosted its first regional conference in late February in Minneapolis, and a national conference is planned Aug. 22-23 in Charlotte, N.C. It’s a volunteer farmer-led organization, she says.

Outlets such as Twitter and Facebook can serve as a looking-glass into people’s thoughts on farm and food.

"It’s the coffee shop, church parking lot and the local pub all wrapped up in one," Payn-Knoper says.

Click here to order Payn-Knoper’s book from her website, causematters.com. The book is also available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

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