The Peterson Bros. Parody videos have millions of views

Take it for what it’s worth (a relatively arbitrary list from The Daily Meal), but a recent who’s who of food puts farmers at the bottom of the list when it comes to who influences how and what we eat. The Daily Meal launched its “50 Most Powerful People in Food” list recently, ranking individuals for their impact on how we think about food, what we eat and even how we prepare it.

The list is celebrity chef and corporate big-wig heavy, but farmers — yes, all of them collectively — are listed as number 50. It almost seems as if the people who put the list together felt obligated to include those lowly people who actually GROW the food, so plunked them in at the bottom as an afterthought.

I’d like to think that they’re wrong, of course, that farmers are an integral part of what we know about food, what we choose to eat and influence what we buy, but the reality is quite different. If we look at a more local level, we do find more farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture and direct sale systems developing and growing in Canada, but overall we are far more influenced by large advertising campaigns and health gurus (gluten-free, anyone?) than we are by farmers.

Is it reasonable to expect farmers to be influential in food?

In my mind, farmers — and agriculture as a whole — sit at an interesting crossroads. Farmers are perceived as trustworthy, and recent farmer-centric videos have gone viral with nearly 20 million views on YouTube. It would seem that now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to communicate with consumers, to share our story, to use these 15 minutes of fame to right misconceptions. Increasingly, consumers want not only to know about where their food comes from, but also influence how it’s produced. Some of this pressure to change is good, but how much is misguided?

Is it reasonable to expect farmers to be influential in food? I think so. But farmers have to be willing to join the conversation happening online and in the media, share their stories, their reasons for producing food in the way they do, in order to preserve their production practices.

It’s now or never.

4 thoughts on “The Most Powerful People in Food: Not Farmers

  1. You nailed it! We, as producers, need to be seen farming, we need to be heard sharing about this culture of agriculture and we need to be seen as innovators, best practice keepers and the ones with dirt under our nails and chaff in our hair and manure on the boots. Excellent piece. Will be sharing!

  2. After reading the article by The Daily Meal a couple ideas came to mind. I was reminded of my university microeconomics class, food is driven by supply and demand. Farmers are supplying what is being demanded by the consumer. If all of these people on the list are influencing what consumers are buying then maybe they do deserve to be titled as a powerful person in food.
    However, I agree 100% that farmers need to share their story to become stewards and lobbyists of food production. Education will bring forth better understand of the science behind production practices and could bring some transparency to farming. Maybe then The Daily Meal would understand a little more about where their food comes from.

  3. What would it take to make farmers the most powerful people in food? If they stopped producing it, i.e. went on strike. THEN they’d hold ALL the power! 🙂

  4. From 2002 to 2008, Leger Marketing did an annual poll on the most trustworthy professions in Canada (2008’s was done in-house because its five-year sponsor money had run out). In all seven years, farmers ranked in the top three (reporters held less than 50 per cent of the public trust at least one of those years and politicians ranked near or at the bottom in all seven years). In 2010 Reader’s Digest unveiled its twist on that poll -the Top 50 Trusted Canadians, and it was just was a popularity contest (RD gave those surveyed a list of 50 Canadians and respondents put them in order from 1 to 50 -wow!!). In 2011, RD added the most trusted professions, and farming wasn’t on the list.

    In our social media-saturated, internet-dependent “of-course-it’s-all-about-me!” world, you can say, “I’m a farmer,” and people are likely to say, “Well then, I want – this, and this and this.” -without necessarily thinking of whether our farmers can even grow strawberries in winter.

    In spite of all available information and resources, the average Canadian has less knowledge (and I’ll say, “they care less”) about modern agriculture. It isn’t price dependent or whether it’s organic, it’s attempting to separate the plausible from the impractical. Can we grow apples in Canada? Of course, but thanks to government trade policies, we’re inundated with product and concentrates that are dumped on us by Washington State and China, respectively. It’s grasping that we don’t need 100,000 acres of heritage tomatoes -because there isn’t the domestic demand, the export markets, or the processing facilities, to warrant such production.

    The disconnect between farming and the rest of society will continue because the average Canadian sees corn only as “sweet corn” when he/she looks at a field of grain corn. If they learn that that field of corn is heading to Casco to become starch, it becomes a matter of “but who will grow *my* sweet corn?”

    “What about me? It has to be all about me!”

    It’s for this reason, Lyndsey that most of the consumer influence is misguided. Show me that they understand how weather influences farm production -something that David Phillips is unable to show me -or understands the different uses for wheat (I actually had an MBA and an MD ask me if wheat’s used for human consumption!) -and I’ll start listening to what the average consumer thinks about agriculture (won’t even go near letting them have a say on modern farming practices, though).

    ‘Til then? Consumers should just stay out of the way; it’s better for everyone.

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