I’m no psychologist, psychiatrist or sociologist, but I understand from discussions with experts that as social creatures, humans are prone to experiencing “group mentality.” Quite simply: we are easily influenced by the thoughts and actions of our associates. We also tend to associate with like-minded individuals, who reinforce our biases. It is my concern that in this age of social media, forming communities based on interests and biases is too easy, and we are losing rational thought.
Think back to a tweet or a post you read and agreed with wholeheartedly. You likely took half a second to share it with your friends, and smiled as you watched it spread like wildflowers through your clan. In a traditional setting, it’s more than likely one of your friends or family members would dislike that particular forage, and might even politely challenge your view. That discourse seems less likely to happen with social media, and when it does, it is usually aggressive, and met with defense before thought. Thus, we are sucked into a vortex of our own beliefs, our minds becoming increasingly closed to alternative theories.
I’ve long been confused about “agvocacy.” I’ve looked it up a few times. Have you? The definitions are vast, and informal. It seems to mean different things to different people. For a while, I thought it meant “sharing your story,” but I didn’t understand the appeal, or the incentive. As far as I could see, popularity was the only incentive. Then, A&W tried to tell its story as a marketing pitch (with monetary incentive), and it was met with all kinds of hostility from the ag community, for merely insinuating their product was “better” (though never actually attributing this to the production practices).
After that I thought, “‘agvocacy’ must be defined as the unselfish (not for profit) promotion of the agriculture industry.” Well, I threw that definition out the window when I saw a product logo in a Peterson Farm Bros parody video. Is PR self-sustainable without reward? Every time we promote the ag industry, we promote product purchasing, no?
In search of further understanding, I attended a few workshops, seminars and speaking engagements around ag-advocacy. According to many of our industry’s leaders, we are to speak as one, positive voice. We are? How? None of us agree on what “sustainable” land/livestock management really boils down to. Is it organic? Is it conventional? Does it mean tilling sometimes, all the time or never? Does it mean eating local, or supporting international trade? I mean, you don’t see Ford, Dodge and Chev getting together to talk to the world about the importance of buying all vehicles (slight digression: they also don’t encourage their customers to #thankadealership).
Also, in “speaking up and speaking positively about agriculture” consider how easy it is to inadvertently defend inappropriate farming practices. Not all farmers are stewards of the land. Not all farmers adore their animals. Overall, we may have a very commendable industry, but, as in any other, there are individuals who should be held accountable to their actions, whether they’re breaching a company contract or legitimately committing acts of animal cruelty.
There’s also a fine line between advocacy and activism. Before asking/demanding that all farmers be loved/respected, ask yourself how successful soap-box campaigns have been on changing your opinions.
Read more: The Futility of Demanding Respect
An advocate does, by definition, speak positively about a cause. So, really, those leaders were right, an agriculture advocate (or “agvocate”) would speak on behalf of agriculture, in general. It just seems like a nearly impossible task, in such a (wonderfully) diverse industry.
The following video was made by the National Farmers’ Union and British farmers, and is one of the closest definitions of “agvocacy” I can find.
My concern with the “agvocate” movement is not that it may ultimately bridge the gap it seeks to find between consumers and producers. My concern is that many self-described “agvocates” are sharing information not because they have considered it from all angles and believe it to be a good message, but because of the feelings it evokes in them, and how they think it will be accepted by the herd. And that leads me to my final question: is the pro-ag messaging being communicated as it appeals to the audience agricultural advocates hope to have, or the one they already do?
Read more: The Power of Words: A New Word for Consumer
I don’t know about you, but as an impressionable consumer, I think I may just trot down the aisle looking for produce made in Britain.