A week ago Time magazine ran the most unbelievably one-sided travesty of journalism I’ve ever read. As a professional journalist and sometime pundit/commentator, I know the difference between reporting and editorial, and understand the critical importance of clearly identifying the two. As a writer, broadcaster, and business owner, my professional integrity and credibility are shaped by the choices I make in disclosing my own predilections, preconceived notions, and personal opinions. Time magazine and author Bryan Walsh, either clearly do not, or chose to willingly abandon their journalistic principles with the cover story “The True Cost of Cheap Food.”
Along with a vocal minority on the internet, author Walsh used his cover story to promote a social agenda rather than reporting truth about food production systems in this country. Because of the relative wealth our nation enjoys, food production systems and family farming operations in this country have diversified significantly. Farms have, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, gotten both larger and smaller accordingly; some families chose to expand their operations to support multiple generations on the farm, or to enjoy a higher cost of living. Other farms, typically supported by off-farm jobs or multiple income earners in the household, scaled down to maintain the farm lifestyle, if not the sole source of income. Indeed, the smallest categories of farms recorded the largest number of new entrants into the field, so to speak, with more new farms springing up in those categories than in any other.
This renewed interest in farming, or at least in growing food, is both an opportunity and challenge for those of us concerned with the overall well being of farmers in America. I raise Shorthorn cattle, and own roughly 13 cows and their associated offspring. Does that qualify me as a farmer? Truthfully, I’ve never considered myself as such, primarily because I don’t think I produce enough to have earned the title. Farming, to me, you see, is the most noble profession on Earth, right up there with the clergy and firefighters. To till the soil, to tend the stock, to raise the produce that feeds an ever-growing and increasingly ungrateful society, is a profession worthy of respect and admiration. I’ve never thought I produced enough food to earn the title “farmer,” because I maintain my cattle operation as a hobby and lifestyle adjunct to my profession as a broadcast journalist and business owner.
On the other hand, dozens of social media activists with whom I converse through web portals like Facebook and Twitter would demure on that subject. While producing as little as a backyard tomato patch or summer garden, these self-proclaimed foodies proudly wear the mantle of “farmer.” Do they deserve to do so? Good question, and one I won’t deign to answer here. I pose the question simply to illustrate the divide in our culture over food. A divide, fortunately, quartered typically to those of us fostering one particular pole of the argument or the other. For folks like me, the family farm as I knew it growing up has changed significantly. My little brother, growing a few hundred acres of corn and beans, produces quite a bit more with far fewer resources than the family farm did thirty years ago, but he supports his farming habit with a good job off the farm nonetheless.
Likewise, the family farm on which I now reside has been tended by my in-laws and their forbears for generations. While larger in scale now than at any time previous, both generations involved in the operation work significant hours in their off-farm professions. And yet, the technology of both seed and plow allows them to produce infinitely more food than their ancestors. Thankfully so, given the challenge of feeding an exponentially expanding population abroad, and a population increasingly hungry for meat products supplied by American farmers and ranchers feeding American corn and beans.
Bryan Walsh, author of the Time smear piece of American agriculture, agreed to an interview on the nationally syndicated AgriTalk radio program with our friend and colleague Mike Adams this week. Walsh admitted that the Time piece was intentionally one-sided, that he intentionally ignored mainstream farming resources provided by groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and intentionally presented an agenda-driven op-ed as a factual piece of reporting. Like the mockumentary Food, Inc. and the numerous mythologies penned by Michael Pollan, these editorials are consumed by many Americans as the gospel, some because they don’t know any better, and a few because it furthers their own hate for farm families and farming practices that don’t validate their own set of ideals and cultural mores.
Food is food. I’ve said it early and often. If you choose to purchase “organic, sustainable, all natural, rBST-free, locally produced” milk from your local farmer’s market, CSA, or food co-op, good for you. I hope you have an enjoyable eating experience. I prefer to head to the store and buy good, old-fashioned food off the shelf, pay a fair price for it, and tip my hat to the thousands of farmers who helped produce my cart full. We can purchase the food we want produced and processed how we want thanks to the ingenuity of American farmers and food marketers. What we cannot allow, however, is the denigration of the mainstream food producer simply to satisfy the need for validation of a small clique of radical food elitists.
In this economy more now than ever, every farmer counts.