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NHF-ONE19 Cristen Clark_Pig Session.1540.jpg Courtesy of Cristen Clark

Drop your ag title and pick up your human title

Exclusion is far from the Iowa pork producer’s goals today when she communicates with consumers through cooking contests, her family heirloom recipes and her blog Food and Swine.

“Don’t you think your dad wished he’d had boys?”

Cristin Clark will never forget those words a family member uttered across the family dinner table so many years ago. It was the first time she ever felt excluded from the family farm and she says it still drives her today.

Exclusion is far from the Iowa pork producer’s goals today when she communicates with consumers through cooking contests, her family heirloom recipes and her blog Food and Swine. In fact, Clark says her ultimate objective is to engage.

“I encourage you when you meet people that do have questions about our food system, drop your ag title and pick up your human title,” Clark says. “Make a connection and listen to people and understand what they want to hear instead of what we love to tell them, which is all the production and science that drives us forward every day.”

Those words of advice stem from Roxi Beck, vice president at Look East who also works with the Center for Food Integrity. Clark says Beck is the one who encouraged her to “drop the ag title” and to communicate through shared values instead of talking about competence, skills and abilities on the farm to further gain consumer trust. So far that strategy has worked for Clark, but she also sees other areas for the industry to improve upon.

During her presentation, “From City Life to Farm Life: Cultivating Consumer Awareness,” at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference, Clark shared three consumer trends that she believes deserve attention:

  • Legislative brands
  • Food porn out, stories in
  • Transparency 2.0

It was the second trend Clark mentioned that caught my ear not because of the potential R-rating implications, but because it was so refreshing to hear.

“Has anyone seen an Instagram picture where all the food is incredibly perfect? Everything looks manicured. The food is gorgeous,” Clark says. “You actually think the food tastes better because of the pictures of it. Now the idea of beautiful food is taking a back seat to the stories and traditions of food.”

Now don’t get me wrong, the filters on Instagram have saved a family photo or two and brightened up dull, drab snapshots over the years, however they can be misleading. For example, maybe that pork chop you pulled off the grill was cooked way over the 145-degree recommended temperature and was actually dry and tough. We’ll never know from that picture-perfect filtered shot.

Instead of the beauty of food, Clark says consumers are now more interested in the humanity of food, and the experiences surrounding that food. This falls in line with a study by Harris Group that found that 72% of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things.

First full disclosure here, my birthdate technically falls in this millennial group, although more times than not I feel I couldn’t be farther from this demographic cohort. But this statistic Clark shared during her presentation struck a chord. Rather than taking photos, I often find myself soaking in the experience and so many of those experiences revolve around food.

One of the first times I joined my husband’s family for Thanksgiving I was surprised to find out we were having ham as well as the traditional turkey. The family joke is his 92-year-old grandmother always seems to have a ham up her sleeve at any family gathering. All joking aside I loved seeing the family relish Grandma’s ham, one of many recipes that has been passed down through the generations.

It’s those stories consumers want to hear, Clark says.

“People are hungry, not only for the food but the story behind it,” Clark says.

So maybe after the next family barbecue, instead of just posting your insta-perfect pork chop, include the family recipe for that perfect rub or marinade along with why you choose to serve your family such a nutritious, delicious source of protein. Drop the ag title, be human and share those experiences.

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