Last week, T.V. host Dr. Oz discussed America’s bacon problem without America’s pig farmer invited to the conversation. As many of you discussed with me, Dr. Oz is now in the entertainment business, working to boost viewers. And his intention was never to have pig farmers as part of the discussion. You are correct.
However, millions — food eaters, moms, dads — tune into Dr. Oz, a certified medical physician for helpful health tips. While you and I can see the inaccuracy in some of the information presented on the show, doctors remain one of the trusted sources for consumers.
For consumers, fear will always trump taste and price. Although it is obvious Dr. Oz will utilize all shiny objects to attract viewers and advertisers to keep the show on the air, those tuning in do not recognize the tactics. They are seeking information to feel safe about the food they put in their mouth.
While Dr. Oz illustrates that those opposing animal agriculture will do about anything to feed fear, it is our job as farmers and ranchers to make consumers more comfortable with the way we raise animals and crops.
So, how can you make consumers feel “safe” about their food?
Stop the fairy tale mindset: Anyone opposed to raising animals for meat or raising animals differently than the norm is seen as the enemy. Communication expert, Karen Kerns, says farmers often see themselves at war with anyone against eating meat, genetically modified crops, antibiotic use or pesticide-herbicide-fertilizer use. The agriculture industry response is to make the farmer the hero and resistant stakeholder the villain. “Those roles only exist in fairy tales,” Kerns wisely points out.
She further explains the problem is not the farmers’ lack of success but the difference of opinions, ideas and practices. Those differences create some beliefs that cause a conflict because one party wants to infringe on the other party which equals war. The war continues as each side continues to sabotage or attack one another.
Repairing a communication rupture with resistant stakeholders involves sitting through the discomforting dialogues and inviting the other side to voice their concern. However, it is essential to understand that certain parties will not extend the invitation to talk. So, it is better to focus the food conversation with those asking questions and not on a war mission.
Abandon the defense ’tude: The conflict really exists at a difference of opinion. While there are those who we may never convince to eat meat, there are many consumers in the middle. So, we need to focus on the middle. If we approach a question about how food animals or crops are raised with an open mind and attitude to answer with transparency, we will make a bigger step forward in making consumers feel safe about their food.
Focus on the relationship: Consumers want local food. Therefore, start building relationships in the community by investing time at the local school, community event or with a grocery store owner. People do business with people and if they trust you as pig farmers then they feel more secure about the pork they buy in the store. Furthermore, consumers have someone they trust to answer their questions. “We can convert a culture, but it happens just like ministry — have a relationship with one human being at the time, changing their experience because experience trumps belief,” Kerns explains.
Engage in the story: Moreover, influencing people is about making them feel safe. People must feel secure to change their belief. Food is emotional. People bake homemade cookies not because it’s healthy but because it conjures up warm fuzzy feelings about grandmother’s house. Stories about farming are more powerful than any data we can share. Can you create that same warm fuzzy feeling for people by engaging them in your agriculture story?