How do you eat an elephant?

General Creighton Abrams was a United States Army general in the Vietnam War. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly before his death in 1974. He once famously noted that, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”

In other words, when taking on a difficult task, do it slowly and carefully.

In contemporary politics, this process is referred to as incrementalism. defines it as “a policy of making changes, especially social changes, by degrees; gradualism.”

Recently, vegan activists launched an on-line petition calling for retail giant WalMart to stop selling a child’s toy. Not because it posed a physical threat to children, but because they just didn’t like it.

The now infamous “slaughter truck” is an  ERTL Big Farm 1:32 Peterbilt Model 579 Semi with livestock trailer. Just after this kerfuffle emerged, I ordered one for my 5-year-old grandson. It’s a model of a truck used to move livestock for a number of purposes and, yes one of those tasks is transporting animals to slaughter.slaughter

Many of my agriculture contemporaries rushed to point out the number of other jobs the real version of the truck performs, and that’s an important informational tool that’s been covered many other places, such as the Beef Magazine article by Amanda Radke, “Vegan Activists Flip Over Walmart toy “slaughterhouse” truck.” That ground has been plowed, so it doesn’t need me muddling it up.

The bigger question – the “elephant in the room” as it were – is why go after a product that obviously generates such a small volume of sales?

Walmart could easily assume that placating the protesters with such a modest offering would get them off their back. That would be the first bite of the elephant.

Making grandiose demands is great for grabbing headlines, but the small victories are easier to achieve. When the “slaughter truck” is gone, something else deemed offensive by the activists will fall into their sights.

Growing up, I used to hear the phrase “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” The end-game here is likely the mile, perhaps even so bold as to demand that meat sales be ceased. It’s not beyond the realm of comprehension.

How many of these activists do you think would have bought a toy like this anyway? They certainly could bypass the product and leave any of us alone that might choose to purchase it. Before they called attention to it, there wouldn’t have been that many sold.

Here’s where we might make the strategy backfire. What if a number of us in the ag community buy the toy, as I did, perhaps even depleting the entire stock? Walmart would likely take notice since they surely track such sales trends. It might make a bold statement, but even if it doesn’t a lot of happy kids will enjoy playing with a neat new truck.

Note: As of this morning, Walmart’s web page shows the item out of stock, so there’s already a small success. You can, however, click a button that says “get an in-stock alert” and I’m sure that message will be noticed as well.

If you don’t have a kid to buy for, some friends of mine have started a GoFundMe page where you can donate $5 or more toward purchasing  farm-related toys that will be donated to Toys For Tots or local toy drives this Christmas season. Find out more about it on Ryan Goodman’s Agriculture Proud blog.

Why don’t we try to ensure that the first bite of the elephant leaves a bad taste in their mouth?

A Parable of Ageism

A few things lately prompted me to go back and have a look at this post. I still think there’s something to it…

The Farmer Feeds Us All

Image Unquestionably, John Wayne is my favorite actor.  Not to say that all his films were of the caliber of The Searchers or Red River .  There were some stinkers, like the 1956 disaster, The Conqueror , in which Duke was cast as – wait for it – Genghis Kahn!?!

Another film that doesn’t rate high in Wayne’s artistic canon is 1971’s Big Jake.  The considerable talents of Bruce Cabot, Maureen O’Hara and Richard Boone were mostly squandered in this B-grade oater, but the real draw to me is the underlying theme of ageism.  I doubt Wayne and director George Sherman fully appreciated the significance of the statement they made about a grandfather searching for his kidnapped grandson.

Jacob McCandles shows up at his sprawling New Mexico ranch after an absence of 18 years, only to learn from his estranged wife (O’Hara) that a grandson he never knew he had, also his namesake, has been…

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Sustainability – what is it, really?

(I posted this about three years ago, but recent events have caused me to revisit it.)

An exchange that took place on Facebook one election day left me pondering a few things.

After urging Facebook friends to do their homework and vote for candidates that are pro-Ag, a comment appeared almost immediately correcting me.  Pro agriCULTURE my friend insisted, not agribusiness. I certainly understand his concerns about big money special interests influencing legislators and legislation, but we still have to be careful about drawing too many boundaries and dividing ag up into powerless fiefdoms.

Much of the divisive rhetoric within the agriculture community stems from some overused, misunderstood and misinterpreted catch phrases that are often used to gain the “moral high ground” for those who favor a particular methodology or discipline.  These terms most often defy definition, so they can be manipulated to support anything that anyone wants, thereby reducing them to being virtually meaningless.

Take for instance “sustainability,” one of the most ubiquitously amorphous aphorisms.  Recently we shot some video with a family that had been farming the same area for about 9 generations.

To me, anyone who’s been successful for that long deserves the sustainable appellation.  However, since their operation produces large numbers of animals in confinement, they are instead a “factory farm” in the eyes of those who make such pronouncements.  They are decent, God-fearing people who are modestly successful from a production standpoint, but place a premium on quality of family and community.  Their state-of-the-art facility is immaculate, their livestock are healthy and well cared for and they productively employ not only family members but neighbors as well.  Waste from their facilities has turned the surrounding cropland into black gold, producing record yields with little or no added chemical fertilizer.  It’s a model of efficiency and stewardship that should be celebrated, not castigated.  Yet, they do not receive the family farm mantle they deserve.  That’s reserved for production models that more closely resemble farms of the 1940′s; quaint, picturesque, earthy.  In short, romantic as opposed to realistic, profitable and efficient.

Agribusiness is another one that I guess I don’t properly comprehend.  My local feed mill or co-op are, to me, agribusinesses because they do business with farmers and ranchers.  Isn’t that agribusiness?  Apparently not.  Agribusinesses are those faceless corporate giants that mercilessly maraud and pillage the rural landscape, running honest farmers out of business with their genetically modified, patented seeds and products.  You know, the guys they talk about in the movie Food, Inc.  Well, as I asked my Facebook friend, where do you draw the line?  Is my small, local co-op OK, even though they sell products manufactured by the corporate black hats?  Should we condemn GMO’s even though the negative notions surrounding them are more conjecture than science?  How about those third-world countries that would have no agriculture if forced to use conventional seeds as opposed to GMOs?  I just don’t think the answers are as black-and-white as some would like them to be.

I’m not normally a huge fan of the Los Angeles Times, but a story resonated with me.  I puzzled over the title, “the facts about food and farming.” But, after reading it I found I agreed more than disagreed with author/chef Russ Parsons, and I encourage you to read it and decide for yourself.  Parsons states what I have always felt, that the truth is somewhere in the middle between the “hard-line aggies” and the “agricultural reformers.”  In the final analysis, Parsons says “Beware the law of unintended consequences. Developing tasteless fruits and vegetables was not the goal of the last Green Revolution; it was a side effect of a system designed to eliminate hunger by providing plentiful, inexpensive food, but that also ended up rewarding quantity over quality. We should always keep in mind that when we’re dreaming of a system that focuses on the reverse, we run the risk of creating something far worse than strawberries that bounce.”

So, rather than pointing fingers and hurling epithets at each other, should we not be arming ourselves to do battle with the legion of forces that seek to tell us how to care for our livestock and plant our crops?  We must avoid attitudes that divide or weaken us.  We don’t want to find ourselves in the situation described by the late cartoonist/philosopher Walt Kelly when he quipped “we have met the enemy and he is us!”

Can’t ya take a joke?!?!

onion-newsI sometimes enjoy the irreverent satirical humor of The Onion and its competitor The Daily Currant.

Problem is, some people just don’t get the joke.

Several times recently I’ve needed to point out that articles being shared all over social media with accompanying incredulous comments were, indeed, a spoof. These are generally perpetuated by folks of reasonable intellect. They just tend to take things at face value and, often, overreact.

This sort of behavior makes things like Chipotle’s recent foray into on-line television programming potentially more destructive. No doubt, there will be an element of the on-line community that mistakes these offerings as documentary evidence that those “big ag” folks are up to no good.

When these things start getting passed around with the “Look what they’re doing to us now!!!” comments, the ag community needs to be prepared to appropriately respond, not by attacking either the burrito barons or their unwitting accomplices but by providing context, acknowledging that Chipotle’s just trying to be humorous and sell some product. Product, by the way, that is made with ingredients not remarkably different than anyone else. In fact, the chain sometimes runs short of the stuff they usually use and resorts to sourcing ingredients from conventional agriculture. It seems at that point they would just shut down to preserve their “integrity,” but that’s not a call for me to make.

So be ready to gently intervene, but please stop short of saying something like “Aww, it’s all in fun!”

It’s not.

In fact, there’s really not one funny thing about it.

Atlas Shrugged

ImageIn Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan that supported the world on his shoulders. In recent history, Atlas was the name of the powerful early-season blizzard that slammed the Northern Rockies and the Northern Plains. With apologies to Ayn Rand, when this Atlas shrugged, the world of many South Dakota ranchers fell and shattered.

Up to four feet of snow, plummeting temperatures and howling winds were too much for an as yet undetermined number of livestock. Seasonably moderate temperatures the week before caused little reason to expect the devastating conditions that became known as Atlas.

I realize the government has been shut down and there’s currently no Farm Bill, but my question has been “Where’s the leadership on the federal level?”

The president certainly could have taken a few moments to express his regrets.  An appropriate time for that might have been in his remarks following the shutdown when he mentioned that an upcoming legislative priority would be passing a Farm Bill. “We should pass a farm bill, one that American farmers and ranchers can depend on, one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need, one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the long-term certainty that they deserve” he said, meaning of course that he wanted a Farm Bill that kept SNAP funding intact.  What a great place to mention the devastation in the Black Hills from this historic agriculture disaster. What a great place to urge sufficient disaster funding and better livestock indemnification, retroactive to the victims of Atlas. But, nothing of substance was said – no stirring call from the nation’s leader for strength, courage and resolve in the time of trial or even comforting words to at least let storm victims know that he cared as much about them as he did about the victims of Hurricane Sandy or any other disaster.

Theodore Roosevelt was a former rancher when he occupied the White House.  He once noted “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  The victims of the Atlas blizzard needed to know someone cared. They needed to feel that Washington was at least aware of what had happened to them. The USDA Secretary could have expressed condolences and a little compassion for those devastated by the Atlas blizzard, even if the federal offices were shut down.

It didn’t happen.

Much like the tree falling in the forest when no one’s there to hear it, four feet of snow fell in South Dakota in October and the rest of the country hardly noticed. It was close to a week before mentions began to appear in the national media.

Meanwhile, aggie bloggers were hard at work trying to do their part to call attention to the event. What they received for their efforts was rampant Monday morning quarterbacking by pundits that had no knowledge of livestock, chastising ranchers for not taking better care of their animals. Nobody really needed to hear that, especially since it couldn’t have been further from the truth.  As South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven mused on my Food and Farm radio show, “maybe it was good that the power was out so that most of the ranchers didn’t get to read those things.”

Several years ago, I traveled to Kansas City to speak to an Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) conference about the psychological impact of agricultural disasters. I met Dr. Stephen Van Wie there. Steve is a Wisconsin Veterinarian who shares my concern for the emotional welfare of disaster victims, having witnessed the psychological impacts of the British Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. You can hear a conversation with Steve on Food and Farm’s Spreaker channel at

The interview with Dustin Oedekoven is at

As peers line up behind the impacted ranchers with efforts like the #RancherReliefFund, it’s their way of saying, yes – someone does care.

Visit to donate at

I’ll have the chicken, hold the assault


Culver’s, known for its Butter Burgers and frozen dairy treats, has a line of premium chicken sandwiches and tenders, featuring antibiotic-free poultry.  Perhaps not what one would expect from the company that proclaims “Thank You Farmers!”

But is the message indeed inconsistent?  It might seem so when agriculturalists are up in arms about recent campaigns run by Chipotle and Panera. There has to be a little closer examination of the tone of the campaigns for context, however.

Culver’s ad features a real farmer (“Sammy” ) who thinks what he’s doing is good.  Culver’s co-founder Craig Culver talks about how good his restaurant’s “natural” chicken is (without telling us what an “unnatural” chicken is.)  Both guys are saying “our chicken is good” without any grand condemnation of any practices they deem objectionable.

Dr. Scott Hurd in a recent Food and Farm episode talked about how advertisers used to extol the virtues of their product without criticizing anyone else. Dr. Nevil Speer, in a different episode of Food and Farm, pointed out the positive image of using food producers in the advertising, as Culver has done.


And then there’s Panera.  Their campaign, which farmers got so hot about, featured a pill-like poultry-esque character called EZChicken and plenty of references that left little doubt that they were making a critical statement about conventional agriculture.


Taking things a step – maybe several steps – further, Chipotle released it’s ad and internet game “The Scarecrow,” which manufactures a whole new house of horrors in an attempt to vilify modern agriculture and gain the ethical upper hand by suggesting that consumers should be terrified of any food offering but theirs.

Is it OK for Culver’s to wave the all-natural, antibiotic-free banner which, as benign as their ads appear, is still misleading? No, and the agriculture community should engage them as they have attempted to engage Panera and Chipotle. Hopefully, the fast food chain that thanks farmers will be sensitive to the message.

Confront the Bullies

Some of my good friends in the agriculture industry – people I respect a great deal and care very much about – are suggesting that ag needs to leave the Chipotle ad alone and stop drawing attention to it.

May I suggest that is a potential mistake.

We talk a lot about transparency and I couldn’t agree more.  But ignoring this video and on-line game is less than transparent.  It’s almost like we’re hiding from it.

If you think no one’s paying attention to this campaign, just Google “Chipotle Scarecrow.”  A few of the articles you will find are:

Still think agriculture should not reasonably but boldly address the misinformation proffered by this campaign?

The Big Lie

In the dedication to his 1925 book Mein Kampf (My Struggle,) Adolph Hitler uses the term “The Big Lie” to describe the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

The tactic is in common and widespread use throughout today’s society, but perhaps nowhere as flagrant and flamboyant as Chipotle Mexican Grill’s new “Scarecrow” campaign. The package includes an arcade-style adventure game for Apple’s iOS devices, along with a companion animated short film of the same name. Publicity from Chipotle says “both the game and the film depict a scarecrow’s journey to bring wholesome food back to the people by providing an alternative to the processed food that dominates his world.” And that’s where the lie begins.

Casting their David and Goliath narrative in such noble terms is, to say the least, disingenuous. If Chipotle’s food isn’t processed, then what is it? It certainly isn’t raw.

Chipotle is a public offering on the New York Stock Exchange and, at this writing, is trading for $425.34 a share. The chain touts some 1,500 stores across the country, well short of other fast food chains but hardly a mom and pop taco truck.

Other blogs, like David Hayden’s Farming America have broken down The Lie very effectively, taking the hyperbole apart step by step and countering it with facts. A philosophical examination of the campaign would also seem in order.

“The Scarecrow” is, figuratively and literally, a Straw Man. As to motive, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about a straw man;

…a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged, emotional issues.”

So, there we are. Without actually calling it a debate, Chipotle has fired its rhetorical shots across the bow of “Big Ag” and “Big Food” while leaving itself the convenient back door of “hey, it’s just a cartoon – it’s just a game.”  The object of cartoons and games should be to create an enjoyable shared experience, but as a popular colloquialism states, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

The Chipotle campaign is hurtful, and it is apparently intended to be.  It’s divisive, demeaning and defamatory.  It’s mean-spirited. It’s bullying. It intends to create a commercial advantage, not to address any true greater good.

If that weren’t enough, the company proceeds to rub the consumer’s nose in the disdaining sarcasm by choosing as a soundtrack a remake of the song “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” performed by Fiona Apple. In other words, this IS pure imagination and we think you’re foolish enough to believe it.

There will be the requisite trolls visiting this blog and decrying it as unfair and uninformed. Other blogs have been preyed upon by comments about “knowing” that animal abuse and unsafe foods are “rampant” because they’ve seen the YouTube videos and watched the “documentaries” on Netflix. That’s where their information comes from, so the next logical step for them would be a total buy-in to a campaign created by burrito barons trying to sell more faux-mexican food. All this from a company that touts “food with integrity.”

Unfortunately, animal abuse does exist. No one is denying or excusing that. But just like food safety concerns, they are the exception and not the rule. That’s why those “investigative” video and documentary makers refuse to tell you just how much footage was left on the cutting room floor.

It’s high time someone stood up to the food bullies and called their hand.

Matters of the Heart

ImageOn Valentine’s Day 2013 I learned I had a broken heart.  The murmur, as it had been referred to for all my 61 years had now become Severe Aortic Stenosis and needed to be quickly repaired.  I underwent surgery February 21 only to find there was also an aortic aneurysm dangerously close to rupture. In all, three operations were performed during the one surgical session

I’m at home recovering now and to answer the many questions that arose through social media, I thought I’d make a few simple facts available. My prognosis is full recovery in three months or less.

There are more things I want to say about such circumstances, like the value of animal use in human heath, but right now my whirring mind well outpaces my recovering body.

Most of all, I just wanted to say thanks. To God, for his mercy and manifest blessings, to all my family, to a world-class team of cardiovascular doctors, surgeons, nurses, rehab specialists and staff, and to those of you who have passed along your expressions of care and concern.

Lord willing, I just might hang around a little while longer.

Civil Discourse

ImagePsychologist and professor Kenneth J. Gergen describes civil discourse as “the language of dispassionate objectivity”, and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other’s moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant’s experiences.(Wikipedia)

A fellow ag journalist recently engaged in civil discourse when he courteously disagreed with me in his opinion column.  I thank him for that – not because I enjoy being disagreed with but because he was willing to honor my point of view while expressing a differing opinion.  That’s the way it should be.

It seems that many of today’s more outspoken voices have read and subscribed to the Saul Alinsky Book “Rules for Radicals.” The way I read it, the book encourages conflict, not conflict resolution. It’s not about finding common ground or even agreeing to disagree.  It’s about winning an argument at any cost. There’s nothing civil about it.

Only when the privilege of disagreement is honored can dissenting parties begin to discuss their differences and find that, often, there are areas of agreement that lead to acceptable resolutions.

I’m sure some will disagree.  Please do so honestly and thoughtfully and perhaps the process will be more productive.


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