Yesterday, I sat in on a brainstorming session at the University of Vermont with Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food. Attendees representing UVM faculty, farmers, non-profits and others were working on identifying agriculture and food system research priorities. Interesting discussion. Lots of challenges.
One thing that jumped out to me during a back-and-forth with Mr. Roberts was the tension between producers and consumers. As the knowledge gap between the two has grown over the last 50 years, due to consumers not needing to understand food processing in today’s convenience-driven food system, as well as our increasingly-difficult-to-understand, complex food infrastructure, so has our ability to engage in civil and constructive debates about how to improve the food we eat.
Producers are frustrated with consumer ignorance, while consumers are increasing concerned about their health and well being related to the foods they are eating. The challenge is figuring out how to get both sides constructively talking versus discounting or outright ignoring each others’ opinions.
Take for example my attempt to respond to Monsanto’s recent blog post regarding Food, Inc., where the author describes interactions with the documentary’s producer, Elisa Pearlstein.
When I got the call, I asked a number of questions: “Who would be in it? Who would present the opposing view? Who was funding the film? Would the film present balance and fairness or present one side of the story?”
Over the course of a few weeks, Elise and I talked and e-mailed several times, but I never felt I had those key questions answered. Despite this, we invited Elise and a crew to a trade show to learn more about Monsanto, agriculture and talk with farmers. They opted not to come to the show.
When I read the post, I wanted more substance. I wanted to know what was said and not said between Darren (Monsanto) and Elise. My guess was that Darren’s brief blog post intentionally glossed over much of that discussion, and conveniently presented his side. So, I posted a comment on the Monsanto blog that was awaiting moderation last night, but was gone by this morning. I guess I didn’t pass Monsanto’s Comment Policy.
Here is my comment as posted:
While I don’t doubt that conversations were had between you and Elise Pearlstein, it is difficult to trust at face value your version of the story.
After all, Monsanto has posted a formal review of the documentary that claims the film “demonizes American farmers”, among other things.
Such a reaction, assuming Monsanto is interested in “taking part and sharing in rich conversations about the important challenges facing agriculture, food production and our well being,” makes it clear that Monsanto isn’t interested in any of this.
When your company starts answering to consumers that are directly impacted by your products, rather than exclusively to your shareholders, then we will know the company is changing.
Had such a comment been posted on my blog, I would have posted it for others to read and comment on. I would have also responded directly to it with additional information to help the author improve his/her understanding. Not posting it at all is a dead end.
Too bad, but not too surprising given today’s polarized debate regarding food.
Things have to change.
UPDATE: Monsanto posted my comment on its blog. Now we wait for a response to the post. Stay tuned.
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This blog post is a proud supporter of FoodRenegade’s Fight Back Friday series.