Mr. Smith Plays the Farm Card

Picture an angry young man with a sign. He appears to be agitated, holding a sign that condemns what his opponent stands for. There’s a chain link fence behind him.

Take a second to capture how you feel about those three sentences. Has your heart rate jumped? Do you associate with the protester? Do you want to get in his face?

Whatever your reaction, that is the first impression you get when reading The 10 Reasons They Hate You So, a clearly provocative post on the site Truth in Food.

With your blood now pumping, the author, Mike Smith, takes you through the first five parts of “his” defense of industrialized food (his agenda is clearly bigger than his own). Had he not presented the image I mentioned above or used words like “hate” in his title, the piece would have likely slipped under the radar. My guess is he knew exactly what he was doing.

Right from the start, Mr. Smith works hard to make “good food” advocates out to be a powerful force hellbent on destroying our abundant food system. He goes so far as to refer to these people as the “food-consumer-activist complex.” It’s laughable to pit citizens against the real force in our food system – the Food-Pharma-Health Complex, especially when you consider how unchecked these industries have become in the U.S. economy.

Now on to Mr. Smith’s Top 10:

#1:  They hate you because you trust in science.

Science is Mr. Smith’s answer to the world’s problems. The advancement of science has always offered tremendous power in improving our well-being. But when it becomes entirely controlled by for-profit entities that leverage it for the sole purpose of making money, all bets are off. You see, our democratically-elected government has been giving capitalism a free ride for decades, allowing near-monopolistic industries to hide behind science. Consumer health be damned, we’ve got to feed the world (and our shareholders) with calories (and cash), regardless of the side effects.  I’m fairly certain that most serious sustainable food advocates don’t question the value of science. What we do question is the application of scientific discovery, which has been concentrated in the hands of a handful of corporate giants through invention or acquisition with a single bottom line in mind – money.

#2: They hate you because you’re messing with their kids.

I’m not a highly educated woman, but I am the father of four kids. Does that mean I can’t be against industrialized food? Is it out of the question that I am concerned for more than my own family? It would seem that being concerned about the welfare of children equates to being a “new-age anti-tech advocate.” How does Mr. Smith rationalize such an absurd claim? He bashes leading sustainable food voices that have extensive knowledge backed by equally extensive research to back up their claims. Mr. Smith, I’m starting to believe you don’t like women; or kids for that matter.

#3: They hate you in order to fight the power.

What is science other than man’s way of trying to make sense of (and control in many cases) what is an otherwise complex world? I would never suggest that such a quest is without merit, but to put it ahead of the human spirit is what bothers many who push back against science-driven industry’s onslaught to reshape the natural world. Apparently, Mr. Smith believes that man has the potential to do this without harm. I wonder if he stopped to think that all of that is based on “belief.” On a related note, after bashing academically inclined thinkers several times by this point in his post, Mr. Smith is starting to appear very academic to me with his citing of Gandhi, Foucault, Borlaug, Berry and others. I wonder if he realizes that he may just be one of “us”.

#4. They hate you because you’re white.

Minority ownership of U.S. farms is concentrated in small, barely-getting-by farms, not the heavily subsidized, monoculture crop farms that feed our industrial food system. Stop playing the “Farm Card” Mr. Smith. It is without merit. I’d also recommend you stop acting like an academic with phrases like “today’s postmodern critics of food production deal in symbol and metaphor.” Letting your true colors show through like this can’t be good for your reputation in the non-foodie, profit-at-any-cost industrial food space.

#5: They hate you because you’re male.

Again, Mr. Smith plays the Farm Card, this time with regard to gender. He tries to make it sound as if all those women working on farms are on par with the male-dominated, monoculture, heavily subsidized farm operations that dominate farming acres and revenues. You miss again, Mr. Smith. The problem is that after making such an argument, first on race, then on gender, you give the reader such a clear indication of your bias. Did you intend to do that? Did you intend to convince those opposed to your position to convert? In either case, I must say your tactics lack sophistication and will have little impact other than to further polarize the debate. Well played. Not.

With that, I can hardly wait for Mr. Smith’s next five hateful reasons to further polarize the knowledge gap between farmers and eaters. I’m especially excited to read how he invokes Norman Rockwell and Ronald Reagan to make his points. Reagan is a no brainer, but Rockwell intrigues me.

Yipee!

9 responses to “Mr. Smith Plays the Farm Card

  1. I certainly agree, Mr. Smith’s agenda clearly IS bigger than his own. My 16 yr old laughed her way thru his ‘funny five’ and said, “He needs to take some debate classes!”

  2. ive read that post a few times Rob, and I’ve got to say each time I got so worked up that I literally didn’t have the ability to respond. Happy that you were able to take on this intellectual crime. bravo

  3. Margie Miller had an interesting, as well as a very informative rebuttal on her blog – take a look.

    ttp://plantingtruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/we-try-to-hate-you-but-we-just-cant/#comment-4

  4. Thanks for posting this. I left him a message too. A good rant deserves a good rant!

  5. Pingback: The Local Beet: Chicago » Gourmet Free Linky Wednesday?

  6. Anthony Boutard

    Rob,

    As a white, male farmer with an education heavy to science, I guess I should be feeling the hatred out there . . . I’m not, though. Leaving aside Smith’s disgusting, divisive tactics, I was struck by his notion of “trust in science.”

    Science is not an article of faith, it is an accumulation of knowledge. Sometimes that “knowledge” is wrong, and further inquiry adds to our insights. That is why we have hundreds of peer reviewed scientific journals. When people such as Smith speak of trusting science, they are treating science as a religion, substituting the notion of faith for the basic tenet of scientific inquiry, critical thinking. The same sort of bloke will follow up with an earnest explanation of the science behind creation and how humans walked with dinosaurs, after all evolution is just a theory. Or the other silliness of the day, why global warming doesn’t exist, or is good for us, often in the same sentence. Faith-based science is neither.

    Leaving aside Smith’s erroneously creating a religious motif for science, I think it is useful to understand the role science plays in farming. It is important to recognize there are different scientific disciplines. I live among farmers, and I have found that we work often within very different scientific idioms.

    For example, as an organic farmer, I see the world through the eyes of an ecologist and biologist. The fact that we have frogs and salamanders in our yams is of greater significance to me than the aphids and pigweed. To neighboring farmers, my fields are as inscrutable as an unknown language. One day, I was talking to a tenant on a neighboring farm, and he asked what I intended to do with the idle plot near the road. That “idle” land was generating a healthy cash flow in winter crops. It was providing food to several restaurants and couple hundred regular market customers. To him, the field was as indecipherable as Mandarine Chinese. We grow dozens of crops in a seemingly haphazard fashion, a patchwork of grains, nuts tree fruit and vegetables.

    A grass-seed farmer, he has clean fields and straight rows. He rotates the three year ryegrass crop with a year each of clover for seed and winter wheat. He operates within the science of chemistry. He is a competent farmer, and knows his application rates and how to use chemistry to generate a certified weed-free crop. He tests his soil and foliage regularly. The fields are scouted regularly for disease and pests. His approach is prescriptive. The banks that finance operations such as his hold crop liens as security. If the farmer follows the management prescription specified in the loan agreement, the loan is secured only by the crop, not the land or his machinery. While the agreement protects the farmer and the bank, it rests heavily on reducing risks with agricultural chemicals.

    Both farms are operated using a scientific framework. The difference is that we emphasize very different disciplines in our management and, as a result, our fields are managed differently. We also address risk and uncertainty differently, and measure yields using different parameters. I would never want to walk in his shoes, nor he in mine, I imagine. Nonetheless, I admire Dave because he is adept at the logistics of scale, just as I hope I am adept at the logistics of diversity. Dave and I disagree about farming, but the disagreement is not based in hatred or lack of scientific literacy. That is why Smith’s attempt to divide people is so sad.

    Thanks for your work at untangling all of these issues.

    Anthony Boutard
    Ayers Creek Farm

  7. Truth in Food is Back with five more of The 10 Reasons they Hate you So! Why all the resentment toward Big Farming? http://bit.ly/2QSCWz

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