Discernment in Advertising

Having Discernment in Advertising when hearing messages about farming is an important skill to develop.

Importance of Using Discernment in Advertising

I was invited to an adjacent school district in 2010 for the first time to be one of eight to ten speakers sharing a 40 minute presentation eight times throughout the day on food.  Each speaker reaches most of the eighth graders.  The school requires all eighth-graders to read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and they study multiple aspects of food during their “Health and Wellness Day”.

I learned a lot from the reactions of the students as we conversed back in 2010.  I made samples of pork fajitas and offered them to each group of students.  At least 90 plus percent of the morning groups happily accepted a sample.  Then the tone changed and I didn’t know why.  Only half of the students were willing to accept samples, and the questions about why farmers treat animals so poorly began to be fired at me.  Attitudes changed after hearing a presentation from a Chipotle representative.

I finished the day and went up the hall to talk with the Chipotle presenter.  She showed me her slides on “factory farms” and explained how bad they are.  Then she showed pictures of the type of farms their pork comes from that clearly {to me} had been enhanced in Photoshop including cute decorative borders.  The angles, lighting, etc. were very different on the slides.  At that time the presenter had only been to one farm in Iowa, so I invited her to tour an Ohio farm that has gestation stalls.  She was busy for months at a time, but I just kept inviting her.  She eventually turned down the offer all together.

So in the fall of 2011 the line-up of speakers included Chipotle again.  I added these two slides to the end of my upbeat presentation that addressed why farms are bigger and why farms have changed over time.

Woman holding kid by Holstein cows in framed picture
A family dairy farm in Ohio in the summer

I began talking up how these local farmers care so much for their animals, how the cows are happy outside {just like the Chipotle chick} lalala…you get the picture.

Young kid in dirty straw in dairy barn
A family farm in Ohio in the winter

Then I flipped to this picture and asked what the group thought.  In every group someone pointed out the cow with the “crazy eyes” and asked if she was okay.  Then I said since the barn looks dirty these people must not care as much as the first farmers.

I flipped back to the pretty one and suggested that we dissect each photo.  As a group we determined that I don’t really wear nice clothes like that to the barn.  We acknowledged that the frame gave the photo a classier look and that the picture was taken by a professional photographer with top notch equipment.

I shared that the second photo was actually at the same farm and taken with a cheap, point and shoot camera that had a dirty lense.  Thus the cause of the “crazy eyes”.  The cow was fine.  She was cautiously coming up to sniff my Little Farmer and check out what he was doing.  The lighting caught her eyes the wrong way.  We also said that it was a cold winter day in Ohio and that the cows likely preferred to be in a barn.  Part of real life in a barn is….yep, you got it just like the eight graders….poop.  We put fresh bedding in that area with straw where the cows laid two times every day.  The cows liked to lie down.  We would get them up and guide them towards the parlor to be milked.  After lying down for the day they would stand up and…..yep, poop.  This picture was taken just after getting the cows up in the evening and just before fresh bedding was put in the shed.  That’s what the Little Farmer and I were there for, to help move bales of straw and shake them up.  The picture was also taken on a snowy day when the sky was gray versus on a nice day with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

In 2011 I also had several students share that the Chipotle speaker showed their new Back to the Start video and another group showed the Meatrix.  The students pointed out that this video that I shared was the only one that showed real people and animals and footage inside of real barns.  The others were made from “claymation” or animated.

I concluded by encouraging the group to consider reality, be critical of pictures and stories and use discernment in advertising.  It really cut down on questions about these so called “factory farms”.   I encourage you to use to the same critical thinking that this group is working to develop.

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  1. Great post Jen! You are absolutely right, most consumers are getting information about food production from people who have never been on a farm. Thank you for speaking out and giving such a great illustration of how easy it is to make a certain way of farming look bad and others look more ‘glorified.’ I hope more and more farmers will take time to share what daily life is like for them and their animals.

  2. I am so proud that you are my friend.

  3. Well done! Bashing and thrashing around does little to strengthen either side of the issue. I hope more aggies will go back to the “having a conversation” mentality. It’s a tough world out there….we cannot always come together and sing….but we can open our minds to possibilities. Thank you.

  4. Brings up the question- do YOU know what your kids are being required to read and watch at school?

    Great blog. As a consumer I don’t appreciate the passive aggressive scare tactics put into play by some businesses now, that subtle bit of fear and/or guilt used to promote their product over another.

  5. I remember that conversation with the Chipotle lady like it was yesterday. She kept referring to “our farm” and “our farmer”, but when pressed further we discovered that this is one of the many farms they purchase from. She sure made it sound like this was a Chipotle owned farm and were involved in the daily care of the animals. I truly was hoping that she would go on an Ohio farm tour with us and was greatly disappointed that after several attempts by YOU, Jennifer, she turned us down flat. Thanks for trying! Maybe we’ll get the opportunity to share with Chipotle that there are several great ways to raise livestock.

  6. When are these great posts going to make the media already!! Awesome way to stand up to a corp. like an adult and not just throw down in the hallway (my wife would have probably had to talk me down from that one LOL) but great story and thanks for sharing, sending over to the Reblog!


  7. Reblogged this on Small Nebraska Farming and commented:
    Here’s another great Family Farm story. Again, the Corporate world thinks that because they have the media behind them that you will listen to everything they say. DON’T! Your food comes form us, and only we (the farmer/rancher) know where your food comes from, how its raised, and what it means. Help the family farmer/rancher spread the word to Corporate America that we won’t stand for the lack of understanding and nonsense!

  8. You can deconstruct the photos all you want. But what you can’t show the kids in the photos are what’s really wrong with factory farming: The antibiotic residue. The growth hormones in beef and dairy. Broilers engineered to grow so fast they can’t walk and many suffer from heart failure. The resistant strain of E Coli that is much more likely to breed in cattle kept on a grain diet. The higher death rates of animals kept in CFAOs. The massive manure lagoons which occasionally run-over during storms (tainting water supplies). The fact that factory-farmed meats are often so rich in filth/pathogens that hamburger has to be saturated with ammonia before it’s packaged. Is this what kids should be eating?

    Or the damage to the farmers themselves: the corporations can specify everything from shed design to diet to breed of animal, taking all the choices out of farming. The farmer enjoys a few years of guaranteed income from a contract that promises to buy a set number of birds. Then the corporation tweaks the terms a bit. Or wants him to change the shed. If he resists, they can drop the contract. And with only a few giant meat corporations controlling 80%+ of the meat processed & sold in America, what choice does he have? Farmers have gone bankrupt because they build the massive sheds a corporation specified and when the price for the meat dropped a few years later, it’s the farmer not the corporation left holding the bag. Farmers are going from supplier to subcontractors to indentured servants. They’re taking all the risk to maintain a contract a team of lawyers wrote up. And it’s their family’s home they lose, if they can’t make the loan payments on the $500,000 they borrowed to build new poultry sheds.

    It’s good you’re smart enough to examine photos. But I think what you’re missing is that there is a world out there *other* than factory farming. Not all family farmers subscribe to the factory farming approach — and yet they stay in business. Clearly it must be possible to raise livestock successfully without factory-farming it, as evidenced by the suppliers for Chipolte.

    Education is the key to protecting the family farm from the corporate-specified high-density industrialized factory farm. The more consumers realize the health and environmental benefits of meat products made from healthier, more naturally raised animals, the more the demand will go up. The less farmers are being forced into molds big ag giants such as JimmyDeal and Tyson create. Unfortunately when someone goes into a school and tells children how awesome high-density high-confinement production can be, the cause of the good family farm & of healthier eating is set back.

    1. Hello @Calico – I’m interested to know if you think I’m promoting high-density high-confinement production or the good family farm & healthier eating?

    2. Oh, Calico. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh at your post. So I will ask where you are getting your information. I also want to know whether you’ve seen any of what you claim with your own eyes? I highly doubt it. If you had you would know that you are repeating the same misinformation that the followers of Michael Pollan spew. Repeating misinformation doesn’t make it the truth. Pollan is manipulating popular opinion and making a ton of money doing it.

      I know it’s tough to be a consumer today, we are bombarded with so many conflicting messages. It’s hard to know if we are getting messages based on science, pseudo-science, marketing or politics. But you really need to visit some farms…farms of all sizes and production practices. There’s plenty more to be learned about farms and food production. Oh, here’s an interesting fact I learned yesterday from a university level plant pathologist ( I trust him as an expert)…organic apple producers can use antibiotics on their trees and fruit. I didn’t know that and I’ll be you didn’t either.

  9. Wonderful blog post. You are an inspiration! As an Ohio dairy producer and mom of young boys, I can relate to your post. We host several groups at our dairy each year and usually get “factory farm” questions. For many of the high school and college students I’ve hosted, their main source of information about farms and food systems are Food Inc., Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, or other books/movies like these. As food producers, it’s our responsibility to share accurate information in a positive way. You have done this perfectly. Thank you!

  10. Excellent information in your blog. Would also be interested in what Calico thought you were promoting. As a farmer in a family farm operation with livestock, I’m often surprised about how “oppressed” by the corporations our family is perceived to be. Yes, we are raising our livestock and growing our grain to meet the expectations of the market — but that is what every business is doing that is supplying consumers, isn’t it? Meeting market demand. We care about our animals and do everything we can to keep them comfortable and healthy. Just ask the three little calves that recently spent some time in my bathroom on a very, very cold night instead of outside.

  11. I wished I would have learned about framing at an early age. Framing is a large part of success, it takes a trained eye to recognize enhanced photos and stories. I think the sensitivity of our society comes from framing, thank you for making the next generation think.

    Thank you for being a courageous advocate for agriculture!

  12. Steve Joehl says:

    Nice work…..taking off the facade is what it is all about. Thank you for your commitment to setting the record straight.

    Midwestern Ag Professional and Ill Farmer

  13. Great post! Always puzzles me that people watch animal rescue shows with companion pet neglect and abuse but never believe ALL pet owners abuse their pets . . . so why is this not translated when talking about farmers/ranchers? And that’s not even talking about taking everyday photos and putting a different spin on them. If I saw a surgery pic and didn’t know what was going on, could say that Dr. is killing patient.

    Farmers/ranchers in my opinion are more caring and knowledgable stewards then any profession. Thanks for the post Jennifer!

    1. Farmchick says:

      I’ve wondered that as well, mcdeieio. Especially when these same people that rescue pets and have family pets insists they must be inside, yet when it comes to protecting my livestock from the weather (and meeting the more and more strict EPA guidelines) we keep our animals inside, it’s not what we should be doing.

      We all need to work hard to get the real faces and stories of agriculture out there to the public, they have been denied the truth long enough.

  14. Great post! Great points!! You’ve left me with lots to ruminate on.

  15. Awesome post, I’m glad you brought up the challenges that come in discerning true advertising and gimmicks. It annoys me that Chipotle representatives come to preach and point fingers without any practical knowledge.

    Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. Great work!

  16. Isn’t it peculiar that we can pack thousands of people into high rise apartments but it’s cruel to house animals in the same manner?

  17. trufflemedia says:

    Thanks for the post _and_ for sharing your approach to connecting with the kids the next year. It is important to pick up on how marketing and advertisement work and apply that understanding+share that with others.

  18. This was a very interesting post, one being that eighth graders had to read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and two beacuse it is great that students can pick out the different photos and the misconceptions they lead on. I thought it was very interesting that schools were bringing in speakers to speak about this topic to young students who don’t know enough to make decisions on food purchases. I think this idea would be great for high school or even college students but middle school students have not experienced having to make big purchases and would probably not care to learn about them either. I think this is an important thing to teach the public so they don’t believe those videos or pictures that edited to put agriculture in a bad light. There is so much we have to do as agriculturalist to share our story but it is important that we do it and take the effort to go to schools and talk about farming or take them to a farm. Agriculture should be a subject that is taught in every level of education.

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