You are watching a professional basketball game. As usual the game is fast paced, exciting, and, for the most part enjoyable. The game slows down a bit for a free throw due to an offensive foul. The "rock" is thrown up and...brick!.
This is what I believe happens with the term Big Ag. The term is thrown out there like a basketball (rock) heading to the rim only to brick. This could be semantics, but here is the thing; semantics matter, ALLOT. Semantics defined, is the branch of linguistics that studies the meaning of words. What is meant means more than what is said. Take one of my favorite expressions from my southern roots, "Bless your heart". Unless you are culturally aware, you may think this statement is meant as a positive; however, in the south this is not so positive. We southeners use this statement as a way to not offend people when we do not have anything nice to say. So what is meant means much more that what is said.
So isn't it about time my #Profood counterparts do one of two things: Define Big Ag or just stop using the term altogether. I prefer the latter. It just detracts from a conversation because inevitably the question will be asked: What is Big Ag? The conversation will then focus on this instead of debating real issues, like safe, healthy food, stable food supplies, food insecurity, and future direction of agriculture, GM foods, and many others.
I took part in a #Twitter conversation last night, well according to some I didn't take part and just jumped into the middle of it. I believe that twitter conversations are meant to be broad and include our entire network. If you don't like having people take part in a discussion, use the DM functionality or migrate over to email; otherwise, please expect me to take part in discussions that pertain to any and all aspects of the world wide food supply chain. It is my passion so I cannot help myself.
So, why bring this conversation up and how does it pertain to defining Big Ag?
Here is why:
As you may already be aware, Michael Pollen was invited by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to speak about sustainable agriculture. It is also a well known fact that many in agriculture have a beef with Pollen and his stated positions. I am not going to get into the differences, but suffice it say, there are more than a few. Given this fact, one of the donors, who happens to be a rancher, Harris Ranch did not like a one-sided lecture and wanted a panel discussion instead that included meat expert(s), industry, and Pollen. Harris informed the school that they would not be donating funds if there was not a fair and balanced discussion.
As you can imagine, this did not go over well with my #profood counterparts. Many were livid. The disdain for Harris Ranch's action was very apparent. Obviously, this was another Big Ag move to block their voice to be sure the truth was squashed once again. Big Ag was running scared and using their massive power to keep down the little guy again. It figures, right? This is always what Big Ag does; we keep the truth hidden so we can keep pillaging the land, produce un-healthy food, and squandering Mother Earth.
This is the knee-jerk reaction I have seen many times. Now Harris was getting attacked by people who knew ZERO about the operation, people, and business. In a matter of a few tweets, Harris Ranch was now Big Ag.
As the day progressed yesterday, the usual banter went back and forth. I just watched from the sideline as yesterday was a bit busy. I finally had spare time in the evening and noticed a good discussion about the previous Pollen/Harris event. My first question: Is Harris Ranch Big-Ag? If so, why? And please define what Big-Ag means. I did not receive an answer, mostly due to the fact, I was told, that my intentions are too hard to read. Fair enough. Let this serve as my intentions. I really want to know what Big Ag is. Seriously....what is it?
So, instead of discussing the merits of why a panel may or may not have been better for an educational venue in terms of food, we spent wasted time trying to define Big Ag, and neither of the parties was going to capitulate. Dead End.
Let's just do away with this term. As @JeffFowle said in a twitter update "Big" is NOT "Bad". To which my response is, EXACTLY. What you do, what values, morals, and ethics you live by defines whether or not you are "Bad", both personally and professionally.
So there is no mistake and it is crystal clear:
There are folks in our industry that do not abide by the rules, but these are the few. The problem is that the few is the focus of the discussion. News in our country revolves around sensationalism, and it is really hard to take the good, hard work 98% of the farmers do each and every day and make it newsworthy. This translates to a position that the agricultural industry cannot be trusted and produces un-healthy food. Then we wonder why the consumer acts a certain way?
So, the question remains: What is Big Ag?