I mentioned previously that I went to see Trent Loos talk a few weeks ago, hosted by the Food Animals Club at the Ohio 4-H Center (which is a great facility for events like this on campus, if you’ve never been). This is not by far the first time I’ve heard Trent Loos talk, but it was definitely the first time I’ve seen him talk under the heading “Stop Defending Agriculture”. Trent Loos has traditionally been a huge proponent of speaking up and voicing your personal story, defending the American agricultural experience and the importance, pride and adventure of the endeavor. He even helped in the distribution of shirts, one of which I own, with the headline “In Defense of Agriculture. Embracing Technology. Feeding the World”. So naturally I was surprised to see this headline and wanted to know what had changed with Trent Loos.
Not as much had changed as I expected. He still talked about the disconnect from Americans and their food, about his garb (intentionally attracting attention wherever he goes), about his ranch and the lifestyle he pursues, about his definition of a cowboy (embracing the attitude, not a specific activity), about farmers and agriculturalists needing to get out and tell the story. One thing that he elaborated on more than usual was the hormones debate. I’ve obviously discussed this in detail more than once in my blog, but I think he made key connections which I can’t emphasize often enough.
Two big factors influence puberty: nutrition and genetics. Those of us who work with livestock know that we can select over time for an early puberty trait, and that the proper nutrition of an animal leads to more timely puberty onset and that puberty onset is very highly correlated to nutrition and body fat. Well, Loos takes this one step further in his talks by highlighting the plight of female athletes and their lucky avoidance of Mother Nature far into their late adolescence. He further highlights the over-nutrition crisis in this nation (something he and Michael Pollan agree on) and the impact that this should obviously be connected to the puberty claims about hormones contents in beef. These are all things I’ve addressed before, but he also added that the level of estrogen in a serving of lettuce is many hundred times that of a serving of beef – key thing to consider the next time someone tells you they don’t eat beef because of added hormones (something someone told me this past week at our grad student food booth).
These points aside, there was one key new ingredient to Loos’s talk to the group: we should not be “defending” agriculture anymore. Imagine for a second a defensive person, do you like talking to them? Do you gain anything from a conversation or debate with someone who does nothing but get defensive about their idea or their job, or their life? Then how is this any different that farmers who have been taught to be defensive of agriculture. Vehemently defending agriculture with the best-proven facts still won’t make nearly the difference as just sharing what you do with those people closest to, and I’m as guilty of this as the next person. I often get worked up about accusations towards farmers, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how good I feel about winning the argument, this attitude can often do more harm than good. This is why Trent Loos instead focused his talk on encouraging those involved or interested in agriculture to change the attitudes and misconceptions one consumer at a time. Engage people in the facts, the truth, and the story, but engage them in a conversation, not a defensive approach to agriculture.