A dog, a skateboarder and a vegan were waiting for a plane.
It sounds like the beginning of a great joke, doesn’t it? But sadly, it’s a true story. As I was waiting to board a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I was watching this random group of strangers interact. The dog was some little thing that fit in its owner’s purse. Every so often, it would whine, and the lady carefully removed the sweater-bearing, ridiculously-shaking canine and held it like a baby. (Can you tell I’m used to coddling farm dogs and not play pets?)
The owner was talking with a guy carrying a skateboard, and their conversation revolved around the ins and outs of caring for an animal. It is amazing to me that the general public understands a love of animals. They understand the sacrifices (okay, it’s different but they are still sacrifices) of caring for animals every day and providing food and shelter for them. They realize that by owning animals, you actually get back MORE than what you give out. And they realize that animals are sometimes all we need to be calm, have a purpose and get the satisfaction of caring for something. My question is, why don’t they understand we share the same thoughts and feelings as they do when caring for our cows? Have we just assumed they won’t understand? Have we not told our story well enough? Have we kept a big division between “us” and “them” even though we all, evidently, need animals in our lives? I’m not so sure the general public wouldn’t applaud and “get” our love of cattle if we took time to relate on their level. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I did have that “aha” moment while watching this airport scene play out, and my initial thought was…we’re not so different after all. Lesson #1 learned.
Earlier that day, I was finishing up a Social Media Marketing conference. It was lunch time, so I grabbed a box lunch that was provided and moved outside to meet some new conference goers and learn their stories. Wouldn’t you know I ended up at a table with two vegans? My first reaction was “good grief, I need to move!” But I tucked that away internally and decided to embrace the opportunity with gusto. After our introductions, I sat back and listened as the two exchanged notes on their morning “smoothie” recipes. They talked about how delicious plant-based protein milk was, various uses for tofu and sprouts, and more. Imagine the surprised look they both got when they asked what I did! I proudly said that I work in the production agriculture sector of business, and that we proudly produce milk and beef from the finest dairies and ranches in the west. There was an awkward silence, but inside I was doing a happy dance. Of course, their silence then turned to extensive questioning. What were my thoughts on raw milk? How come cows are so mistreated? How can I even have a job when no one drinks milk anymore? I surprised myself with how patient I was talking through every point, and while I don’t know if I converted them to change, I do think they took time to consider that there’s another whole world “north of Los Angeles” that they haven’t ever encountered. And sadly enough, I was the first “farm person” they had each met in their lives. How many chances do we pass up to proudly talk about what we do? Lesson #2 learned.
Biggest take home? We are dealing with a curious, weird, authoritative population who knows ZERO about production agriculture. This milk pricing tragedy is ridiculous, and I am saddened each day to read about people exiting the business. I am, however, a person that strongly believes this current mess that we’re in will cycle back up again and we can all breathe for a little bit. In the meantime, I’m thoroughly convinced that while we don’t have as much say in the pricing of milk (yet), we DO have a say in how it’s promoted. None of us will have a future unless we have people consuming our product. We need the skateboarder and the dog owner and the vegans to understand our stories and just as importantly, we need to understand theirs.