Is a field trip to witness modern animal agricultural practices at work your idea of a good time? Probably not? OK, fair enough. But it's still something we all should do.
As a charter bus took the group through rural Kansas, where combines were just starting to roll across area wheat fields, beef industry leaders addressed head-on some of the most talked-about aspects of beef production, including rising meat prices, animal welfare, the use of hormones and antibiotics, and the challenge of insuring food safety.
Now, the knee-jerk response to this is going to be "How can you trust the Kansas Beef Council to do an unbiased presentation on their practices?" and there's a grain of truth to that sentiment -- obviously, this kind of farm tour is going to present a positive view of the beef industry. If it didn't, you'd have to wonder who is in charge of the council's public relations.
But that's not really the point. The point here is that we have people experiencing farms on a personal level -- with their own eyes, ears, and noses -- in some cases for the first time in their lives. And this kind of experience is essential for anybody who wants a deeper understanding of where their food comes from. I can't think of any negatives to this sort of exposure. In fact, the only burning question I'm left with is this: in the quoted article, farm visitors consisted primarily of chefs, students, distributors, and writers -- which is great -- but shouldn't this be something the everyday consumer is exposed to as well?
The vast majority of people in the United States live in urban areas, and in a lot of places, you can go your entire life without ever seeing a cow. Any chance to explain the process to people, to help clear up the mythology, is something that needs to be grabbed hold of for dear life. Because even though most of us are almost entirely separated from our food supply, we all have to eat and would be better served by knowing where it is coming from.
And I think it's safe to say people are interested in knowing. While there are many cultural and philosophical components driving the (American) urban farming movement, "being closer to the food my friends and family eat" is a powerful part of the equation for virtually everybody involved.
A farm tour doesn't offer the same kind of in-depth experience as producing one's own food, of course, but it does demystify -- which is vital -- and really personalizes just what it is we are eating. This is the kind of thing that makes for a more knowledgeable, conscientious, and harder-to-scam consumer -- the rare kind of thing that gives me hope in holding Idiocracy at bay, even if only for a few more years.
Uh, so I've been thinking about getting the band back together...