Food Day Includes GravyWritten by Ann Wittman
By Ann Wittmann, Executive Director, Wyoming Beef Council
When I started working at the Wyoming Beef Council more than a decade ago, I had fewer gray hairs, fewer wrinkles and enthusiasm that might have been referred to as effervescent. My ideals were grand, my trust was large and I had great faith in the public to seek and gravitate toward the truth. Don’t get me wrong, my enthusiasm has not waned, anyone who works with me or in the continental vicinity of me knows that I am passionate about my work, but the direction and means of expressing my enthusiasm has become more focused over the years. It’s become less like an exploding soda pop and more like simmering gravy.
Several weeks ago I read with great interest an invitation to work with an organization called Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to participate in and facilitate “Food Day” activities throughout Wyoming. The invite billed “Food Day” as a national event on Oct. 24, 2011 to “encourage people around the country to sponsor or participate in activities that encourage Americans to ‘eat real’ and support healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable, humane way.”
Had I received that offer 10 years ago, I would have been shocked to discover the true message and motive behind the effort. After all, the event was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and who among us doesn’t believe that science should be in the public interest? My older, wiser simmering brain prevailed, however, and held back enthusiasm pending further investigation.
Research into the event listed partner organizations as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Farm Animal Rights Movement and the notorious Humane Society of the United States. Similar to the CSPI group, these organizations have feel-good names that serve to mislead the public. Most of us are aware that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a national nonprofit organization with a $200 million budget raised under the guise of funding pet shelters, but that spends all but one percent of that budget on efforts to eliminate animal agriculture. The other two groups, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and Farm Animals Rights Movement (FARM) may not be as familiar. PCRM, in spite of its name, has a very small number of physicians as members and has direct ties to PETA, as well as several FBI-designated terrorist groups including Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). FARM is a national nonprofit organization promoting a vegan lifestyle through public education and grassroots activism to end the use of animals for food.
As cautious as I am about jumping to conclusions, less than 60 seconds into my research I began to think “Food Day” was not a beef-friendly event! Sadly, other organizations that have been, and often continue to be, beef-friendly did not come to the same conclusion. Specifically, the American Dietetic Association, the American Culinary Federation and the National Association of City and County Health Officials signed on as partners to this campaign.
The five central goals of CSPI Food Day are: reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods; support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness; expand access to food and alleviate hunger; protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms; promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids; and support fair conditions for food and farm workers. This campaign recommends a nearly-vegetarian diet to meet these goals.
The fourth goal of protecting the environment and animals by reforming factory farms continues to bring up false claims, such as the fat content of grain-finished beef or the greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. This alone is enough to make a simmering brain steam up and boil over. However, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my conversion from carbonation to stove top is to ensure that actions and reactions don’t provide unintended publicity to the event or issue. After all, do these folks really need help giving their events more attention? Careful behind-the-scenes work is most often the best way to navigate these waters.
Two Wyoming events were posted on the CSPI Food Day website. The first was a mailing to Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics throughout the state. After discussing my concerns with a long-time beef-friendly contact at Wyoming WIC, she and I decided that sending out checkoff-funded information detailing the true story of beef production was in order. This effort is currently underway.
Second, the University of Wyoming posted plans to host their own version of Food Days on Oct. 24-26 to includes a food drive and resource fair along with a harvest dinner made with locally sourced foods. UW Food Days will wrap up on Oct. 26 with a day of trayless dining and cooking demonstrations showcasing local foods. Wyoming Collegiate CattleWomen and other university contacts have been alerted and asked to ensure the events are balanced and the truth about beef production is also available.
Nationally, proactive checkoff-funded programs such as panel discussions and national town hall conversations about America’s food system are taking place, seeding the environment with positive messages about agriculture. Additionally, national beef checkoff staff has been meeting with several of the afore-mentioned beef-friendly organizations and advisory board members to try and educate them about the beef industry and understand why they are supporting this campaign. State beef councils across the country are meeting with state/local chapters of the organizations on the advisory board for Food Day, as well explaining that, while on the surface Food Day appears to be an initiative to promote healthy foods versus fast-food and junk-food, it is actually a cleverly disguised event by groups opposed to modern food production practices.
Ultimately, I believe the true story of beef production and the opportunity to share the reality of the wholesomeness of our product and production methods are enthusiasm worthy and the checkoff will continue to roll along, working proactively, reactively and frequently behind the scenes, like a savory gravy on the back burner, to tell the positive story about our product.