The error of eavesdropping — They were talking about food production

Last night in Fort Wayne, I decided that since my cable plan won’t allow me to watch the NASCAR race, I would find a local sports bar to enjoy it. Lucky for me, a Buffalo Wild Wings is two miles down the road from my apartment.

As I sit at the bar, enjoying my Octoberfest and boneless wings and watching the first 25 laps of the race, I overhear a conversation happening three stools down from me. OK, I may have been sitting by myself at B Dubs, so naturally, I listen to people talking around me. But, what perked my ears wasn’t necessarily a pleasant conversation.

This young man, named Jeremiah, had just received his and his wife’s order of traditional wings. He began discussing his preferences for chicken with the bartender and another bar dweller. Jeremiah said he will not support Tyson Foods because of growth hormones used in production and an undercover video his friend captured of abuse in a processing facility. I believe he was referring to this video. Jeremiah said that his friend had a hidden camera on his glasses that allowed him to attain the footage.

My focus on the race was gone. I made it obvious that I was listening to his conversation and when he asked my thoughts, I shared. I began by telling him that I was from a farm and that I am passionate about proper animal care and processing for the food chain. I asked him if his friend who took the video turned it in to the proper authorities. His response was, “Of course; he gave it to PETA.” At that point, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I wasn’t well versed regarding the video he discussed and didn’t want to pursue it if it was no longer current. I believe he mentioned the employees who were committing the animal abuse were fired from the facility. That’s great, but does that help the overall image for the industry? Not in my mind. However, the conversation turned into one of optimism.

Jeremiah mentioned he used to work on a dairy farm in Missouri and knows that there are many farmers and companies working to improve animal welfare on farms. He talked about the milking carousels a farmer had and how cool they were. He was impressed how efficient they were and that “the cows are spoiled” because they could walk outside to the pasture or come in to the bedded stalls whenever they wanted after milking. It made me smile called the cows spoiled. I wish other people could have that experience to feel these animals are “spoiled” and “cared for”.

As I left the bar, my stomach was in knots, not because this gentleman did have fairly good exposure to agriculture. I was worried. How many others did Jeremiah share his friend’s undercover Tyson story and not share the insights about his positive dairy farm experience? For some reason, today’s negative news resonates more with the audience than positive. Can we change that in agriculture?

Eavesdropping is not always an error. Maybe it can be used to understand and evaluate the messages being said about and shared in agriculture. Let’s do it. And I’ll have another Octoberfest with you, too!

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