A few weeks ago, a man known only as “Fred” stood outside the Student Union on the campus of South Dakota State University (SDSU) passing out fliers that read, “Even if you like meat, you can help end this cruelty. By just cutting your meat consumption in half, you can spare hundreds of animals from a lifetime of suffering.” When junior agriculture education student Brian Gottlob happened across Fred’s path, he approached him to see what he had to say.
“Fred told me that he worked for Vegan Outreach, and that his goals were to end animal cruelty and convert the country to completely vegan lifestyles,” says Gottlob. “I took the approach that I was interested in what he had to say. He told me he didn’t believe animals should be used for food, and he said that America needs to cut meat production in half because we don’t need that much protein in our diets.”
This isn’t the first time Vegan Outreach has parked an employee in the lawn at SDSU, and Gottlob knew that his fellow classmates had handled situations like this before. A quick mass text called students from the college of agriculture to action, asking them to come over and speak with Fred the activist. My sister was one of the recipients of the texts, and she connected me with Gottlob to talk about what happened on the campus lawn that day.
“This guy was completely misrepresenting our industry,” explains Gottlob. “As producers, we have to stand right beside these activists and try to balance out the negativity. Of course, our young leaders are receptive to listen to their concerns; however, these people have no knowledge or suggestions, just complaints. Maybe agriculture isn’t doing enough to promote our positive messages. We seem to always be on the defense. Maybe it’s time we get out there first and share our own stories.”
After several students complained about the Vegan Outreach employee spreading propaganda, the university police department was notified and quickly escorted him off campus. Gottlob hopes that more young leaders in agriculture will take the initiative to share the agriculture story in a positive way and not be afraid to talk it out with those who may have a negative view of the industry. I’m proud to say these student leaders are representing the future of agriculture, and it certainly looks bright with them lighting the way. Take notes, farmers and ranchers; these kids are setting the pace for all of us!
What would you have said to Fred in this situation? Would you have had the courage to strike up a conversation? In your opinion, what's the best way to handle these types of scenarios?