One of my closest friends from high school is nothing like me, yet we manage to stay close despite our glaring differences. We’ve both traveled quite a bit in our time, but she fell in love with the urban concrete jungle, while I’m most content at the ranch, where we are the only house on the section. We have debated about everything -- religion, politics, health and nutrition and, of course, modern food production; we seldom completely agree with one another. Still our friendship has remained strong, and it’s perhaps in our differences that we gain some of life’s most important lessons.
My friend was home over the weekend and brought her boyfriend for us to meet. Before she introduced us, she warned me, “He has lots of questions about beef.” And, so the next two hours were filled with questions and answers, debates and concerns, studies and articles, and emotions vs. science, as we talked about the beef business and life on a working cattle ranch. Although it would be nearly impossible to recap the conversation, here were some questions he posed.
1. Are farmers rich? Is it easy to make a living off ranching? Or, do you just like the lifestyle?
2. Why do ranchers feed corn?
3. Doesn’t beef make you fat?
4. Do you keep the cows inside during the winter?
5. How do you make the grass into neat squares like that?
6. Do you rake the grass by hand?
7. What does an acreage like this cost?
8. Why aren’t you an organic farm?
9. Isn’t it true that cattle are contributing to global warming the most with the methane they release?
10. Aren’t factory farms the real reason so many animals are abused? I’ve seen the videos. I know it’s real.
11. How does your farm dog stay clean and healthy if it lives outside?
12. How old is a steer before it’s ready to go to market?
13. Could this animal kill me if it wanted to? Probably not, since it doesn’t have horns.
14. Do they sleep standing up? Is cow tipping a myth?
15. Why is beef linked to so many bad things like cancer and heart disease?
16. Why is agriculture so heavily subsidized?
17. Shouldn’t the corn we grow in the U.S. be used to feed people not cows?
18. Why do ranchers give cattle antibiotics?
19. Why are there so many hormones in beef?
20. Do you think we will really be eating beef in the future? It’s so expensive to raise.
The list of questions could go on and on. Although I will readily admit that I didn’t answer each question perfectly (after the couple left, my husband and I rehashed how we could have phrased or explained things a little better) I think it’s important to note that these are legitimate questions asked by an average consumer. Some of them were fueled by things reported in the media, and some were simple questions asked by an individual who hasn’t lived the rural lifestyle or been around livestock before. Some questions were very serious and didn’t have concrete answers, while others were very basic.
The question I have for each and every one of you is simple. If someone were to walk up to you in the grocery store today and ask you one of the 20 questions listed above, would you have a response? Could you form a short and sweet answer combining your personal story with the facts? Or, would you walk away from the conversation with regret, knowing you could have said things differently? Polish up on your agriculture facts today and share your new discoveries with someone in town. You might be surprised at how the conversation plays out, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel great about the opportunity to share your life and your passions with someone who doesn’t live just down the dirt road. Beef up on your industry facts at www.explorebeef.org.
What’s the craziest, silliest, most pointed question a consumer has asked you? Share your stories with us today!