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It's Our Turn, Oprah

20100121-tows-michael-pollan-oprah-300×205.jpg Oprah has a long-standing reputation for being an extremely generous and charitable woman who has earned well-deserved acclaim around the world for her many achievements and acts of kindness. Now, I don’t mean to discount those accolades in this post; however, this being the final season of her television show, Oprah is trying to go out with a bang. Like many celebrity TV hosts, she knows spouting the popular, politically correct rhetoric of the moment will bring in the viewers and the cash. That’s exactly what she did when she challenged herself and her 378 staff members to go vegan for one week.

More than likely, the challengers have fallen off the bandwagon already, and who could blame them? Depriving yourself of a well-balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich meat and dairy products is a tough thing to do. After watching the segment where where Oprah Winfrey invited several guests to talk about veganism, the discussions on Facebook and Twitter was diverse. I talked with many attendees at last week's 2011 Cattle Industry Convention in Denver and many expressed disappointment with the biased opinions urging folks to go vegan. Others thought it was a well-rounded segment that offered consumers a glimpse inside one of our industry’s state-of-the-art packing plants. Many even thought Michael Pollan, a self-proclaimed food expert and vociferous critic of the U.S. food system, actually came across as a friend to the beef industry during the show.

Winfrey wields huge influence over certain segments of society, and it’s disappointing to read that many businesses across the country are going to start up their own vegan challenges. However, I believe there is something far more important for us to focus on, and that’s the amazing things we are doing in the beef business today to make a difference for tomorrow. Allow me to name a few.

food-bank.jpg 1. Did you know that in 2009, more than 50-million Americans were food insecure? That’s one in eight people! Hunger is a growing problem in this country today, and farmers and ranchers are committed to doing what they do best — feeding the world. Last week, in conjunction with the 2011 Cattle Industry Convention, Greeley-based JBS USA was joined by cattlemen from across the country to make the largest-ever donation and delivery of 16,000 lbs. of beef to Colorado's Feeding America Food Banks, drawing attention to the very serious issue of food insecurity right here in our own communities.

2. Also, as of last week, 2,000 cattle producers have joined the Masters of Beef Advocacy Program, and these folks are focused on sharing the positive stories of the wonderful people involved in raising the nutritious products that feed a growing population. On average, today's consumers are three generations removed from the farm, and many will never have the opportunity to visit a farm or ranch. This program offers a transparent, welcoming view inside the lives of the farmers and ranchers who feed the world. Agriculture has a beautiful story, rich with history, and these producers are working hard to introduce ranch life to the world.

3. While there are certainly many more positive stories to share, I will round out today’s list with a reminder about the newly released USDA dietary guidelines that emphasize the importance of meat and dairy products in a healthy, balanced diet. This is fantastic news for consumers because they can continue to enjoy beef knowing it’s a high-quality and nutritionally efficient food that is important to help meet daily nutritional requirements. In fact, one, 3-oz. serving of lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including protein and B vitamins. Iron and zinc deficiencies are common worldwide and beef is a good source of iron and an excellent source of zinc.

Do you have more positive stories to share about the great people and places in the agriculture industry? If so, share them with all of us in the comments section below. While Winfrey may have a lofty soapbox from which to preach veganism, I’m going to focus on the positive. And that's that we can all be confident and proud about the true difference we beef producers make in improving human lives by providing nutrient-rich beef for consumers to savor and enjoy. Thanks for being a part of it!