Call it reactionary defense or call it engagement, but farmers and ranchers are no longer idly sitting on the sidelines while celebrities tell their stories for them.
From Oprah to Dr. Oz to Ellen DeGeneres and so many more — Hollywood celebrities and social media influencers are in love with the idea of plant-based diets and encouraging their fans and followers to go meatless.
And that’s totally their right as individuals who are simply exercising their freedom of speech. May we all use our individual platforms to voice our concerns and share our thoughts on hot topics!
I always tell agricultural folks we need to listen first to our consumer, find our shared values and then connect with our personal stories. The hardest part of that three-step process seems to be the listening part. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to say that we fail to address the consumer’s greater concern.
But other times, we are able to connect and bridge the gap in such a way that it inspires others join in the conversations and it brings consumers and producers together in a positive way.
Last week, ranchers had the opportunity to do exactly that when Miss Montana USA Merissa Underwood shared a photo on her Instagram page encouraging folks to go plant-based to save the planet.
In the post, Underwood tells her fans to go vegan to battle climate change. While I don’t think it’s fair to bully someone for eating differently than I do (eating meat or not is up to the individual not the food police), it is concerning when someone with a public platform uses it to share erroneous information such as some of the anti-meat graphics that are floating around.
That’s when the ranching community decided to step in and share their side of the story.
In an open letter, the Montana Stockgrowers Association wrote to the beauty queen, saying:
“We recently saw your Instagram Stories on your thoughts on climate change and animal agriculture.
“As @missmtusa we think it’s vital to use your platform to represent Montana and the things that are important to our beloved state. Agriculture and the cattle industry are some of those things. Montana’s number one industry is agriculture, and we are proud to raise some of the best, most sustainable beef in the world. Ranchers care deeply for the animals they raise and the environment they raise them in.
“There’s a saying between ranchers, ‘If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.’ This is our passion. While we appreciate your passion, we are disappointed in the misleading and inaccurate information you shared and wanted to share some facts about the beef industry that might help educate you and others.”
The letter then went on to clear up some myths regarding Underwood’s impressions of cattle and climate change, range health, greenhouse gases, family farms and more. They close the letter with an invitation for Underwood to tour a Montana ranch to see for herself.
Additionally, my friends at Ranch Wives Beef Co.,— a beef company based out of Nebraska and Montana — also shared an open letter on Instagram. Writing about the situation, they said:
“We hold the ag community very near and dear to our hearts. With sixth and seventh generation ranch kids in the mix, ranching isn’t just a part of our history, it’s a part of our future.
“We truly believe the greatest ally we have in the agricultural community is ourselves, and in order to protect and progress this industry we all love so dearly, it is important that we foster community and come together collectively to advocate and tell the stories of the 2% of the population that works hard to produce food and fiber for the rest of the nation.
"We’re always asking our consumers to support us, but NOW we’re asking for the support of each other! It has come to our attention that unfortunately @missmtusa has taken a stance against animal ag and is using her platform to ‘educate’ and encourage others to do the same. While we believe Merissa has every right to fuel her body as she chooses, we don’t feel her personal choices should be a reflection or a representation of the great state of Montana.
“People in the ag community are truly some of the best people we know. Their values are sound, their work ethic is strong, and the pride and love they have for their land and animals is real. They are true and good. And we are proud to be among them.
“So friends, we created a graphic (swipe to see) and ask that you share this on your feed and in your stories to show that you stand with Montana ranchers and farmers! We will also be drafting a formal letter to submit to the Miss USA organization - if you would like to have your name included please comment below with your name and we will be in contact with you. Thank you friends. God bless and eat beef.”
Beyond the agricultural community, former Miss Montana USA Tahnee Peppenger shared her support of animal agriculture in Montana in a video where she said, “I would not be the woman I am today without agriculture.”
The conversation has gone somewhat viral, and it’s exciting to see so many in agriculture get engaged! And while most of it has been kind and positive from the ranching community, I have seen some negative, bullying and harassment from folks in our ranks, as well.
I think this is a good time to remind everyone that if we are truly to engage and be effective on social media, we must lead with kindness, facts and finding shared values with our consumers.
To me, it sounds like Underwood is concerned about planetary health and personal nutrition, so let’s meet her right where she is and talk about those things! I think it’s good to hold public figures accountable for what they say and the messages they share, but I also don’t want to infringe on someone’s right to eat a salad and make dietary choices based on their own values!
I think the overall message of this campaign has been very positive, and I applaud the individuals who took the reins on this and delivered a message that was friendly and factual.
What’s more, there’s a happy ending to this story! I talked to the folks at the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and it sounds like a ranch tour is in the works for Miss Underwood! I’m excited to see what she thinks after she gets the opportunity to spend a day learning about beef cattle!
We’ll see how this story continues to unfold, and even if she continues to be vegan and use her platform to encourage a plant-based diet, I figure anytime we have an opportunity to truly engage, connect, build relationships and share our stories, it’s a positive thing in my book!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.