I’m a Millennial rancher, mom, and ultimately a consumer, too. One thing I’ve noticed about consumer trends lately is folks don’t just shop for nutrition, budget, or taste – selections are based off values, ideals, perceptions about animal welfare, the environment, and one more thing: Politics.
You’re probably thinking, Seriously? If you’re a Democrat you eat differently than if you’re a Republican? Get a grip.
No really. It’s true.
I recently had the opportunity to listen to Jayson Lusk, Purdue University distinguished professor and head of the agricultural economics department, as he presented at an ag meeting about the future of food, consumer trends, and the challenges and opportunities that exist for producers as they work to meet society’s ever-changing demands.
Lusk deep-dived into consumer behaviors and explained how affluence impacts our purchasing decisions. In a nutshell, the elite in our society have more disposable income to pay for premium, niche products, but often these labels come at a price.
It’s great that producers are able to meet these consumers’ demands, but in doing so regulatory and retailer pressures have increased so much to where conventional agricultural has been deemed the enemy, and these specialty production methods are now viewed as what should become the standard.
Frankly, this makes production agriculture less efficient and more expensive, and the added costs are reflected in our grocery store bills. This hurts the food-insecure in our nation, and it’s a crying shame.
“I expect disagreements about our food production will intensify,” said Lusk. “It’s a frustrating world, but it’s the reality we are living in. I expect food values of the rich will be pitted against the poor, particularly when it comes to policy. Also, there will be an increased demand for animal welfare, environment, natural, and nutrition as incomes grow.”
So, back to politics – how do your personal viewpoints on government and civics come into play at the grocery store? Well, not only are the affluent impacting how conventional agriculture operates, but your political ideology also influences what you buy there.
In his speech, Lusk said, “Political ideology is another driver of meat demand. Consumers are seeing headlines like the Green New Deal that blames cow farts on climate change. Conservative Republicans like to eat more meat, while liberal Democrats do not. Meat consumption itself has become more polarized.
“Why is that? Because meat eating is linked with discussions on political hot topics like climate change. When this happens, it becomes more difficult to have effective conversations with consumers.”
As meat-eating has become a politically divisive topic, that alienates half of the U.S. population who are current or potential customers. With campaigns like Meatless Mondays, which assert that giving up meat even one day per week would save the planet, it’s no wonder consumers are jaded when it comes to ideas surrounding cattle and cows.
But if it were only as easy as switching from beef to beans!
In a recent article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Paul John Scott writes: “The campaign underway to shame the world into giving up animal foods in the name of climate change is pure vegetarian projection, a low-calorie mixture of facts and assumptions. It piggybacks on our anxiety over rising seas, shifting a worthwhile fear of greenhouse gases onto an unfounded fear of meat.”
Yet, science is on our side when it comes to meat and the environment. One of the strongest voices on this topic is Frank Mitloehner, University of California-Davis professor and air quality specialist, who said, “According to our research, if the practice of Meatless Mondays were to be adopted by all Americans, we'd see greenhouse gas emission reduced by only 0.5 percent.”
While animal agriculture only contributes 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, transportation is responsible for 26 percent. So if we’re going to have responsible conversations about planetary diets and the best foods to eat to responsibly use our natural resources, let’s leave the politics and bad science at the door.
Simply stated, it's the cars – not the cows. Eat your burger in peace!
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Amanda Radke may write to her in care of this publication.