Who do consumers really listen to? People like Oprah.
I hate to say it, but 44 million people watch her show religiously each week. If she were to say the sun is green, people would believe that the sun is green. In 1996, when she proclaimed that she’d never eat a hamburger again, a defamation lawsuit was issued by Texas cattlemen. They said the show caused a cattle market plunge that caused them to lose $11 million. Oprah won.
I didn’t know what her show was going to be about yesterday and honestly I typically don’t care. I’m at the office at 4:00 pm CT everyday working on materials from companies who help farmers be more efficient and more profitable farmers. However, I’m also watching what’s going on via Twitter and other social media sites. Farmers, ranchers and industry people had their guns loaded and were ready to fire back at Oprah. There was an assumption that this vegan episode was going to be primarily anti-meat, anti-animal agriculture, anti-anti-anti. It didn’t help that Michael Pollan was one of her ‘expert’ guests (not a fan of modern agriculture). It turned out that the point of this show wasn’t “meat is evil”, it was to show what’s involved in a vegan lifestyle, and to encourage people to learn where their food comes from.
It pains me to give Oprah credit, but I think this show was an excellent example of how the agriculture and food industry can be transparent and educate consumers – so they’ll actually listen and believe. Cargill, the world’s largest meat processing company, opened its facility in Colorado and let the Oprah show into their processing plant – and they didn’t hide anything. On camera, however, viewers can’t feel the temperature or smell the smell of “raw meat” as Lisa Ling puts it, but viewers can see the expression on Lings face, which was pretty true to the experience – it can be an unpleasant process.
Cargill did an exceptional job describing every step in detail – true transparency with something that seems gross but is truly humane and scientific. Cargill needs to be given credit for doing something so brave, so honest, and so helpful for the entire meat and ag industry.
Watch the entire tour here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Inside-a-Slaughterhouse-Video
Three things stood out for me, and I’m probably not quoting them exactly:
1) At the end, Oprah said, “Lisa went into the Cargill plant a meat eater – and after she was there – she’s still a meat eater”.
2) Michael Pollan said, “Animals are treated very well, and live happy lives. They just have 1 bad day”.
3) Veganist Kathy Freston said, “I can’t look into the animal’s eyes and see the pain and suffering” then Oprah said, “But, we watched – they don’t suffer or feel any pain”.
There have been numerous blogs about the episode already and many are positive toward animal ag. Some critics are mad that there was even a positive slant toward meat and meat processing. Farmers and ranchers are capitalizing on these conversations. Already there is a Facebook page: Oprah, Come Visit My Farm encouraging Oprah to learn and interact with true agriculture, and keep that transparency open to 44 million consumers a week – many who are completely disconnected with where their food actually comes from.
Or, they can just take Miss Vegan’s advice and eat Tofu-turkey and other meat substitutes, forever.
For me – Bring on the Meat and Potatoes please!
Leah Brakke is an account manager for AdFarm who has a lifetime of experience on the farm and in the agriculture industry. Leah visits with farmers and people in the industry every day. You can follow her on Twitter at @leahjoy