What is in this article?:
- In a country where only a small percentage of the population understands how food is produced, can veterinarians help bridge the divide?
- Twitter and other social media channels have allowed people in urban environments that care about food, and how that food is produced, to connect with all kinds of producers.
How Agriculture’s Tale is Told
Whether speaking to a room full of children or a reporter, these tips from fellow veterinarians can help you tell the story of animal agriculture—and make sure the audience remembers it.
1. Use anecdotes. Personal stories are relatable. Use them to supplement the science whenever possible. If applicable to the discussion, also keep in mind you may need to explain the perspective of the animal.
“If you can, anecdotes are the best,” says Larry Bramlage, DVM, Rood and Riddle in Lexington, Ky. “Also remember that people in an urban environment have no idea about pecking order and how every group of animals will establish it. Dogs will do it by sizing each other up and growling, cattle will push each other around and horses will run around the field.”
Urbanites won’t understand herd dynamics and may even misinterpret these behaviors, he says. It’s just one example of how no detail is too small to explain.
2. Keep it simple and short. If you don’t know someone’s history or background, keep complex explanations at home. Simple, straightforward answers provide a good starting point for more discussion if it’s needed.
“When we were training for the On Call program, the media trainers told us that we would all make things too complicated,” Dr. Bramlage says “Over the years, I’ve realized how right they are. You have to keep things straightforward, because you have a whole spectrum of understanding.”
3. Fess up if you don’t know the answer. No one is the expert in everything. If a question is beyond your expertise, it does not diminish your credibility to direct it to someone else.
“I’ve found it’s no use making a comment when you’re not an expert,” says Joe Seng, DVM, Iowa State Senator and owner of the St. Francis Veterinary Hospital in Davenport, Iowa. “It’s hard to be a knower of everything. When that ‘pink slime’ issue came out, I didn’t know the answers to some of the questions people asked me. After all, I’m not in the meat packing industry.”
4. Understand where they are coming from.
When having one-on-one discussions, it’s important to ask where the other person is from and what contact he or she has had with agriculture. Even in Iowa, Dr. Seng notes there is a group who is new to country life.
“Urban sprawl is an issue in a lot of cities,” he says. “It sounds like a great way to be in the countryside, but when you start moving people or moving farms closer to the city, therein lies a lot of disputes.”
5. Really listen to the other side of the argument. The customer may not always be right, but neither is the farmer or veterinarian, Dr. Seng warns.
“When I think of some of the antiquated ways we used to do things, and what modern scientific solutions we have now, I can see the progress we’ve made,” Dr. Seng says. “I hope my fellow practitioners will resolve in their mind when they approach confrontational discussions as an opportunity to continue moving forward.”
6. Keep client privacy in mind. Particularly on social media, client privacy is important. The immediacy of Facebook or Twitter may make you want to post in real time—but remember to ask first.
“I work for my clients and their privacy is their business,” says Kathy Swift, DVM, Gainesville, Fla. “I never tweet a picture without them knowing what I’m doing. I try to relay information as if all my clients were reading my tweets. Sometimes it can be a nonspecific post like ‘it’s a great day to be a heifer in Florida.’”