Keeps your friends close.... you know the rest....

It’s June.

I suppose, since I’m involved in the dairy industry, it should be the most fun month of the year.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been known to throw candy at a parade or two, maybe participate in an ice cream social. Mostly, though, I avoid it.

I’ve been avoiding a lot of things lately. Turned off my Facebook for a day this week.  That’s a big deal for me.

The problem with the dairy celebrations and Facebook is essentially the same.

I love celebrating this industry about which I’m quite passionate. Truly, I do. What I can’t handle is watching people consume our products and then, as they’re licking the ice cream running down their chin, ask why dairymen are trying to poison our product with hormones that are bad for kids.

Ugh.

On Facebook the other day, someone posted a story about the NMPF request to allow the use of using aspartame in some milk products. They’d never read the actual request, but they had decided the industry was asking to put sugar in every jug of milk. One of her friends called all milk products poison.

When I posted a great explanation of the actual request from www.dairycarrie.com – strangely, no one responded.  Facts will do that to a person.

I suspect they were typing that Facebook post while sipping a cup of coffee flavored with cream. They probably had butter on their toast, maybe put cheese in the scrambled eggs.

And yet, these folks have no qualms whatsoever about accusing dairy producers of trying to “poison” their food. They don’t get the connection I guess.

It all gets very discouraging.

I find that I automatically assume the “other side” is stupid. That’s wrong. They are probably misinformed more than anything else. “Our side” doesn’t do a good job of providing accurate information. We’re making progress, but our competitors have done a much better job and are a long stretch ahead of us. 

In this month’s print edition of Progressive Dairyman, I wrote an article about websites that are trying to get both sides of the information out. I spoke with several bloggers trying to keep the dialogue going and civil. When I spoke with Carrie Mess, the dairy producer and writer who maintains www.dairycarrie.com, she said a few things that have really stuck with me.

First, she said that communicating with our consumers is the “biggest issue facing our industry today.” I think she’s right. She also said we could do a better job of helping consumers put a face to the product. She said she’s started approaching people in the grocery store who have one of our products in their carts. She introduces herself and tells them thank you for buying our products and supporting our industry.

I love that. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it goes a long way to starting a positive conversation.

I also interviewed a woman named Ellen Malloy. Had I read her work before I interviewed her, I wouldn’t have liked it.  It was pretty anti-ag. But she’s started a new project that I truly admire and I think it’s something each of us could do. She and her friend Grant Kessler have pledged to share 100 meals with people involved in the food industry. Only a few meals into the journey, they’ve dined with small organic farmers in the Midwest and with scientists at Monsanto – a company they saw as an evil empire.

At www.onehundredmeals.com, the two write about what they learn at each meal. I was impressed to see that these issues they’d seen as black or white have taken on a distinct shade of gray. To me, that means understanding is happening. While we may never, ever agree on some of the issues facing the food industry today, reading the blogs at onehundredmeals.com certainly helps me understand why people think the things they do about our industry.

So to celebrate June Dairy month this year, I’m going to take inspiration from both Malloy and Mess. I am going to try to reach out to 100 different people. I plan to say thank you to every consumer I see. Maybe I’ll invite a friend out for dinner and a dairy tour. I’ll find ways to reach out.

How will you celebrate?

 

 

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