On Bacon Farmers and YouTube Videos
Last year mega-Burrito uber-chain Chipotle made quite a splash in the agricultural community when it released a video called “Back to the Start.” The animated video, featuring Willie Nelson singing a haunting version of Coldplay’s The Scientist, depicted a farmer starting out with a single pig, and his operation growing to the status of “giant factory mega-farm,” and ultimately going “back to the start” by going free-range (apparently).
The video, by the way, was extremely well done. That doesn’t obfuscate the fact that it was extremely infuriating to watch because of its ham-fisted attacks on large-scale food production, use of modern veterinary medicine on the farm, and conventional animal husbandry practices in general. In essence, the short alleged that farmers abuse their animals, pump the critters full of drugs, and dump their waste directly into our water supply.
At the time, I argued that Chipotle had every right to do so, and that by and large, we were over reacting. We noted at Feedstuffs this week that the food retailer will air the video in its entirety during the television broadcast of the Grammy awards, marking the first time the chain has used national television advertising since 1993.
The notion of this video – already viewed over 4.4 million times on YouTube – airing on national television got me thinking once again about the impact of various agricultural messages on the internet. Earlier this week my friends at the Ohio Pork Producers Council released their own animated short titled “Farming Takes Care of All of Us.”
It’s a great effort at “telling the story” of food production. Among the themes the video discusses are the need for modern livestock housing, farmers’ reasoning for keeping animals under roof rather than free-range, and the importance of conventional farming practices in feeding an ever-increasing U.S. (not to mention global) population.
I spent the weekend in Wisconsin presenting a pair of sessions at the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association Winter Conference. My second discussion focused on the internet, farmers’ use of social media, and the importance of avoiding the “Jesus Complex.” I shared both videos with the audience to demonstrate that the internet can indeed be used to malign agriculture, but can also be a very powerful tool in building relationships with consumers (the Ohio “Bacon Farmers” video, however, has yet to reach 1,000 views in its first six days online).
One of the most interesting items from the film, however, is the branding with which Ohio Pork Producers are starting to identify in talking with consumers: “bacon farmers.” Interesting concept… I don’t know how useful or fruitful it will be long term, but I think I like where they are going.
I argued in Feedstuffs last week that we in agriculture must adopt a food-centered paradigm, moving away from our traditional production-oriented focus when dealing with consumers. We tend to think that consumers are ignorant, or worse, stupid, and that they simply need to be reeducated about food production in the modern era.
My challenge to each of us, on the other hand, is to eschew this worldview in favor of a mindset that starts thinking in same frame of mind as the consumer: thinking of steaks rather than steers, in terms of tasty eating experiences rather than in terms of rate of gain.
I think this notion of speaking as “bacon farmers” might come from just such a food-centered paradigm. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to such positioning – will they take it as its meant, or will it read as political spin, much in the vein over terminology like saying “harvest” instead of “slaughter.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I am writing this from the gate at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, waiting on a flight that’s been delayed over an hour… In other words, my thoughts are rambling. Hopefully this post has been at least quasi-coherent for a Saturday night in Chi-town.