Farmer knows best?

16 Jun

Anyone seriously involved with advocacy has probably encountered a righteous cause that does more harm than good due to shoddy research.  There is nothing more painful than getting a year into a campaign and THEN finding out important data that totally contradicts everything you (and large numbers of people who trusted you/your organization) have been fighting for.

That’s why stuff like this makes me cringe.  Food-ethics and the activism that goes along with it is complicated.  The science is complicated, the economics are complicated, and most terrifyingly, the power dynamics (aka the money trail) are complicated.

Questions I’ve learned to ask when determining whether to trust fact sheets, social justice campaigns, or just earnest activists:

1)  Who benefits from this information and how?

2)  Who would be hurt by this information and how?

3)  What disinterested third parties have been involved in producing this information?

4)  Why would those third parties be interested in finding/publishing/interacting this information?

5)  What data or questions are being left out of this?

6)  Who disagrees with this information and why?

This isn’t a fool-proof method by any means, but I find it a helpful “baloney detector.”  There are folks out there who sift through false information for a living and I’d love to hear some principles they use to make sure they’re getting the “real facts.”

What do you think?  Is HSUS acting on bad information?  What experts do you listen to when it comes to your food?

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2 Responses to “Farmer knows best?”

  1. Ryan Goodman June 16, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    Thanks for linking to my post!

    A question – what is it about my post subject that makes you cringe?

    Do you think farmers can be trusted to explain how food is raised and why they use their chosen methods? If not, why and who would you suggest knows food better?

    • nearlydelicious June 17, 2012 at 5:32 am #

      Disclaimer: I’m very new to this field, and my blog is essentially a place for me to sort through and process some of the research I’m doing as I develop my food values and adjust my consumer habits to reflect those values. I’ll probably be visiting your blog a few more times as I do so 🙂

      I cringe when an advocate (in this case, HSUS) alienates stakeholders who seem like they should be natural allies (here, farmers) in a campaign. It calls into question the advocate’s integrity. I’ve been on both sides of that kind of fiasco.

      To your second question, at this point, I’d say a qualified and tentative yes. Tentative primarily just because of my own ignorance at this point…I’m still trying to figure out who to trust when it comes to the food I eat. Farmers are on the front-lines of the food war(s) and therefore are an invaluable source of information, data, and experience. But I’d qualify that it’s really important for farmers to collaborate with data analyzing and researching entities like universities or other third-parties, and that experts in other fields (nutrition, veterinary medicine, environmental studies, business, economics) add tremendous value to the dialogue on the raising of food. I think it’s inevitable that the priorities of all those different parties would conflict, but I think the end products from that kind of collaboration are much stronger than any one group’s efforts alone.

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