Tag Archives: food

If you’re like my family, you don’t have much reason or opportunity to have a regular discussion with the people responsible for growing and raising our food. We order our beef from a local meat locker every year and supplement it with occasional trips to a local butcher. Outside of that, all of our food comes from the grocery store.

I recently asked my wife, “When was the last time you talked to a farmer or rancher?” She couldn’t remember the last conversation she had with a farmer. Prior to joining Kansas Farm Bureau, I’d have a similar struggle.

My background is like my wife’s. We are both removed from farm families in rural Kansas, though we grew up on opposite ends of the state. If the two of us have trouble connecting with the people growing our food, I can only imagine the struggles others face.

While our communication might be lacking, one thing that isn’t is our access to food. I can’t think of the last time I left a grocery store without an item I wanted. In fact, I usually buy more than I need – as my waistline indicates.

I’ve heard the repeated pleas for farmers and ranchers to tell their stories. It’s good advice, but any conversation requires at least two participants. While farmers weren’t telling their stories, consumers didn’t exactly burn up the gravel roads to go knocking on farmhouse doors, either.

“When I was a kid in the ’70s and ‘80s no one was talking about telling our story to the consumer,” Greenwood County rancher Matt Perrier said. “We figured they didn’t care, or they knew it already. I think we were sorely mistaken.”

The fifth-generation stockman said as fewer and fewer people grew and raised food, it left a void between farmers and shoppers. Lacking the direct knowledge, consumers glommed onto any morsel of information they could.

“I think that it’s kind of the perfect storm between one, the small percentage of people who actually raise our food and consequently the small percentage of people who know any of us, coupled with this whole foodie movement … has made people passionate about food, and the story behind the food,” Perrier said. “These people on TV, their recipes aren’t any better than the Methodist Church ladies’ cookbook, but they tell a story to go along with it.”

Fifty or 100 years ago, people could have just asked grandma where their food came from, Perrier said. Because there are fewer farmers around, people have instead turned to social media.

“Consequently, the people who do want to tell a story about animal agriculture or agriculture in general, they are probably the loudest storytellers of all,” Perrier said. “Quite often that’s not a story that’s very representative of most of our farms and ranches in America.”
It’s a compelling one. Through a combination of technology and market efficiency, all consumers see is what appears to be an endless supply of food.

“When you don’t have to face the option of, ‘Do we have something to eat or don’t we?’ we get pretty picky,” Perrier said.

Picky or not, today’s farmers and ranchers are doing a better job of reaching consumers, Perrier said.

“We can tell it very well,” he said. “We just have to do it.”

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Tofurky Co., which produces plant-based alternatives to meat, filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday claiming an Arkansas law that bans the use of “meat” in the labeling of its products violates free speech rights.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Oregon-based company against Arkansas’ Bureau of Standards. Tofurky produces tofu, quinoa and other plant-based “sausages,” deli slices and burgers.

The stated goal of the Arkansas law set to take effect Wednesday is to “require truth in labeling.” It would fine companies up to $1,000 for each violation. It also bans companies from labeling other vegetables, such as cauliflower, as “rice.” Arkansas is the nation’s top rice producer.

Broadly written, the law specifically prohibits labeling a product as meat, rice, beef, or pork, as well as any term “that has been used or defined historically in reference to a specific agricultural product.”

Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos said that consumers have been “successfully navigating” plant-based products for years, and that traditional meat producers are feeling threatened by the recent rise in demand for such foods.

State Representative David Hillman, a rice farmer and the law’s author, said companies labeling products as cauliflower rice or veggie burgers are trying to confuse consumers.

Producers “realize the only way they can get people to try their product is to confuse them,” Hillman said. Athos called this idea “absurd.”

Hillman, a Republican, said he’s tried cauliflower rice.

“I like it. There’s nothing wrong with it. Except that it’s not rice,” he said.

The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, joined the ACLU and the Animal Legal Defense Fund in filing the suit on Tofurky’s behalf. Jessica Almy, the group’s policy director, said the law’s true aim is to protect meat producers. The First Amendment protects the companies’ use of terms like “plant-based meat” or “veggie burger,” because it’s truthful labeling, Almy said.

Such companies want consumers to know the products are made from plants, she said.

“Producers have every incentive to make that meaning clear to consumers, and there’s absolutely no evidence of consumer confusion,” she said. “So while these laws are being put forward as ‘truth in labeling’ laws they’re really about censorship.”

Meat producers nationwide have been lobbying to protect labeling from plant-based and meat grown by culturing animal cells, arguing for terms like “synthetic meat,” ”meat byproduct” or even “fake meat.”

In addition to Arkansas, The Good Food Institute has said eleven other states — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming — have enacted what it calls “meat label censorship” laws.

In the Arkansas lawsuit, Tofurky argues that in order to comply with the law, the company must now design specific, Arkansas-compliant packaging, change the packaging nationwide, stop selling in the state or knowingly break the law.

“Each of these options puts Tofurky Co. at a significant commercial disadvantage,” the company writes.

The state’s attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, is “reviewing” the lawsuit to determine her next steps, a spokeswoman said.

Tofurky filed a lawsuit in 2018 against a Missouri law, which makes it a misdemeanor to label plant-based products as meat. This month, Illinois-based Upton’s Naturals Co. challenged a Mississippi law.