What Farmers and Historians Have In Common

Lately I've been pondering my rather surprising affinity for the farm folks I've been meeting over the past few months. At first I thought it was because I grew up in Iowa in small-town, rural-centric circumstances. And that's definitely part of it.

But it occurred to me the other day that's there's another reason, one that was obvious (as in: "Doh!") when I thought about it:

Farmers, like historians, are invisible and thus ignored and rarely consulted. Sob.

This epiphany surfaced when I read an opinion piece in a meat-industry trade journal, Meatingplace. The essay was by Emily Meredith, who works for the Animal Agriculture Alliance. She'd recently attended an event hosted by the New America Foundation. The event, titled The New Meat Monopoly, featured Christopher Leonard, the author of the new book The Meat Racket (which I noted here), and Wayne Pacelle, who presides over the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The HSUS is currently raising big bucks (which is what non-profits exist to do) by attacking industrial livestock production. In short, the event consisted of an attack on said livestock production.

Random text interrupter. Astoria, New York. March 2014.

Random text interrupter. Astoria, New York. March 2014.

In her opinion piece, Meredith lamented the fact that no one on the panel, which included some farmers who had joined the HSUS, offered any solutions to the problems they perceived. More to my point, however, she also noted that the perspective offered by the panel consisted entirely of "attack." Alternative points of view surfaced only during the Q&A that followed.

It was, wrote Meredith, "an event devoid of any real debate while simultaneously purporting to facilitate discussions about the future of food."

And as I read, I thought "Man, I keep reading that same comment about "discussions" of the food system and its future: Farmers, the people who help create that system, are rarely included in the discussions."

And that's what farmers keep saying to me when I talk to them: "How come no one ever asks us what we think?" "Why do people keep criticizing us without making any effort to understand what we do?"

The same can be said of historians: How often does any "expert" on Topic X ask for or include any historical perspective that might make sense of Topic X, or, most especially, why Topic X is the way it is?

Answer: Pretty much never. In the few reviews of In Meat We Trust (okay, the three reviews), no one bothered to consider the book as a work of history and thus as a work that offers a different perspective on a complex problem.

And that's how it goes for historians here in these United States: We're invisible. (Except, of course, in the form of books about presidents and wars.)

Random text interrupter. Astoria, New York. March 2014.

Random text interrupter. Astoria, New York. March 2014.

So are farmers. Hence, I've concluded, my affinity for farm folks.

Although, hmmm, this just occurred to me: Maybe it's not that at all. Maybe it's because I'm female and over the age of 45. Which, say medical experts, is the leading cause of Female Invisibility Syndrome (FIS). (Eg, I walk into a restaurant or shop and no one sees me. Happens every damn day.)

So maybe that's it. In which case, ignore all of the above.

But hey! It sounded good when I started typing.

And here's your final random text interrupter.


Boom. Boy Down. Astoria, New York. March 2014.

Boom. Boy Down. Astoria, New York. March 2014.