What Agriculture Can Take Away from Kendall Jones Controversy

First off, I have to cringe and admit I failed miserably at achieving my goal with starting this blog. I had intentions of posting once/week. Well, I picked an awful time of year to set my self up for that goal, but I’m back and refocusing, so stay tuned! Now, back to blogging… 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Kendall Jones story. She’s an avid wild-game hunter from Texas whom news media seem to only identify as a Texas Tech Cheerleader who kills endangered animals. Maybe you’ve heard, but chosen to tune it out – you don’t need any more controversy in your life. But here’s the thing… watching this story unfold strikes too close to home for me to sit by and not think about how it ties into our industry.

This is the only news coverage I’ve found that actually tells more of the story. 

Take a look at these takeaway points and see if you think differently about speaking up or tuning out.

  • People all over are outraged because they think what she is doing is socially and morally wrong. (we’ve heard this before)
  • People who have no connection, background or understanding of present-day wildlife conservation have chosen to determine her acts are not conservation. They single handedly focused on one aspect (the removal of a live animal) to say none of her actions are conservation. They don’t know anything about genetic selection or improved breeding practices. They don’t understand removing one dominant, aged, territory-guarding male to provide others a chance to mate and diversify the gene pool is conservation. (Isn’t every person with a platform and microphone informing us how to do our job better?)
  • Just because we don’t feature proteins of safari animals on the menus of the local fast food joint, viewers assumed the meat was not harvested or eaten. They protest an innocent animal lost its life for nothing (the meat was harvested and fed hundreds). That the animal was just tortured for someone else’s enjoyment. (While livestock is readily featured, there are certain delicacies of a carcass we export to foreign countries many assume is waste, when in-fact, once you consider by-products there is little to nothing of animals that is “wasted.”)
  • People don’t grasp or understand the money she paid to hunt these animals provides countless services and incentives to natives of the areas she hunts. (Much like raising cash crops or livestock is a business that serves many, hunting does too. How many times have we been called the evil money-grubbing farmers only in it for profit and not for the lifestyle.)
  • People who sit in their corner office and go home to their high-rise condo decided this was a canned hunt. (Sounds familiar of the claims of those who oppose CAFO’s, but have never visited one to me) Have you EVER been in a 47,000 acre fenced ranch? I’ve worked on a ranch that was closer to 10,000 acres and had a game preserve in it – that is a lot of ground. What if we took everyone who thinks this was canned, drop them off with only a few survival necessities inside a 47,000 acre property, and see how long it takes them to find their way out, and then ask if they feel like it was canned hunting. The idea of claiming it was not sport is lost on me. It’s okay to pay to hunt a fenced white tail deer lease in Texas in which you sit in a deer blind with a feeder in view to coax out the deer and shoot them – but hiring a tracker and finding them on 47,000 acres isn’t?
  • They saw a photo of a “majestic” animal and automatically assumed cruelty. They did not stop to look any further at the story. That these wild, predator animals (albeit majestic) have in fact harmed and destroyed people’s way of life, and removing them is necessary to their livelihood. (Grey wolf population control ring a bell?) I find it ironic if we have a pest at our home here, we call and pay for pest control services – She’s paying them to rid them of a serious problem, all while helping the population of those animals. 

The list of similarities could continue, but this is a blog post and not a book. Most disturbing to me is the words and actions being taken against someone for doing nothing wrong. Animal rights activists have taken it upon themselves to denounce her actions as socially and morally wrong and therefore she should be punished.

A petition is growing by the minute to take action against her Facebook photos. Listen, I realize thousands of these causes get taken up everyday – but to see action being taken on these whims is unconceivable. Let’s put this is in perspective: Thousands of religious groups deem American women’s clothing choice to be socially and morally wrong (although perfectly legal), the same goes for those who deem drinking alcohol socially and morally wrong (although perfectly legal), the same goes for those who deem children out of wedlock socially and morally wrong (although perfectly legal), the same goes for those who deem tattoos socially and morally wrong (although perfectly legal)…. get the drift? What happens when enough people rise up against these and countless other actions just because SOME deem them wrong? Are we going to start banning all photos and posts because SOME deem them wrong? What happens when a petition is taken up against an agricultural practice because many can’t relate and deem it wrong? It’s one thing to not agree with something – its another to act on those differences.

Sitting quietly isn’t the answer. We can’t look away while national news, like Good Morning America, did once again this morning, only interviewing and featuring one “expert” who was blatantly biased and against hunting to provide the only commentary without both sides to the story and letting the viewer decide on the truth. Although its a long, hard road, I’m glad IBP is taking them to task for these examples of piss-poor journalism regarding LFTB; but clearly they haven’t learned enough of a lesson yet on responsible, unbiased journalism, so we can’t sit idly and look the other way. They’ve done it before, they’re doing it now, and they will continue to do it unless we stand against it.

These problems don’t resolve themselves. If we don’t stand united, then we stand divided and ready to be conquered. This is not a case of “not my problem” – this is something agriculture should learn from and grow from, and try to strengthen from.

At the end of the day you don’t have to agree with Kendall Jones’ lifestyle. You don’t even have to like her. However, we need to remember that just as we deem something wrong about another’s lifestyle choice, many could say the same for our lifestyle choices; and taking harsh and threatening actions against those differences is not the solution. The agriculture industry has come a long way in working to grow relationships and be more transparent about our practices in hopes of avoiding such social backlash. Maybe big-game hunting could do the same, but if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s we have a long way to go in continuing to spread our message to those who don’t relate and don’t understand.

Hypocrisy: it Gets Me Every Time

I’ve never been one with the virtue of patience, so forgive me for being so bold in my first personal blog post, but… I believe your hypocrisy is showing, you might want to wrangle that back in.

In last few weeks the agricultural community, particularly the beef cattle side, have focused on two news stories. The first being the controversy in Nevada regarding the BLM and Cliven Bundy. The second, more personal for me, the news of 12 individuals no longer employed with the American Angus Association.

Perhaps like you, I’ve seen countless posts, forum feeds, blogs, and news coverage of both controversies. But what I’ve seen and heard is mostly news commentary and lot more assumption. Everyone is all over the place with theories and speculation. Making it worse, both controversies have a divided following, only adding to the fire storm as each side tries to shout their beliefs loudest. It’s so divided, two individuals can read the same news story, see totally different sides, and draw completely different conclusions.

Let me be clear – this post is not about where I stand on either issue. In my opinion, there is another lesson to take-away from these situations.

Let’s think back to the lean finely textured beef controversy for starters. How many of my fellow agriculturalists were outraged at people willing to believe the negative media coverage? How much effort went into combating the issue? Yet at the end of the day, most wanted to believe the hype. I saw countless posts in my news feeds questioning how “silly” people were for believing the one-sided media.

Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing within our own industry now? We’re creating more “news” than there really is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the amount of news coverage or wanting to get mainstream media attraction on these issues. In fact I believe the more information released, even the complete one-sided information, will lead us closer to finding the whole story as we sort through the details. But as an industry we did criticize the lack of including both sides in the coverage of LFTB; yet I haven’t seen any news on either issue lately that includes both Bundy and the BLM, nor those on both sides of the Angus personnel issue. I realize neither will likely happen with the government or the latter involving personnel issues for legal purposes.

The lesson is, when controversy involves something close to us and is personal, perhaps emotional, we react – and we react from reading/hearing one-sided news. That’s exactly what happened with LFTB. Countless studies have demonstrated people make food choices on emotions, not science or facts. And when it comes to emotional issues, research also shows people tend to believe those they trust and who they relate to. In both the Bundy/BLM and Angus controversies many have similarly aligned themselves to the side they associate with. Are we being hypocritical by not waiting to hear both sides before making our judgements?

Every day we discuss ways to reach out to the public. The best way to do that is find relatable ground. You may not understand someone else’s stance on an issue but maybe having a little understanding on how and why they took a particular side could help start the conversation. A little perspective goes a long way.

Next time controversy hits something close to us, just remember we’re all human and try to look for common ground. Perspective is how we see things after all.

Until next time…