Anne has worked in agriculture since she was old enough to sweep the floor of the family machine shed. She writes about rural & outdoor life from the most remote county seat in the Lower 48, where she and her husband chase two children. Her experience ranges from picking apricots in 100 degree weather and working with Hutterite colonies, to discussing ag trade with the Ambassador of New Zealand and judging cured meats.
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I had spent the morning at a FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) Convention, judging young competitors and their presentations on animal science. It was one of my favorite events; watching talented youth show off their ag advocacy skills and mentally noting whom to approach later about possible scholarships and internships. Many of them didn’t come from ag backgrounds, resulting in presentations with a new perspective on the food systems and livestock industries. As always, I left the judging room refreshed and energized by the high school students. And slightly relieved that I finally looked older than 16 and had managed to become a bit of an authority on the food industry in the meantime.
Or so I thought. As the lunch plates cleared that day, I found myself next to Miss P and several other respected Family Consumer Science teachers in our state. We chatted about students, recipes and what movie stars would be allowed to eat crackers without a plate in our kitchens. And then conversation turned to family budgets.
I took that opportunity to proudly announce how I was able to hold our food purchases to a steady, low number each month. That we used every little thing in the cupboard, even if it meant a strange tuna fish concoction every once and a while. I was basking in my economics education glory and ingenious methods of eliminating food waste. Until Miss P’s horrified look stopped me midsentence.
“Why would you do that? Why would you limit the most important thing you can provide to family productivity and brainpower? She continued, “Especially when you can afford to feed your household very well for just a fraction of what the rest of the world spends on the same nutrition.”
My 16 year old inner-self squirmed. My family wasn’t starving. We had 3 meals a day and I made sure they were relatively balanced. I cooked from scratch just like my mother did. But was I looking at my grocery list to make sure that I gave them the best nutritional options that I could reasonably afford? Was I buying that extra bag of spinach, dozen eggs or extra meat? Or was I instead rushing to put a little money here and there for a Starbucks coffee on the road, a few more Itunes or a magazine at the checkout counter for the tired mother?
Every day in the office, I preached the importance of food. About the bounty provided by America’s farmers and ranchers. About why you should take pride in providing amazing meals for surprisingly little cost. About not taking our advanced food system for granted. And yet there I was with a $4 Starbucks in my hand, stomach finally full after skipping breakfast in the interest of getting to work, and no official meal plan for the week of family meals.
Advocacy starts at home. I’m not saying we need to spend far beyond our means on decadent meals or buy more than we can reasonably consume. I am saying that a little more protein goes a long way. And I am saying that, of all the consumers out there buying groceries, those of us in agriculture should place just as much emphasis on our tables as we do on everyone else’s.