There was a time when everyone in America was involved in farming.  And even when a person moved away to the city or suburbs, they still had a deep understanding for the people and the lifestyle they once knew on the farm.

Most of the general population is now three generations removed from the farm.  Many consumers feel disconnected from what happens on the farm or ranch – and many fear the technologies and innovations that farmers have adopted to keep improving our food system.  In reality, more consumers get their information on how food is produced from movies, television and popular culture than from farmers and ranchers themselves.  So how did we get to a place where consumers learn more about food from Hollywood than from the people growing and raising it?  And how did celebrities become experts in our society on food more so than farmers and ranchers?

USFRA recently hosted a series of four panel discussions in the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, called “The Food Dialogues.” During the first panel, USFRA connected entertainment and pop culture to the farmers and ranchers producing America’s food.

Why would we look to the entertainment capital? Do farmers and ranchers belong in L.A.? So often, we find that the entertainment industry has a profound impact on consumers’ decisions. There are some great examples – even recent ones – where those in the entertainment industry have unintentionally provided misinformation to consumers.

For example – while on The View, Rachael Ray said during a cooking segment that it was O.K. to bite into a red-centered hamburger if it was grass-fed beef because it would be free from e. coli. Or how about a recent article in O Magazine that said little research had been conducted on crops with Bt traits and in the small amount of testing that occurred (on animals), research showed slowed metabolism, infertility and kidney failure, among other issues. In that article, the source for that study was never stated.  None of these statements are based on fact – and could ultimately prove dangerous to consumers. 

With all of these messages out there and consumers eating them up each day, how do we in agriculture provide our side of the story? How do we play in the entertainment space?  Should we be part of Hollywood?

The first panel, Hollywood and “Vine”: The Intersection of Pop Culture and Food Production, brought together, Moderator George Motz (Hamburger America), Danny Boom (celebrity chef), Juliet D’Annibale (TV director and producer), Jeff Fowle (farmer/rancher), Karen Rosa (director, American Humane Association Film and TV Unit), and Scott Vernon (founder of I Love Farmers, They Feed My Soul).

Celebrity chef, Danny Boome – also correspondent for ABC’s The Chew – talked about the entertainment industry’s impact on consumers, saying, there’s more documentaries today than ever before and that’s the reason we’re having this panel discussion. Documentaries like Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation are just a few that have sparked consumer conversations about how food is grown and raised.

Danny is absolutely correct. Documentaries ignited questions from consumers about how their food is grown and raised. While documentaries may not always be factual and often do not incorporate farmers and ranchers into the dialogue, consumers now have an interest in food – which is a good thing.

By joining experts in the entertainment and agricultural sectors, it shows the importance of bringing the faces of farming and ranching to pop culture. The discussion will hopefully open new doors and fill spaces where little or misleading information once lived in the entertainment world.

Jeff Fowle, another panelist and a California farmer and rancher, asked why don’t we have a ranch impossible or mystery farmers like the popular shows Restaurant Impossible and Mystery Diners? After all, farmers and ranchers lead an interesting lifestyle with little down time and no dull moments.

The challenge – how do farmers and ranchers tell their stories by partnering with the entertainment industry? If you’re part of farming and ranching, how would you want to see agriculture portrayed in the entertainment world, and in what ways would you like to see farming and ranching be a part of pop culture? We want to hear your thoughts. Share your comments.

USFRA recognizes that Americans have important questions about our food and how it is produced. USFRA hosted four separate discussions on June 20 and 21, bringing together entertainment movers and shakers, chefs, academics, large restaurant operators, journalists, local leaders and farmers and ranchers for in-depth conversations about food.  To read more about the panels and participants, click here