A few weeks ago my family and I made our inaugural visit to a major big box grocery retailer with high anticipations of cutting our food bill, filling our cabinets for weeks and making the most out of our hour-long trip. As soon as we walked in the door to the grocery store there were racks to the ceiling, filled with everything from lawn and garden supplies to cases of snack size Doritos. As someone who appreciates a huge meal (when I say huge, I mean HUGE. I eat between 3k-6k calories every day, thank you HIGH metabolism) I was in awe of the sheer quantity of food. It did not take long to realize I was missing out on something big, and I’m not talking about the 16-inch apple pie that I picked up for $8.99! What I am talking about is the expanding gap between the millennial generation and how their food is being grown and raised. Most importantly, when did we as consumers become so gullible, myself included?
As with most fire-breathing Americans, my family was drawn to a couple things when lawn and garden (more lawn than garden) and food are all combined into one store. The wide selection of grilling supplies, the holy grail of the expansive meat counter and even grills themselves, is incessantly jaw-dropping and mouth-watering. After regaining composure, I started scouring the meat case for the best deals and largest quantities (remember 3k-6k calories per day), I overhear one of the meat department employees describing a product and trying to make a chicken breast sale. Then it happens, the phrases that make every farmer’s blood boil: “It is GMO, Hormone and Antibiotic Free.” Wait…what…hold on a second as I wipe the drool from my chin. Two of the three sales points were 100 percent false. ALL chicken is raised HORMONE FREE, and no chicken has been genetically modified, their food possibly, but not the chicken. So why is this sales person employing these techniques? Emotion. We all have an emotional tie to our food, and by labeling and identifying a consumer builds a stronger bond which is hard to break, even when that bond was built on false advertising and misinformation.
At this same retailer customers are allowed to sample many of the products at stations where certain products are featured, which I thoroughly enjoy (remember 3k-6k caloric intake!) I never miss a free sample station and, as approaching the new unique puffed pea product (imagine cheese puff but healthy and made from peas), I hear the store employee shout to the bystanders sampling the product, “Made from peas that are GMO-free.” Again, wait…what…GMO-free peas? I found this to be quite the conundrum as ALL peas are GMO-free, and there is no difference between the pea in this product and any other pea in the whole store genetically. What makes this instance different? Emotion. By referencing an emotionally charged subject, GMOs, this store representative is trying to bolster sales (commission or not) of this product by utilizing misinformation to tap into the emotions of innocent consumers.
When did we, as consumers, become so naïve and misinformed to the point that we believe nearly any sales pitch played upon us? I can imagine most parents are typically hanging on by a thread, similar to how my wife and I are trying to keep up with two growing girls, keep the lights on and the cabinets full. Most millennials do not have the time to research every part of their lives, but instead trust friends, sales persons, or even things seen on social media to help make family food buying decisions. Sometimes this information, whether it is a whole truth, partial truth or, in these specific instances 100 percent false, is how important nourishment decisions for our families are made. In 1900 there was a much higher likelihood that there may have been an innocent farming bystander in the crowd at this grocery retailer to set the record straight. However, today less than two percent of the U.S. population is involved in farming and in the future there likely won’t be a 6’8” tower of farming knowledge there when fear-based marketing is used to encourage sales. So I always encourage my peers, and new friends I meet at grocery retailers like this, to trust a farmer and ask a farmer. The social community of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is huge and it is always important to take a look at both sides of the fence before jumping on any bandwagon.
Thomas Titus, a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching, is a pig farmer from Illinois. Follow Thomas on Twitter @1thomas_titus.