Guest blog by: Dr. Tiffany Lee, DVM
A few months ago I was asked to create a PowerPoint presentation for children. The subject was to be “Where our food comes from.” Easy enough, right?
I thought so too.
As it turns out, the task was far from easy. I started by opening the PowerPoint program. I titled the first page “Where our food comes from.” I was rolling along pretty well, huh? Then it hit me. I couldn’t create this presentation.
It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t know where food comes myself, or that I didn’t know how to tell kids where food comes from. It was the fact that I didn’t know what these kids knew. I had no idea what kind of knowledge base children have about where their food comes from. And if I remember correctly, I got pretty upset when, as a sixth grader, all these adults came in telling me stuff that I had already learned in the third grade.
The gears in my brain started to turn. I didn’t want to be the adult who upset these kids. Who will hear this presentation? Will it be pupils in urban schools? Or in rural ones? Will it be kids with a rural background, going to an urban school? Or will it be kids with an urban background attending a rural school? What have their parents and teachers already taught them? How do I address these different audiences? Who IS my audience at this point?
I did what any logical PhD student would do at this point. I researched it! And I researched it… And I researched it… And I found two documents describing children’s knowledge of where their food comes from. TWO. Both documents were surveys done in countries other than the United States. I searched the USDA, the FDA, the US Department of Education, and found no documentation that I could use to help me understand how much children in our country learn about food production.
This was very disappointing to me. We have consumers raging about wanting to know where their food comes from, but we don’t even teach it in schools. We’ve got people spending hundreds of dollars more in grocery bills just to have natural and organic products, and they don’t even know the difference between naturally and conventionally-produced food. And we have people throwing fits about GMOs when they have no clue that their dog is technically a GMO.
As an industry, we have to change these things. And not just within the beef industry. All agricultural industries will have to be involved.
We have to teach people how food is produced, so they aren’t afraid of it. The adult population has been so inundated with misinformation from television, the internet, and other media sources that many will not change their ways. Children, however, still have open minds about the world. They are sponges. They take in all the information they are given, and then use it in the future.
We must provide the correct information for them to utilize in their futures. We must open their eyes to the fact that food does not just come from the grocery store. We must teach them how their food is grown, processed, and packaged so that they are confident in not only the product they buy, but the way it came to them. And we must teach ourselves how to do this.
Our jobs are changing. We do not just feed people in a hungry world anymore. We inform the world about how we are feeding those people.
It will start with understanding what to teach and who to teach it to. Then we will need to devise a strategy as to how to teach it to them. I propose that we start with children. We teach them how their food is grown, and even how to grow food themselves.
My 10-year-old nephew lives in a city of 65,000. He hunts, he fishes, and he’s coming to my family’s farm to spend a summer learning how to drive a tractor, feed cows, and haul hay (among many other things). He is so excited about it! He’ll go back and tell his friends, and they’ll be excited about it! Children get excited about things! They learn, they do, and they are happy doing it! We need to use this enthusiasm to help them learn, and to get them involved. That is our calling as educators, mentors, parents, and contributing members of society—we can make a difference, and we need to make it now!
Dr. Tiffany Lee is a PhD student with the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. She grew up on a small farm outside of Leavenworth, KS. After graduating from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine with a Master’s degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2012, she practiced at a mixed animal practice in Limon, Colorado. She started her PhD program in June of 2014, and is currently focusing her studies on animal welfare, consumer perception, and consumer education in and of the beef industry.