Farmers are fighting back, and according to the Farm Bureau folks who are meeting in Seattle this week, we’re the ones they are fighting. By we, I mean the “animal rights” activists and environmentalists that Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called out in his address at the beginning of the AFBF’s annual convention.
You can download the full text of his speech if you so desire here.
The AFBF has managed to co-opt a language of progress from their opponents.
“A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule,”
We are the ones hindering progress. By painting animal rights activists as the opponents of progress, there is a way of making us seem backwards, uneducated, and wrong.
We are the ones being impolite and disrespectful. Though the attempts to force people to be polite and respectful have always been a way of maintaining the status quo.
And I wonder what exactly Stallman means by “40 acres and a mule,” because I’m fairly certain the “day of 40 acres and a mule” doesn’t have the meaning that Stallman was going for.
Throughout his speech, and throughout the AFBF website , there is a positioning of all farmers as fighting for a future where the entire world is fed. These arguments are based in a sort of American exceptionalism:
“The United States is one of the world’s most important food producing regions. We are blessed with temperate climate, quality soils, technical know-how and political and economic systems that help drive our productive capability.
I believe in the saying, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, the hard facts are, that for parts of the world, we cannot improve the depth of topsoil, create rainfall, make the climate more temperate, or ensure economic and social justice for farmers.
History proves that our nation is always ready to help in time of need. We have fed parts of Europe and Asia, just as today we focus on Africa and the Middle East.
The world will continue to depend on food from the United States of America. And as global citizens, we must address those needs. To throttle back our ability to produce food — at a time when the UN projects billions of more mouths to feed – is a moral failure.”
What Stallman forgets, or ignores, in his painting of America as the savior of the rest of the world is that the rest of the world could feed itself, and had fed itself for most of the history of human kind. The monocultures (that Stallman derides as an offensive term, along with factory farm) that have been forced upon the rest of the world contribute to regions of the world being unable to feed themselves. There is also no reason to assume that the farmers everywhere else cannot improve topsoil or receive economic and social justice.
It is through a nostalgic view of America, and an embracing of Americana, that the AFBF sprouts this exceptionalism. Somehow rhetorically Stallman makes the AFBF into progress seeking visionaries steeped in the rich earth of American traditions.
Also I just want to point out the focus the group has on recruiting children. They’ve developed a website that despite the intense un-fun nature of the games reminds me of an interactive version of the Meat Council video in the Lisa Becomes a Vegetarian episode of The Simpsons.