Food Critics… You Have the Wrong Man

Help me out here. I am confused. I just do not understand why food and health critics take aim at and blame  “modern agriculture” for America’s health problems. Food producers (a.k.a. Farmers and Ranchers) are not the ones who bought the Twinkies and put them in your mouth or made you decide to sit on the couch and pass on physical activity. Farmers and Ranchers are not the ones that caused heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and the whole laundry list of health conditions that plague Americans today.

I am far from an economist, but I do have a basic understanding of the “supply and demand” concept. Consumers demand salty, sweet, and fatty food and in turn food processors demand the raw products from farmers and ranchers to manufacture those foods. We would not produce the raw materials that make up that quarter-pound cheese burger with fries if there was not a market for that product. There would not be a market for that product if consumers did not demand it. Am I wrong?

So when you hear from food critics, watch documentaries (like Food Inc.), or read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma that take aim at food producers, take a step back and ask who should really be to blame? Food Producers? No. Food Manufactures/Retailers? No. The real target should be the consumer. Consumers demand the market, producers supply the needs to satisfy that market. Now did I miss the definition of “supply and demand” or did I sleep too much in my Ag Microeconomics course?


  1. I agree 100%. Children sit and play video games, too many adults have opted for sedentary occupations.We are bombarded with ads for foods that create cravings and addictions. But stop hitting on that cheeseburger. A cheeseburger with ketsup was my standard order at what passed for fast food venues when I was growing up and even as an adult, and I was a “lean, mean fighting machine”. And it seems to me Americans are living a lot longer than my parents generation despite all the obesity, heart disease, etc. Blame the culprit – lifestyle changes – not the farmer.

  2. I respectively disagree, (surprise!) this is something I think about a lot, so please hear me out. No, I’m not responsible if someone turns my wheat into bland white bread. You’re not responsible when Taco Bell uses some part of your beef in their 35% mix. But if all we do is provide the raw materials to feed the system, then yeah, we do bear some of the blame. To some degree I see that as playing to the lowest common denominator, that we sell for whatever we can get because that’s the system that’s in place.
    Five years ago I wasn’t selling a whole apple finished hog to a taco shop because? Well I wasn’t raising them. Five years ago customers weren’t buying out my wife’s eggs at the farmer’s market because? We didn’t have chickens and were buying our eggs at the store. No pun intended, it is a chicken and egg scenario. Do people buy the crap because they demand it, or because we don’t offer anything else?
    People want to buy this stuff! If I say I grow wheat no one cares, if I mention that we’re into grapes, pastured poultry and grassfed beef, their ears perk up. You can see it on their faces. And if a consumer doesn’t want my products, well guess what, their not worth my time.
    Of all the things I’ve learned about wine, the thing I appreciate the most is that every bottle is an expression of that year’s production, of that variety, on that small piece of land. The taste of that year is bottled up and offered for sale. Think about that, and consider that vintners don’t have a PR problem, in fact people plan trips to vineyards to get the full experience. Weigh that against the mentality that every steak should taste the same, that every loaf of bread is identical. Think about it, Prattsville, Arkansas as the Napa Valley of steak. Think I’m nuts? People derided Napa Valley wines a few decades ago, where would they be if they took every grape, blended them together and offered one wine?
    What if one day we farmers and ranchers said “You know what, our food is too good for Cargill, ADM and Tyson. You want the good stuff, you come to us!” What would that do to small towns? How about that for connecting the farm to the plate? That’s some agvocacy I could get behind.

    *As usual you do a great job, and I always enjoy reading your stuff.

    1. I have a problem with your idea. There are not enough people in Montana to eat the beef raised there. There is not enough food raised within a decent drive of New York to feed the people there. Our system may be screwed up, but it gets the food to the people from the farms.

  3. I am mixed up on this one. Since my wife and I are beginning our ranch operations, most of our money is tied up. I have a good job in town, but I watch that cash flow right into our cattle and land. But, I still eat healthy and avoid all the crap on a very tight budget. I get tired of blame. I was always taught that when you point a finger, 3 of the fingers are pointing right back at yourself.

    However, I would love to differentiate our beef product from another as vines and cattle mentions. But, while you’re on the soap box, please remember that comparative advantages do exist! We don’t have a tourism market in our area because it is soooo remote. Napa Valley has a bit of advantage there, and the people who are marketing cattle and beef from that area can capitalize on that. I’m not complaining, but many producers on remote ranches would argue that the larger buyers of cattle really help them succeed as ranchers.

    Good thoughts all around. Enjoy the discussion and enjoy trying to understand new perspectives. Maybe they’ll help us succeed as we proceed.

  4. Its frustrating.
    I honestly think that consumers want to feel good about what they’re buying. The blue collar soccer mom wants to know that she can put a safe and healthy meal on her table every night and still not break the bank.
    Unfortunately, these authors try to give people information on a healthy eating by suggesting a diet that a huge percentage of the population simply can’t afford.
    I think the Michael Pollan’s of the world aren’t motivating this population to eat healthier, they’re further confusing the consumer and creating a new guilt among mom’s that they aren’t feeding their family well enough.

  5. Great question, post and discussion Ryan.

    Being the daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, great great granddaughter….and so on…of a farming family, I have to wholeheartedly agree with your observation on supply and demand.

    The black and white of the whole discussion comes down to personal choice and research. Healthy and non healthy food options are available to the majority of Americans. I load my own cart up with healthy and sometimes non healthy foods. Do I realize I’m doing it? Yeah. Have I thought my food choices through? For the most part. Do I really need that box of Dreamsicles? Nope. Do I still buy them because sometimes it’s heaven on a stick when it’s blistering hot in the summer time and given my own mentality and understanding of my body I pretty much know I can have one or two Dreamsicles a week for a few months out of the year and still be pretty healthy. And there in lies the rub, because I put limits on myself. I don’t eat the whole box in one sitting. There’s no red faced farmer or marketing agent shoving them down my throat so that they can increase their profit. That is my choice and my choice alone. Just like it’s yours, theirs, ours and to put it in the same charming language of a previous poster “any fat woman shopping on a motorized cart, and you’ll never follow her to the vegetable aisle”‘s choice. The choices are out there! Doing the research, and making educated choices is our job as a consumer. If Americans purchase 12 million boxes of Ho Ho cakes a year, then obviously that’s the demand. When American’s start purchasing 11 million boxes of Ho Ho cakes a year and an extra million apples a year, then the demand has changed. As an educated consumer we can make changes to our food system by our purchases, and not propaganda, blame and B.S..

    By the way, some of the nicest most healthy women I’ve ever met in a grocery store were in the fruit and veggie aisle while on their motorized cart…They were making educated choices based on their own research and past experience, but they just needed a little help to keep moving in the right direction.

  6. There are those that agree and those that may argue about this post, but I firmly agree. I believe he is not pointing fingers at everybody, but those that take advantage of the system and then point fingers at it, saying it is not their fault. The people who buy the “junk food” are the ones to blame. Like Ryan said they are creating that demand, so the market fills that demand, since that is where they are able to make a profit. One cannot simply create a healthy supply and hope to create a strong demand for it… that just wouldn’t be profitable. It also appears that todays day and age tends to let there kids sit around more, whether it be watching television/movies, playing video games, etc. When kids do this and eat junk food that is the reason they are obese… its not the farmers fault. It is the habits of which the consumers create. This can only be corrected by the consumers themselves.
    I can be accused of buying those unhealthy potato chips and fast food, but I live on a farm and get plenty of exercise while taking care of everything. So therefore I am not obese. People of today need to remember to take everything in moderation. You can get your favorite snack and eat it too, if you add something to your lifestyle that offsets it.
    Thanks for the great read and discussion!

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