Perception and Reality
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
Over the last two weeks, I was able to attend both the Academy of Veterinary Consultants meeting in Amarillo, Texas and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) meeting in Nashville, Tenn., as my two and only in-person events as your AABP representative. Within each event was a similar theme that continued to be present – where we have been and where we are going. As I write this month’s column, I can’t help but continue thinking of this common theme.
We are all aware of where the cattle industry has been over each and every one of our lifetimes. How the cattle have changed, the clients have changed, the industry has changed, and the value of the product our clients produce has changed. Though we all start that timeline at different points along the way, the one constant thing is the change. Maybe the bigger question is not how has our industry changed and where have we been, but where are we going?
Many of the common buzzwords we hear today are in regard to sustainability, climate change, animal welfare, upcycling and others. I think in our world, one where we know where our food comes from and what impact we have on each and every one of these buzzwords, we have our own perception of reality. However, each of us needs to remember that our perception of reality is most certainly very different than a large portion of consumers.
In one of the sessions at NCBA, they highlighted focus groups that were surveyed regarding some of these buzzwords. Shocking to me, only 3% of the people in these focus groups actually think about food when it comes to sustainability. Most all of them think about energy, recycling, water usage, etc.
During one of the sessions a representative from Sysco foods was on stage, along with a representative from Darden Restaurants (Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, etc.). They echoed that the buyers of their products want to hear your story. They want to know that we are all in this together. But they both warned against using too much industry jargon. We must remember we are less than 2% of the population. The vast majority of consumers have no idea what we do and how we do it on a regular basis. Rather than getting defensive or condemning them for not understanding, use the many relatable examples that you have as a human being. Find common ground. Keep things clear and simple. They said one of the best things to do is be a self-supporter. Tell them what you are already doing!
Our consumers have a very different perception of reality. What they know and don’t know, I can guarantee, is very different than what each one of us knows. However, what we all know, is that the food we eat, how it is produced, how the farms producing that food look, and what it takes to produce that food is going to continue to change. How we operate as veterinarians in the cattle industry is going to continue to change. Our current perception of reality will change as time marches on.
How are you going to impact that change? Are you going to be an active participant or a bystander in that change? Are you going to contribute to how our clients and their consumers adjust to that change? Like in the quote above, between what is known and what is unknown are all the doors of perception. What doors of perception are being opened or closed by our impact as trusted advisors, producers and veterinarians? Are you helping or hindering those perceptions? How can you help shape those perceptions? Each one of us can have an impact on how the future of our industry changes. We each have a responsibility to use our knowledge and influence to help tell our story, to help mold that change. How are you going to shift that perception to a reality to ensure a successful future in producing the most nutritious, best-tasting products on the store shelves?
Dr. Carie Telgen