Bridging the gap between consumers and farmers is an ongoing challenge but it’s one Michele Payn takes to heart. Sixteen years ago she launched Cause Matters Corp. to give a voice to people who feed the world. After more than a decade of public speaking about the importance of agriculture and farming, she decided to write her first book, “No More Food Fights!”
“Once I came up with the idea for a two-sided book, ‘No More Food Fights!’ came together quickly because I had so much material,” Payn says. “I knew people needed tools to grow a more productive farm and food conversation.”
She followed that with “Food Truths from Farm to Table: 25 Surprising Ways to Shop & Eat Without Guilt.” While she developed the idea for the book, which provides a transparent window into today’s agriculture, she says it took time to commit to writing it.
“My viewpoint is in stark contrast to many sensationalized food claims—and therefore controversial. However, I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t take the book from my brain to paper,” Payn says, calling “Food Truths” the greatest challenge of her career.
“Food Truths” serves as an aisle-by-aisle grocery guidebook with a goal to offer an informed voice of reason in a food world that can often be overly sensationalized. Each chapter includes a story about food producers and answers questions around major food issues such as organics, animal welfare and sustainability.
“Understanding the ‘real story’ about food is a critical issue for every health professional, parent, chef and essentially anyone buying food,” says Marianne Edge Smith, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who reviewed the book. “You will find answers to your most challenging questions around nutrition and health in ‘Food Truths from Farm to Table.’”
In contrast, “No More Food Fights!” includes six steps to help agriculturalists better their conversations with consumers as well as providing information for consumers.
Payn’s life work has centered around telling the real story of farmers and ranchers.
“My work is about serving the cause of agriculture—and a cause is not one person,” Payn says. “My speaking and writing centers on sharing the stories of all sizes and shapes of agriculture, while encouraging others to find their voice in the conversation. My work has evolved to connect people around the food plate through a variety of tools.”
If farmers are looking to start a conversation with consumers, they should first relate to them as people.
“Don’t dump data on people outside of agriculture. We all need to learn to bite our tongues and listen more, as agriculture has a tendency to be defensive,” Payn explains.
“If we could relate to people outside of agriculture on their hot buttons and then show how much we care about our land and animals with meaningful conversations about why we raise food the way we do, we would be much more effective in helping people feel good about the food they buy and serve their families,” she adds.
While writing her books, Payn says she learned the importance of collaboration to tell agriculture’s story. Asking others to share their stories helped to make “No More Food Fights!” a more robust book to fully encapsulate all that is North American agriculture.
However, for “Food Truths” she leaned on more information from the food and nutrition world. The book sums up to 119 citations from a variety of sources and insight from more than 55 farming, dietetic, ranching, food science and veterinary experts. Extra data and research was vital in maintaining the unbiased state of “Food Truths.” While both contain personal stories, Payn says “Food Truths” puts stories to use to translate science and explain the why behind modern food production.
“We need to meet consumers in the center of the plate and approach it as a conversation, not education,” Payn says.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Drovers.