The Most Powerful People in Food: Not Farmers

The Peterson Bros. Parody videos have millions of views

Take it for what it’s worth (a relatively arbitrary list from The Daily Meal), but a recent who’s who of food puts farmers at the bottom of the list when it comes to who influences how and what we eat. The Daily Meal launched its “50 Most Powerful People in Food” list recently, ranking individuals for their impact on how we think about food, what we eat and even how we prepare it.

The list is celebrity chef and corporate big-wig heavy, but farmers — yes, all of them collectively — are listed as number 50. It almost seems as if the people who put the list together felt obligated to include those lowly people who actually GROW the food, so plunked them in at the bottom as an afterthought.

I’d like to think that they’re wrong, of course, that farmers are an integral part of what we know about food, what we choose to eat and influence what we buy, but the reality is quite different. If we look at a more local level, we do find more farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture and direct sale systems developing and growing in Canada, but overall we are far more influenced by large advertising campaigns and health gurus (gluten-free, anyone?) than we are by farmers.

Is it reasonable to expect farmers to be influential in food?

In my mind, farmers — and agriculture as a whole — sit at an interesting crossroads. Farmers are perceived as trustworthy, and recent farmer-centric videos have gone viral with nearly 20 million views on YouTube. It would seem that now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to communicate with consumers, to share our story, to use these 15 minutes of fame to right misconceptions. Increasingly, consumers want not only to know about where their food comes from, but also influence how it’s produced. Some of this pressure to change is good, but how much is misguided?

Is it reasonable to expect farmers to be influential in food? I think so. But farmers have to be willing to join the conversation happening online and in the media, share their stories, their reasons for producing food in the way they do, in order to preserve their production practices.

It’s now or never.