bias is a two-way street: my rude awakening

As a dairy science student here at Cornell, I am often concerned that my views are becoming encapsulated within the walls of Morrison Hall, and not my own brain. While much of what I have learned about the food industry is from the dairy perspective, it comes from people who have been born in, and never have lived in the world outside of, the dairy industry. Studying Development Sociology has been incredibly eye-opening in allowing me to see society with a different lens. While I am not sure that my opinions have changed on a lot of the current hot-topic issues, it has been valuable to hear the other sides of such arguments. I had not realized how much my eyes were being opened to the food industry — as both a social motivation and a business model — until the day we were evaluating the milk price and DHI reports, and Daniel raised his hand and inquisitively asked, in regards to the negative profit margins: “Why be a dairy farmer?”

While I am not from a dairy farm, this still really hit home. Rather than get defensive to this question, it really made me think. It has been engrained into my brain for the last four semesters that it is acceptable to have a debt of nearly four-thousand dollars per cow on a modern, productive farm; why are we allowing this to be accepted? How is this profitable for the dairy industry, especially with the mantra to “feed the world?” How does this idea promote young people to want to get into this industry?

The simple idea of being in a classroom with individuals from entirely different backgrounds has answered a lot of my questions regarding our world. In a way, ignorance is bliss; I always had difficulty understanding other individuals’ perspectives and rationale for such perspectives on things like genetically modified organisms, fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, “organic,” “local,” and the like.

At the beginning of this course, I had the biased, egotistical opinion that the solution to all of the world’s food problems (which are the basis for most problems, in the first place) was to go out and educate everyone else. By having the opportunity to listen to people from other backgrounds, including natural resources, sociology, and food psychology, I have been put in my place. Now, instead of perceiving all of the world’s hunger issues as a result of food insecurity and lack of knowledge throughout society, my viewpoints have changed. I have very quickly come to realize the motivations and naiveté surrounding jargon and advertising, and am willing to make the bold assertion that this may be towards the root on the arboreal of food system issues. Therefore, I think these are of grave concern.

Lack of knowledge and education, in fact, are not the root of all evils. Many issues in the food industry relate to consumers not having valid proof of safety of their products; this influences consumer behavior. From a scientific literacy perspective, one would recognize that no claims in science can be proven. Thus, when it comes to the organic, local, sustainable, or industrial agriculture debates, the question of consumer safety can never be answered with one-hundred percent certainty. So many questions still remained unanswered.

A similar issue is the idea of wondering where consumer priorities lie. Is it a priority for consumers to feed ourselves with food that supports the local movement and our local economy, even while requiring more out of our pockets when purchasing our food? Is it a priority for consumers to eat food only produced by ourselves for fear of agri/bio-terrorism and food safety? Is it a priority to promote technological advancement so that we are better suited to “feed the world?” Is it our problem that there are countries on this planet who are unable to feed themselves? Should we simply play “survival of the fittest,” and let the rest of the world fend for themselves? This discussion and thought really opened my eyes, above anything else: I never knew people even considered the latter an option.


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