Alternative Facts?

It is always great catching up with friends and having friends stay on the farm.  My daughter Keelin loves showing visitors the dogs (her dogs), the sheep and cattle and her prized guinea pigs!  This autumn my husband and I hosted a long time friend from Canada and his Chinese partner.  We were also treated to a special visit from a hedgehog wrapped in a bow!  It must have got tangled up in some of the discarded Christmas wrappings but our Chinese visitor thought it might have been a present!  We told her that unfortunately it wasn’t and rescued the poor thing by cutting it off.

Coco (as we were told to call her because our kiwi tongues could in no way attempt to pronounce her real name) was delightful and open to trying new things and learning about other countries.  She also shared the good and the bad things about her home.  While she is very proud of her culture and history she remarked about food – she always checked if we had washed vegetables and fruit as in China it is dangerous to eat anything without washing it.  She also explained that they were used to not believing what they see is exactly what they are getting.  And that is not just with pre-packaged goods.  Even fruit that can look amazing does not have the nutrients or flavour of fruit that we may have as it is grown under lights and with heavy use of chemicals.

The global media has been in a spin and my other profession – communications has taken some hits as the Trump administration, by way of U.S. Counsellor, Kellyanne Conway’s Freudian slip, by use of the term alternative facts.

Unfortunately, alternative facts are rife in our food chain.

Vegetarian food producers are able to use dairy and meat terminology when selling products and the terms organic and sustainable are used without much policing around what they mean.  And don’t get me started on what the no sugar added phrasing can actually mean in reality.

Then there are counterfeit foods that claim to be something that they aren’t. More Manuka honey is actually sold in the UK and China than we actually export.

There is a discussion about brand protection and traceability that is being had and should be.  My concern as a farmer’s wife and a learner farmer myself is that this world of fakes and falsehoods is causing people to be afraid and treat all food producers with suspicion.  Documentaries such as Cowspiracy have directed this fear toward meat producers which has meant that sustainable grass fed farmers have been put in the same category as massive feed lot industrial meat producers.  Unfortunately, this mindset has spread to urban dwellers in New Zealand and has started an unhelpful and unhealthy attitude towards farming in New Zealand.

Nothing is perfect and can always be improved.  For things to improve however we all need to come to the table and have an open minded discussion – I hope that this blog is one forum for intelligent, informed and respectful conversation.

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