A few weeks ago I had lunch with an attorney who works for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals (“ASPCA”). I am on the New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”) Committee on Animals and the Law (“CAL”) with her. If you know me, have heard me speak, or follow this blog, you know that I have some very different viewpoints than ASPCA or other animal rights organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”). And if you are a member of the agriculture community, ASPCA is not the first place you would look for allies. However, I had a wonderful lunch getting to know this attorney. While she was eating her vegetarian meal and I ordered meat-animal protein, we found many issues to discuss. We even share similar viewpoints on certain animal law issues.
I practice what I preach. I urge the agriculture community to reach across the aisle and have true conversations with those that have different viewpoints. You can always find common ground with people. The agriculture community can find common ground with urban consumers and/or animal activist groups. I understand the love that animal activists have for companion animals. I am a person who has had numerous dogs and cats in my life and I love each of them like a member of my family. I understand that each animal, no matter the species, does have a unique personality. I can relate to a person who feels passionately that animals should not be killed for human consumption. I don’t agree (at all)- but I can relate to those feelings. And I can understand how someone who did not grow up in production agriculture might see the food industry differently than I do.
Here are some suggestions for finding common ground with an animal activist:
1) Ask questions to try to understand their viewpoint.
2) Never lecture – you are there to learn.
3) Candidly answer any questions that are asked.
4) Find something (anything) that interests both of you.
5) Don’t get defensive and never start an argument (or participate in one for that matter).
I live in the most concentrated metropolitan city in the country where few understand production agriculture yet make food decisions that affect the industry. Consumers around the country have a hunger for information about the food and agriculture industry. Reach out to them. Find common ground. Extend the first hand.
I will be heading to the New York State Fair this afternoon. For those of you who are there as well, please reach out to someone who appears to be “city folk” and teach them about your animals and your 4-H project.