In a previous lifetime, my job required all the staff members to assemble every week for the dreaded “Team Meeting,” which was less about sharing important information relevant to our individual and collective job performances, and more about who could outshine whom in the group discussions.
One element of those meetings I initially loathed was a mandatory statement we were all required to make (aloud) about something for which we were grateful. I don’t know: when you’re forced to express something thoughtful, whether you’re feeling it or not, it can feel awfully phony.
But as time went on, I came around to a different viewpoint, if not all-out enthusiasm, at least an appreciation for the value of considering our good fortunes in life. Because they’re many and varied, if we’d ever stop to itemize them.
Which is the point of the Thanksgiving holiday: a time to reflect, as well as celebrate, to look at the upside of our personal and professional ledgers, rather than constantly focus on the setbacks and challenges we all have to confront.
At this moment in time, there are plenty of challenges confronting us — to put it mildly. From political turmoil driven by ideological polarization, to religious strife seemingly everywhere on Earth to the threat of terror attacks that take a horrific human toll, there is an endless supply of problems over which to agonize.
Even the business of animal agriculture, the profession of animal husbandry, the industry that supports our food production systems is the target of relentless and virulent condemnation. For the first time in my life, a majority of ordinary people are deeply conflicted about what was once considered an acceptable, if underappreciated, industry: producing meat, poultry and dairy products, a bounty of which regularly graces dinner tables across America.
It Starts with Awareness
Despite that gloom, there are reasons to be “cautiously optimistic,” as politicians and coaches love to proclaim in the face of adversity.
For one, no one involved with animal agriculture is unaware of the situation in which the industry finds itself: under attack from well-coached and well-funded opponents, and facing existential threats from the very population growth that offers its best opportunities for future prosperity. There are real concerns about the availability of land, energy and resources to sustain the growth of livestock production needed to feed another two or three billion people who will be born this century.
Be grateful for that, because when those inputs appear to be limitless, as was the case earlier in American history, we tend to squander them to a reprehensible degree. In the 21st century, there is now a keen appreciation for stewardship of all the resources necessary to maintain our food production systems, and for that we can be thankful.
Equally important is the availability of science and technology to advance the efficiency and productivity of livestock production, along with the potential to develop new products and even entire new food categories that will improve the quality and nutritional value of the foods and ingredients derived from animal agriculture.
For all the scientists, researchers, and innovators working to apply the incredible wealth of knowledge developed over the past few generations, we ought to be extremely grateful. In the previous century, there were often few options available to deal with issues of quality, consistency and safety of the products and the workplaces.
Now we have a veritable arsenal of interventions, innovations and improvements that are and will continue to be deployed going forward, and for that everyone — not just those involved in the industry — ought to be grateful.
Perhaps most importantly, there is reason to give thanks because opportunities still exist across the very diverse and multi-layered business of food production. Personally, I believe that ranchers, producers, farmers and feeders in the years ahead will play an increasingly important role in supporting domestic food security, in advancing environmental initiatives and in maintaining the one vital resource that would be most difficult to replace: farmland.
The catch is that achieving those objectives requires a degree of political will, a level of shared consensus and a recognition of our collective priorities that are often lacking in contemporary America. We need to somehow, some way, set aside our laser-like focus on personal gain and understand that even a small amount of individual sacrifice can result in significant societal improvement.
As a nation, as an industry, we have that opportunity, and in a season set aside for acknowledging our blessings, I will be grateful for that possibility.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.