I’ve talked before about the importance of reaching out to youth, whether the message involves food choices and pork’s role in a healthful diet or the real practices on a modern farm or rallying the next generation to consider agricultural careers. 

Now, I know that there is much good work being done today. Nearly every agricultural association and armies of individual farmers have programs that reach into the classroom or bring students to the farm for a real-world look at agriculture. Projects like the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure Center and online, real-time streaming videos that allow consumers of all ages to see how farm animals are raised are increasingly important to your business.

On any given day, these actions may seem like a small ripple in the pond, and it’s easy to wonder how much difference they make. But when you reach one student you also reach his or her parents, siblings and friends. If you reach one teacher, you reach not just this year’s class but students yet to come.

Children have a deep connection with animals. How many children dream of being a veterinarian? How many of today’s veterinarians or pork producers or agricultural journalists discovered their future careers while feeding, showing or playing with animals? That’s also how many activists began, and they’re hoping that exploiting the child/animal connection will influence purchasing patterns of future generations. 

Just like agriculture, animal activists reach into the classroom. The Humane Society of the United States has an easy-to-use curriculum and a plethora of materials at the ready for an interested teacher. That’s nothing new.

What is new is the growing attempt to reach younger and younger prospects. The most recent example is a new children’s book entitled Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action. It is actually the activist, author-illustrator Ruby Roth’s second such book. The first was That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals. 

Geared toward children from ages 4 to 9, Vegan Is Love addresses animal testing, zoos, animal farming and slaughter, wearing animals and environmental impacts. Found on Amazon.com for $16.95, a description of the book reports that it “introduces young readers to veganism as a lifestyle of compassion and action…Roth illustrates how our daily choices ripple out locally and globally, conveying what we can do to protect animals, the environment and people across the world. Roth explores the many opportunities we have to make ethical decisions: refusing products tested on or made from animals; avoiding sea parks, circuses, animal races and zoos; choosing to buy organic food; and more. Roth’s message…brings into sharp focus what it means to ‘put our love into action’.”

In the back of the book, Roth provides action steps that children can take to “create a more sustainable and compassionate world.”

In reality, the book has many dark messages and illustrations, which has generated criticism from some child psychologists and nutritionists. For example, if vegan is love and you are not a vegan, does that mean you do not love or that you are not worthy of love?

An excerpt from the book tells the reader: “All animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end. Their deaths are violent and sad. As vegans we do not bring the pain and suffering of any animal into our happy and healthy bodies.”

“My concern is the scare tactic,” says nutritionist Heidi Skolink. “Guilt and fear are not good places to come from. I see kids and adults that are very anxious and fearful about making the right and wrong decisions about food.”  

Jennifer Hartstein, a child psychologist, says “There is so much fear in the book. Kids have enough to worry about; they don’t need to worry about where they’re getting their food.”

Both agree that scaring such young children can have serious long-term effects such as eating-disorder behaviors and other problems.  

The book may be questionable, but Vegan Is Love is one more ripple in the growing pond, not just of activists but of Americans questioning modern agriculture. Planting seeds of doubt can sprout long-term challenges. It makes it all the more important for all of agriculture, including you, to commit to reaching the next generation. 

Speaking of Long-term Commitment

In the hectic requirements of daily life — and daily business — there’s little time to reflect on accomplishments, and that’s a shame because pork producers have a history of innovation.

Today’s hogs are leaner, grow faster and produce a healthier, safer and more consistent product than ever before. Annual productivity gains of 2 percent have become an expectation. Not only is the United States no longer a net pork importer, U.S. producers rank as the world’s No. 1 pork supplier, shipping well beyond 20 percent of annual production overseas. 

Yes, we all should stop and reflect on past accomplishments from time to time. That’s what PORK magazine’s parent company, Vance Publishing Corporation, is doing this year as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. Still managed by the Vance family, the company’s agricultural roots run deep, from livestock to dairy to produce to agribusiness. But Vance publications, e-newsletters, websites and events also reach into many other industries. The common denominator is a business-to-business focus and a dedication to the industries — and readers — that we serve.

“It is with a sense of pride and commitment to our heritage that we continue to serve the agribusiness, beauty, woodworking and home organization industries,” says William Vance, chairman.

Service, commitment and pride run deep within agriculture, and certainly the pork sector — just as they do at Vance, PORK magazine and PorkNetwork.com.