“W hy do you guys have so many meetings? I mean, what is there to talk about? They’re just pigs,” was the response from the other end of the telephone receiver.

I blinked once, twice. Even though I have heard similar naïve statements many times before, this time it left me particularly stunned. Part of me wanted to explain at least some of the complexity involved with today’s pork production process. But part of me wanted to move on, and that part won out. I was in a hurry and didn’t want to bother with explanations.

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” was the best I could deliver. It was a lost opportunity to provide a tiny snapshot of our industry to a consumer, and we should never let such an opportunity go unchecked.

The inquiry came from a gentleman taking reservations for Marriott hotels. Clearly he was used to reserving rooms for pork producers headed to National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council or any number of other industry-related events. He was well-spoken, and his tone was sincere. He really did want to understand the point behind so many meetings.

The week before, I had attended a symposium where about 150 people spent nearly two days talking about sow lameness, even more specifically about feet. The event included a wet lab that involved dissecting feet to determine the correlation between lesions, deep tissue damage and lameness. Imagine a consumer’s surprise at the notion of such an event. 

At nearly every pork industry meeting the same thought eventually creeps into my mind: “If people had even a modest idea of the depth and complexity involved in getting quality, safe, cost-effective pork to their dinner tables, they would be the ones who are stunned.”

We tend to point to the population shift away from the farm as the reason for the public’s lack of understanding. While that’s part of it, it’s also about our inability to clearly and effectively explain what we do.

How many times has your gut reaction been: “Well, don’t you know?” or “You wouldn’t understand.” Perhaps the person wouldn’t, but we all need to make the effort and not miss an opportunity to inform others.

It’s also easy to become defensive when the conversation leads to skepticism or accusations about the way you run your business. But it’s important to remain calm and not respond negatively. Remember, providing information often helps diffuse an issue. At the very least it gives the other person something to ponder, and sometimes that’s all you can hope to achieve.

I’m not talking about sharing the same level of detail about raising hogs that you crave but rather presenting some basic truths. After all, the objective is to build the person’s confidence, respect and trust in you and your profession. It’s also a chance to show that you share similar values about responsible food production.

Whether it involves a neighbor, a consumer, a lawmaker or a prospective employee, you are the best spokesperson for your industry, and one never knows when that need might surface.

In another recent example, Aaron Putze, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, points to a facility permitting hearing involving a young pork producer. After hearing the detailed plans for the proposed production system, a county supervisor said, “Son, you’re too talented to raise hogs.”

Imagine how stunned the young man was to hear that.

As you face particularly challenging economic times, you may not feel motivated to explain your business to others, but carry the county supervisor’s statement with you. It should be motivation enough to encourage you to speak up on behalf of your profession.

As summer softball, the county fair and community festivals bring people together, take the opportunity to visit about modern pork production. In your travels remember that you’re an ambassador for your industry and try to enlighten others with a bit of information when you get the chance. Certainly as you search for employees, express your pride and instill in them how important the job is. 

Just because most people believe that raising hogs is little more complex than throwing some feed to pigs, it doesn’t mean that we can afford to let that perception go unchecked.