Commentary by Linden Olson: Words

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Linden OlsonLinden Olson There is a well-worn idiom that goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” While words cannot physically harm a person, words certainly can and do change perceptions.  Another idiom is “perception is reality.” When you put these two idioms together, words can and often do change what people believe about something.

A friend of mine recently wrote an article referring to someone who needed to “get rid of” the manure from his hog barn. If that article was read by someone who is unfamiliar with a pork operation, “get rid of” could leave the reader with the perception that manure is a waste product that has to be “gotten rid of” because it has no value. A different perception would come if the article had said that the fertilizer from this pork production facility was moved at a discounted price. 

It is not easy to change from using old familiar words. I am reminded of the story of a rural lady who was asked by a refined urban friend if she couldn’t get her husband to use the word fertilizer instead of manure. The rural lady replied, “It took me 20 years to get him to say manure.”

There are other words that, as pork producers, we have modified in the past that helped change the perception of pork to many consumers, particularly those consumers who no longer have ties to a farm. One of the first national organizations in the swine industry was named the National Swine Growers Council. It brought into a national organization all of the state organizations. In 1962, the name was changed to the National Pork Producers Council as it known today.

The change from considering oneself a pork producer rather than a swine grower helped to change consumers’ image from a “pig farmer” to one of a “food producer.” There are other words that, if replaced, would help change the image of pork and those who produce it. Some of these words and possible replacements include:

  1. Confinement barns: environmentally controlled housing
  2. Gestation stalls/crates: individual maternity pens
  3. Slaughter: harvest
  4. Castration: neutering
  5. Manure: fertilizer or plant nutrient resource
  6. Hog farmer: pork production specialist

This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, and I urge everyone to add to the list whenever they come across a situation where a word or phrase they used unintentionally caused a negative perception.

Corporate America spends billions of dollars yearly on ads to create and maintain a positive perception/image to get and keep customers who will be loyal to their products. They chose the words that go into those ads very carefully to create the perception/image they want. By carefully choosing the words we use when speaking about our farms and our food products, we can slowly change the perception of our industry and our wholesome pork products to our customers. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a cent.

 Let me give you an example. Do you have the same perception of someone who says he is a pig farmer as someone who says he is a pork producer or a pork production specialist?  Think about it. 

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Larry Larson    
Sargeant Minn.  |  April, 23, 2013 at 11:15 AM

We all need to work on how we present ourselves. This means all are responsible! It is difficult to change our habits but as Red Green says I am a man I can change if I have too!

Hershey, Pa    
April, 23, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Some more replacement words Farrowing barn versus birthing barn Sow unit versus sow birthing barn We have gone to using birthing barns for description s all the time

Virginia  |  April, 26, 2013 at 09:58 AM

Stuff like this makes my head hurt. I've hate the phrase "perception is reality" from the first time I heard it during Army EO training. There are not 313 million realities in this country. All that happens when you try to use euphemisms is compound people's reactions when they find out what it means. Try educating the public instead of trying to trick them and thus leaving an opening for those that would put livestock producers out of business. So is a slaughter house to now be called a pork processing facility? How about fancying it up and using the French word, abbattoir. 30 years ago, when I worked for Pig Improvement Company, we were told so say we were Professional Pigmen rather than saying we worked on hog farms. So nothing changes, we just keep trying cloud the issue.

April, 26, 2013 at 11:34 AM

“Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own.”—Robert Louis Stevenson "Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks 'they're only animals'"-Theodor Adorno “If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.” -Albert Einstein “In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they're the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought.” ― Isaac Bashevis Singer “I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  May, 01, 2013 at 10:14 PM

I sincerely hope that everyone who still consumes these "foods" takes a look at this article to witness first hand how the industry attempts to dupe and dumb-down its patrons. So when the bolt gun is released to the brain or when the knife slices a throat listeners are inviting to think of "harvesting" fresh grapes and peas. Sure! What do customers know? That'll work. :/ Remember what is unbecoming to do is also unbecoming to speak of. ~Socrates

Richard Pendarvis, Ph.D. Chemistry    
Florida  |  May, 02, 2013 at 01:10 PM

If you need to be so careful in describing what you do, then it would appear that what you are doing must evoke some moral reactions. Could it be that these moral reactions are natural and that what you are describing is simply wrong?

D DiGiacomo    
Florida  |  May, 02, 2013 at 01:18 PM

Change your language, that's all well and good. The majority of people would prefer that industrial scale agriculture change its practices, whether swine, poultry or cattle/dairy. We find the practices to be unsavory, not the nomenclature.


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