Linden Olson
Linden 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.