MANY readers likely remember Gilda Radner's legendary "Saturday Night Live" character, Roseanne Roseannadanna.
The skits always followed a familiar pattern, with Jane Curtin ultimately interrupting Roseanne's meaningless rant, to which she'd reply, no matter the subject, "Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it's always something. If it ain't one thing, it's another."
That response seemingly sums up the state of the food industry: If it ain't one thing, it's another.
Case in point, trolling through some Facebook comments the other evening, I ran across a post discussing the food system.
The post said: "I read something about how much yucky stuff (I won't say what) is allowed in milk that you buy at the grocery and how you should get your milk from a farm. So I've started getting skim and chocolate milk at" local dairy company X that processes, bottles, labels and markets milk under the farm name, including distribution through its own store and a local grocery chain.
That captured my interest, so I asked, "Do tell! What is it you read?"
The response: "Pus. The government, at least according to the article I read, allows a certain percentage of pus and, I think it also said, blood in milk. Even if I found out it's not true after all, every time I take a drink of it, all I'll be able to think of is, 'I'm drinking pus.' Can you shed any light on it? I can't find the article."
Just when you think you've heard it all, something like this crops up. However, the pus in milk distortion is simply the rehashing of previous claims.
Much of the original material was derived from a campaign titled "Got pus? Milk does!" from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
I subsequently attempted to tactfully dispel the misrepresentation while explaining the realities of commercial milk regulations.
It's interesting how the post suggested that milk purchased at the grocery store is substantively different from milk bought at dairy X.
The implication is that cow's milk sold at food retailers is produced under poor management and/or lax regulatory standards and doesn't really come from a farm, while commercial bottled milk purchased from "a farm" is somehow higher quality.
Never mind that all commercial milk must adhere to the same regulatory guidelines and standards.
Still, that brings up the broader implications.
None of this is really about milk. If it were, my friend would have stopped drinking milk altogether or, alternatively, would have done some digging and discovered that the pus claims are bogus.
Neither of those things happened. So, it's bigger than just milk. My friend is now willing to be inconvenienced to make a trip to the dairy X store to purchase milk.
That reveals some deeper longing for a connection to, and confidence in, the food we purchase -- whether it makes sense or not. Accordingly, my friend says of the farm-bought milk, "there is no turning back. ... We are totally hooked."
There was a day when news traveled much more slowly. The hurdles to getting information propagated through the masses were seemingly higher. As such, if some claim or story didn't gain traction, it simply withered and died.
However, the internet and social media have changed all of that. The hurdles have been removed. That allows these types of stories to churn and churn until they pick up traction.
The game is changing very rapidly. That type of working environment ("if it ain't one thing, it's another") means the food industry has to relentlessly be on its toes.
There's a constant need to counter bad information, but it also goes beyond that.
Food purchasing decisions aren't always going to be objective or based on facts, so just being great producers and/or merchandisers is no longer a viable strategy to win over consumers.
My friend's post demonstrates how critical it is to associate some type of meaning and identity with food purchases.
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.