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Agriculture sets table, who is invited to dine?

Agriculture sets table, who is invited to dine?

No one who eats food and no organization with an interest in how we grow and harvest should have to stand outside trying to slip their nose under the canvas.

The Animal Ag Alliance will hold its annual stakeholders summit in May in Kansas City. The ambitiously titled event is called "A Seat at the Table," which creates some rethinking of long-held conversationally limited strategies. First, who belongs at the table? The concept suggests friends and family, but does that mean people we don't consider to be either will be forced to sit outside the 'friendly confines' of our elite circle? Second, there are always a few family members who can always be counted on to disrupt and confuse.

Yeah, I'm talking about the brother-in-law that drinks too much and blathers on about embarrassing family matters and that funny uncle who loves to talk about his strange political views over the breaking of the bread. And every family has that odd cousin, the crazy one who should be handled with care. There is an old southernism that rings sharp and true: Folks up North like to keep those people locked away in the attic. Southerners proudly sit them out on the front porch and serve them tea.

Of course, people like Temple Grandin will be seated at the head of the table, a position of high honor she earned through hard work and dedication to animal welfare. Cautionary note: Early in her career her ideas were deemed too radical and she would have been banished to the attic or given a glass of tea and asked to sit on the front porch. Would R-CALF's sometimes intemperate, tea drinking Bill Bullard be invited to sit at the table or left outside? Should there be two tables; a big one for the grownups where they can talk frankly about issues that might or might not be important a decade from now, and a separate small one for the currently inconsequential but annoying little folk who will spend too much time plotting an eventual, unexpected and always successful takeover?

While organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and the more extreme People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Direct Action Everywhere often work hand-in-chainmail-gloved-hand to disrupt animal agriculture, all of them still have a voice that's heard and heeded by the 98%, the non-ag people who make most of the food buying decisions. Barring the inmates of the asylum only gives credence to the worst of the fears they peddle to the most gullible.

I suggest that the table be placed on the front lawn for everyone to see and a place be set for everybody. The conversation should be completely transparent, too. Agriculture -- big and small -- should be broad enough that the biggest of big tents can barely cover it. No one who eats food and no organization with an interest in how we grow and harvest should have to stand outside trying to slip their nose under the canvas.

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