Where food comes from

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During a recent conversation with a cattle producer, we discussed consumers and their misconceptions about where their food comes from. The subject has been dubbed “agriculture illiteracy.” 

Think most people today understand where their food comes from? Think again. The “food is from the store” mentality continues to run rampant.

A February 2023 article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides a simplified outline of where food comes from. It explains that plants are from seeds, and plants produce grains, vegetables, or trees with fruits and nuts. It says meat, eggs and milk are from animals. It adds that you can make noodles, cakes, cookies and breads if you combine plant products, like wheat made into flour, and eggs and milk from animal sources. 

There are folks don’t know hamburger isn’t made from ham, and chicken nuggets are just chicken parts, not a real part of a chicken, so the article provides basic, but important information.

I’m guilty of not knowing things myself. For example, when I first heard about hummus, I kept thinking about “humus.” I finally I looked it up and found it is made from chickpeas, not decaying plant and animal matter. I thought I would give it a try. I think humus is likely to taste better. 

I have a hard time believing more than 16 million people think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, but they do. And strawberry milk? It’s from cows fed only strawberries. The only “natural” strawberry milk is the milk you never wanted to drink.

Some folks may have had a bad experience with a food or product that makes them turn away from that item; one bad experience and it’s all bad. I can relate to that on some levels. 

When I was a kid, our milk cow seemed to get into wild onions every spring. The milk wasn’t green, but it didn’t smell right and had a slight onion twang. I don’t like onions. Even after the aroma of onions was gone, my stomach churned at the thought of drinking milk. I wouldn’t even use the butter made from the cream. If oat or soy milk had been readily available, there’s a chance I would have never drank cow’s milk again. 

I was a quirky kid and didn’t eat eggs for years. I was grossed out at the thought of eating a chicken embryo. I knew where eggs and chickens came from, so that wasn’t the problem, I was mortified a half-developed chick fall out of a shell and get fried up. 

My mom would make a big breakfast every Sunday with a pile of scrambled or fried  eggs. I ate cereal with store-bought milk. 

I outgrew these notions, but I still smell my milk before I drink it, and will only make hard boiled eggs from white, store-bought eggs. I’m now a quirky adult.  

Many agriculture-illiterate consumers ward off things they don’t understand and don’t bother to do their homework.  They go gluten-free, yet they don’t even know what gluten is. Then there’s the whole non-GMO trend. The only GMO crops are sugar beets, corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, papaya, summer squash, canola, alfalfa, apples and pink pineapple. Yet, in the store, you see all sorts of things with a “Non-GMO” label. 

It’s almost like consumers are duped into thinking they are buying “better” food because it doesn’t have gluten and aren’t a GMO. To each their own on their diets, but I hope they realize labels sometimes don’t tell the whole story. Companies are counting on consumers to be agriculture illiterate. 

Help improve the knowledge of agriculture in your community by taking the time to answer questions about the industry. Share your experiences and knowledge. Be a part of the solution of agriculture illiteracy. 

Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected].

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