In high school, my football team was pretty terrible. I mean, we won games each year but lost the first game of playoffs in miserable fashion. My junior year, we were winning the playoff game until an untimely block in the back call, on yours truly, led to our downward spiral that led to the end of our seniors' football careers.
But we were still winners in our coach's eyes. "It's the process," coach drilled into our minds, meaning winning and losing were arbitrary to the learning we received through hard work and commitment of practice.
Pretty deep philosophy for something as trivial as low-level high school football. But the lesson that "It's the process," can hold in many aspects of life. I would argue the Subway saga, which began last Tuesday, is one of them.
Shock and awe
In the past five days we have seen everything from applause to outrage on Subway's announcement to "elevate" its menu in a move to go to antibiotic free meat, whatever that means.
Not knowing what it meant, my approach was to offer alternative support to those who definitely support farmers and agriculture. Without details, I only questioned what to do next. We did not know what they were doing or how they might market what they were doing. But knowing they are ever-present in small farming towns throughout the U.S. and world, and a frequent lunch stop, I chose to highlight proven winners. People argued places like McDonald's could be added to the list because they sell a lot of food, and some came forward with farmer-supporter local chains.
Others approached it with a shoulder shrug of indifference, campaigning for boycotts of Subway, or even relating the change to bullets in animals' heads. Some took videos of sandwiches being disced into their fields and others wrote heartfelt stories of saving animals with antibiotics in real time. Some farmers made the local news. Then, Friday, Subway responded to the social media storm, quietly.
In the end, Subway's changes appear to be near an outline of the best practices our commodity groups should want for antibiotic use. A hat-tip to Ryan Goodman at AgricultureProud.com for capturing the before and after (Subway updates statement on antibiotic use in livestock). They hint at elimination, someday, but mostly relate to judicious use and following the veterinary feed directive (see our webinar here: VFD webinar on-demand) and other rules in progress.
But, it is the process. I am not sure if we won or lost anything, but the process is the worrisome part. In the weeks leading up to Subway's decision, a coalition that is quite destructive threatened to deliver over a quarter million petitions to Subway headquarters. Did this help enforce change at Subway?
Once Subway announced they were making big changes, those groups, including the Food Babe Army, Natural Resources Defense Council and US PIRG claimed a major victory, winning press, more supporters, and clout in the food arena - something in which we as a collective should definitely be respected. We are not.
This is the part of the process I worry about. Win, lose, or tie, the opponents make it appear they never lose.
We have no such army. We have plenty of numbers, but nowhere near the time to devote to things that start out trivial but could end up changing our industries.
Our readers and friends are working themselves tired to make a living. Their hips, shoulders, and knees will eventually need replacement while the Food Babe Army rests with their feet up behind a computer screen.
What do we do now? Or, rather, what did we not do 10 and 20 years ago when we had a chance to become the authority, the go-to phone call, and the trusted resources when these decisions were made?
First, I think it's okay to keep reacting with displeasure when something this small or much greater comes along. If we speak, eloquently, we can teach some of our friends and neighbors something along the way. If we react brashly, we might grab some attention, good or bad. But if we are silent, the world assumes we are just fine with the changes.
But it starts sooner than that. I would bet the people on the public relations and management teams at Subway likely do not share similar backgrounds and educations to those of you reading this on a Vance Publishing website (Dairy Herd Management, Drovers, Pork Network or Bovine Veterinarian). No matter your feelings, things like Subway's announcement should get you involved with your Ag in the Classroom program, volunteer to bring an animal into school, or host a class, chamber of commerce, or politicians tour of your farm. You never know which 12, 24, or 36 year old will grow up to be CEO of Subway, Starbucks, or Safeway Foods.
No matter your reaction to the Subway saga, remember that it is just one moment as part of a lifelong process. Where, how and when will you be involved?