The average person is putting more thought into the food they eat than ever before.
As farmers, we work tirelessly to produce safe and healthy food for not just our country but our world.
Do consumers know that? Do they know where their food comes from?
I’m constantly tweeting, facebooking and blogging about the importance of farmers telling their own stories.
But let’s face it, there’s only so many hours in a day and plenty of them have to be spent farming!
Sometimes you have to prioritize.
When Aaron and I began dating, I knew very little about the restaurant side of the food industry.
One of the things that most amazed me was that Aaron and his family play a major role in teaching the customers of Harned’s Drive-In about not just the food on their menu but food in general.
How many times have you asked a waiter what is in a menu item?
Today’s restaurant diner is more concerned about their food than ever before. Often, the person they direct their questions to is the friendly waiter at a local restaurant.
When was the last time you directed your agriculture advocating towards a restaurant?
Here’s my top five tips for starting the food fact conversation with a restaurant in your community.
1. Take advantage of personal connections.
Do you have a close friend or family member who runs a restaurant? Does your child have a part time job at a local diner?
Casual conversations about food production can often carry over into the workplace. Share the facts with one waitress she’ll share them with her fellow employees.
Before you know it, your friend is sharing what they learned from you with their customers and coworkers.
2. Offer to help explain food production to restaurants in your community.
Sometimes its as simple as offering to help. Get a group of local farmers together and divide up the local restaurants among yourselves. Bring them educational materials (which can usually be obtained free of charge from producer/checkoff groups) and your personal story and offer to help in any way you can.
Though some restaurants might not take advantage of the offer now, they’ll know who to call if an issue ever arises.
3. Don’t be afraid to correct a waiter’s misinformation.
Almost every time I go to a steak house a waitress tries to sell me a certain steak by spouting off some completely untrue fact. I used to just let it go until I thought about how many other customers must have heard that from her and believed it!
Now, I politely correct the wait staff when they tell me that their “USDA steaks are the best kind they make.” I usually start by saying that I raise beef cattle to establish some credibility and then explain their error. In this case, that all steaks are USDA inspected, otherwise it would be illegal to sell them in a restaurant.
You’d be surprised how many waiters are receptive to the conversation. After all, the more knowledgeable they are about the food they’re serving the better chance they have of talking their way into a good tip.
4. Provide restaurants with information during food scares.
During the H1N1 outbreak last year, consumers were afraid to eat pork due to a simple misnomer. Pork was safe but no matter what local health departments, the USDA or the FDA said, people were still afraid. Its times like these that farmers must step in and share the truth.
Producer and check-off groups are usually quick to create specialized materials to deal with food safety issues like this. Approach restaurants with these materials and offer to help in any way you can.
Remember, when consumers don’t feel that their food is safe they won’t buy it at the grocery store or in a restaurant. In situations like this, working with restaurants to increase consumer demands for our products helps everyone involved.
5. When you find a restaurant doing a great job, tell your friends.
Nothing says thank you like stirring up business for someone.
Spread the word that a local joint has the best burger in town and they know how the beef is raised! Book the restaurant that’s giving out educational materials to cater your next banquet.
Is there a restaurant going above and beyond? Write a good, old-fashioned letter to the editor of the local paper to show how much you appreciate them.
Its time to teach those who will ultimately teach others.
As a farmer, I can spend all my free time advocating for agriculture and still never impact as many people as Aaron will at his family’s restaurant.
By directing our attention to restaurants, we’re educating people who will come in contact with more consumers than one farmer could ever hope to.
If we don’t step up to teach restaurants the truth about the food they serve, who will?