‘Food Inc.’ and ‘Moo U’: A match made in awkwardness heaven

South Dakota State University is an ag school. Anybody who knows anything about SDSU knows that. Students at the rival University of South Dakota often deride SDSU as “Moo U.”

That’s why I was surprised, to say the least, when I saw a news release yesterday announcing the showing of the documentary “Food Inc.” at SDSU and the impending campus visit of one of the film’s narrators, Eric Schlosser. The events are being organized by SDSU’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communications (of which I’m proud to say I am a graduate).

Here’s the Wikipedia description of “Food Inc.”: “The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.”

In other words, the film is a direct attack on much of what the ag department at SDSU stands for.  One of the companies attacked in the film, Monsanto, has SDSU President David Chicoine on its board of directors.

In a 2010 interview with me, SDSU Ag Dean Barry Dunn mentioned the film’s other narrator, Michael Pollan, as somebody whose rhetoric Dunn wants to counteract:

“… I think in South Dakota maybe more so than any state I know of, the dean is an ambassador for agriculture — to policymakers in Washington, for example — and I think needs to be a voice for agriculture. You know, I’d love to get in a debate with Michael Pollan about modern agriculture versus agriculture from the 1950s and ’60s.”

I’m not sure if there’s an approval process for film screenings and speakers at SDSU. If this screening and speaker were sent up the administrative chain, kudos to SDSU’s higher-ups for welcoming dissenting opinions (though I have to question why there doesn’t appear to be an opportunity for any of South Dakota’s thousands of agribusiness officials to debate the claims in the film and Schlosser’s speech).

If there is no approval process for these kinds of events and the administration and ag department were surprised by this, there might be some awkward conversations taking place between them and the journalism department.

2 thoughts on “‘Food Inc.’ and ‘Moo U’: A match made in awkwardness heaven

  1. And the awkwardness continues, with this release I just received:

    Nationally Known Speaker presents “The Morality of Animal Agriculture” Oct. 11 at South Dakota State University

    BROOKINGS, S.D. – The SDSU Swine and Pre-Vet clubs are hosting Wes Jamison, an Associate Professor of Communications at Palm Beach Atlantic University, to present his seminar, “The Morality of Animal Agriculture,” on the South Dakota State University Tuesday, October 11.

    The keynote presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center on campus, and the general public is encouraged to attend. In addition, Jamison will be available to visit with other groups and classes throughout the day.

    Jamison talks about the intense conflict in Animal Agriculture in the United States regarding the proper role and treatment of animals. Most analysis of these issues involves physiological, behavioral and economical impacts. However, this is boiled down to what is determined socially and politically acceptable by two competing worldviews.

    Jamison’s seminar presents information on the conflicting views between the two sides on the idea of consumptive use for livestock, the tactics of animal rights groups, and how the industry can use these tactics to redefine their image. He’s a nationally known speaker and provides a completely new concept of how animal agriculture needs to promote their industry.

    For more information, please contact Dr. Bob Thaler, SDSU Extension Swine Specialist, at 605-688-5435.

  2. Seth – Good connections here. This is worth analysis.

    I give SDSU credit for considering the outside world and, hopefully, look at these presentations as an exercise in critical thinking. The SDSU ag graduates should know the challenges asserted against the industry. If they are to develop the industry and be leaders, they will have to address the challenges and consider opposing viewpoints. The food/ag industry will change and grow, but it needs to evolve for the needs and desires of the people, as consumers and as producers. A challenge, indeed.

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