Opinion: The issues of the people we feed should be our issues

Furthering public trust with consumers begins by speaking out for them

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This column is not an easy one to write because it speaks to a very necessary topic that should be top of mind for us– racism. No word count will allow the appropriate amount of words needed for a conversation of this nature. I’m not an expert in racism, anti-racism or diversity, inclusion and equality but as a white, privileged woman who works in agriculture and food, I acknowledge I’ve remained too silent and have not done enough to combat racism and commit to the ongoing daily process that is anti-racism.

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With the events of racial injustice that were recently thrust into the spotlight by the tragic death of American George Floyd, it has become apparent that not talking about something as dangerous as systematic racism within our country and our very own sector is not an option anymore. We must speak out.

When things took hold in mainstream media addressing racism with #BlackLivesMatter, our agriculture-food sector remained silent.

This was a missed opportunity. Not from a communications standpoint, but from a moral standpoint.

We are very much a ‘people’ industry; it is one of our greatest assets. We’re also a very vocal industry.

We speak up on the issues that matter to us. Ask any government – I’m sure they would tell you how strong the voice of Canadian agriculture and food can be.

With this powerful voice though, we can’t be an industry that chooses when and what to be vocal about, yet remain conveniently silent when the ‘issue’ doesn’t serve a purpose for us or fit within our strategic plans. Or worse, have we remained silent on racism because it made us feel uncomfortable to discuss and because we don’t know what to say or are worried about who we’d offend in speaking out?

If we’re going to speak up so passionately on social media about politics and general elections in Canada or how frustrated we are with select fast food companies and their ‘fear mongering’ marketing tactics, then we have to be an industry that speaks up and addresses what consumers are talking about and what matters to them, including racism.

To begin, we could acknowledge that racism is in fact a problem in our sector; recognize what we’ve failed to do; admit what we haven’t done; and most importantly, apologize and commit to addressing racism and anti-racism in our sector every day moving forward.

What if we looked at ourselves as an industry and the values by which we operate and said, “the issues of the people we feed are the issues of our industry.”

This is how we can build public trust with Canadian consumers.

From the inside out.

On the issues that matter to them. These should matter to us if we’re the sector that feeds Canadians.

Not long ago, there wasn’t a place for politics in business. Now they are one and the same. Research and data support that consumers, such as millennials, are reshaping business and what’s important in what they value in corporate culture including corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion.

According to the annually published Edelman Trust Barometer report, “eight out of 10 consumers say they prefer brands that take a stand.” This same research shows that “92 per cent of employees expect their company’s CEO to speak up on societal issues.” The CEOs that take a stance are the ones that lead the charge on change. Yet, why did so many of our CEOs in our agriculture and food sector remain silent?

If we see public trust as our greatest challenge besides food security for our future, should we not reflect on what our relationship looks like with the consumer and ask ourselves how we can show up better for them so they see us as allies?

While we can be a food powerhouse around the world, the foundation of our success lies in the hands of our very own Canadian consumers whose support we need of our Canadian food system.

To be the nation that feeds the world, we first must feed Canadians – not through their bellies – through their hearts. Canadian agriculture and food can only truly become an economic powerhouse for the Canadian economy, if we have Canadians who feel they have the support of an industry like agriculture and food, in standing with them on the issues of importance that matter to them. If everyone is speaking out against racial injustice, what are we saying if we remain silent as a sector? A lot.

We need to become an ally for our consumers.

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