|Hard at work improving animal lives|
As a veterinarian, the worst question that I get is not “How do you deal with euthanasia?” or “Don’t you ever get tired of blood and guts?” or “How about those student loans?” Honestly, the worst question I get is far worse, and actually all too common. I can’t tell you the number of times that people have asked me “Why didn’t you just become a real doctor?”
That question really just makes my blood boil. I will tell you, I automatically have a problem with any person who asks me that question. Why? Because by asking that question, “Why didn’t you just become a real doctor?” that person has automatically devalued my degree, my livelihood, and most importantly, my passion. I want to be a medical doctor for animals—I do not want to be a medical doctor for humans. I don’t really understand why someone would want to ask me that question. Frankly, it gets me pretty riled up. I get angry, I get defensive, and I shut that person out.
The SAME thing happens when people who have never been on a farm, have never experienced the rewards of growing their own food, and have never realized the value that they receive at the grocery store, ask farmers why they choose to raise their crops or their livestock the way that they do, using the technologies that they have available. It happens when they accuse farmers of raising crops that are “tainted” with GMOs, or when they accuse cattle, pork, or poultry producers of raising animals “inhumanely.” When people cry out about the “florid, inhumane” conditions that farm animals live in, or the “unnatural, corrupted” crops that are grown, it makes those farmers’ blood boil as well. When farmers hear such falsities, and such questions, they tend to react like any other person whose livelihood and passion are being questioned and put down—they get angry, they get defensive, and they shut down. Sound familiar?Being a farmer’s daughter from Kansas, I’ve lived my whole life answering questions like “Do you actually have running water in your house?” or “Do you still go to church in a horse and buggy?” My family gets it--most of the time those questions are in jest, but we do get a bit defensive about things like that. But when we really get defensive is when people are angered about our use of some of the most innovative technologies in the world (ahem, GMOs), but are still asking whether we have some of the same technologies that the ancient Romans had! It’s a bit mind-boggling, to tell you the truth.
Any good farmer will be the first to tell you that the crops and animals they raise are safe, nutritious, and produced in a responsible manner. They will tell you that they feed those products to their own children, and would be happy if you fed them to yours, as well. However, they will not tell you these things if they feel like their whole lives are being threatened. And that’s how many farmers feel right now.
Again, with this anger and defensiveness comes that urge to shut people out. I will be the first to tell you, farmers can be some of the most defensive people out there. It’s hard not to be when you feel your livelihood is being threatened. However, if I’ve learned anything from my experience in being asked the “real doctor” question, it’s how to be gracious and accepting of it, and provide an answer that gives the inquirer the reply that they’re looking for, but also gives me the chance to enlighten them on important aspects of my job and maybe, for the future, let them know that the question is not necessarily appropriate when asked in that way. Believe me, it’s taken a while for me to become accepting and gracious, but I believe that farmers are much more graceful and accepting than I will ever be, so it doesn’t take them long to come around.
What I ask of the majority of consumers is that you take a step back before making accusations and asking some possibly offensive questions, and ask yourself, “If someone had no idea what I did in my job, and asked me why I was doing it wrong, what would I say?” I think you would find that you’d be a little put-out and defensive, too. But I think you would want to help that person see that you ARE doing a good job, and that you are proud of what you do, just like farmers are. Consumers have a right to ask all the questions they want—they’re part of the food production process as well—however, I think if we all took a step back and thought about our approach, these conversations just might become a whole lot easier.