BY LAUREN CHASE
I’ve been friends with Anthony Pannone for about a year now on all of the social media sites, and have been amazed by the work he is doing with the I Love Farmers…They Feed My Soul movement. I decided it was time to feature his story and learn what drove this ex-pro baseball player to become a great advocate for agriculture.
Anthony Pannone was born in Anaheim, CA. At 9, he moved to Anchorage, AK. At 14, he moved to Colorado Springs, CO, where he lived until he signed a contract to play professional baseball in the San Francisco Giants organization at age 19. He received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from California Polytechnic State University with a concentration in animal science and life. He is working on graduate degrees in agricultural leadership, education, and communications from Texas A&M University. Anthony lives in Bryan, Texas as writing consultant for the Texas A&M University Writing Center. In addition, he volunteers and “spreads love” for U.S. family farmers and ranchers through the movement, I Love Farmers . . . They Feed My Soul.
1. I know you don’t necessarily come from an agriculture background. What sparked you to get involved with ag promotion?
A book. Specifically, The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. I read the book in a advanced composition class while at Cal Poly. After my baseball career ended, I went back to school to finish what I started. I left to play ball after my sophomore year, so I was academically rusty. During my career I kept a journal, so I always have enjoyed writing, but on returning to college I realized I really enjoyed writing, a lot, so I enrolled in a class that I thought would make me a better writer. I was correct. Well my professor had us read this book, and it was about food choices in the marketplace. Man what an eye-opener. Turns out Singer is an animal-rights activist, which at the time I didn’t know, but that didn’t matter because thinking about food, really contemplating it, was new and exciting. Anyway, this book made me think about food. The world of agriculture had opened its doors. For 22 years prior I had never thought about where my food came from. Never. Remember I was an athlete, so food was important to my success. I read the book and had so many questions about food that were inside me but never surfaced! At the time I was majoring in biological sciences because I wanted to be a veterinarian, or an animal trainer, like The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. After reading that book, though, I changed my major to agricultural communications and here I am—knee deep in the agricultural evolution of the 21st Century.
2. What was a misconception you had about the beef industry, but since learning more, now has been crushed?
I thought like most ignorant customers. That hot dogs are made from scraps, from feet, noses, lips, and whatever else would fit in a tube. I’m not saying being ignorant is necessarily a bad thing. All it means is that you are unaware of something that exists outside of your world. However, ignorance is dangerous, especially when it comes to food policy and security. Another misconception I had was that chicken was better for you than beef. Chicken was the staple to my diet because it was lean, full of protein, and cheap. I didn’t eat much beef back then. When you’re young, and an aspiring Major League Baseball player, you’ll believe anything that you feel will make you the best. I wish I’d a know about the nutritious quality of beef. Plus, the most down to earth people I meet are American cattle ranchers. So for its nutrition and for where it comes from, beef is by far number one on my meat list.
3. Why do you think the I Love Farmer’s campaign works so well? And can you briefly explain what ILF is?
Emotional appeal. Emotional appeal out-competes all others. First, when it comes to food, people have their opinions about who’s credible and who’s not. Changing peoples’ minds about credibility is difficult, almost impossible. Second, people sometimes act illogical out of spite or irrationality. They act without thinking, you could say, which is something not to look down on, but rather something to realize and influence.
Why is emotional appeal the king of all appeals? Because inside all of us lies that emotional bond we have with food. Think about it—eating conjures memories of the past, of our youth. Times when there were no worries, no stress. Happiness has been locked in these memories. So, naturally, we feel good when we eat food, because food is familiar, a piece of ourselves that we have forgotten but not lost.
I Love Farmers is a celebration of the emotional bond we all have with food. Plain and simple. And since emotional appeal is so strong, well, that’s why the ILF movement has grown and continues moving across the nation and back again.
4. Why should young people get involved with ILF?
Young people should join ILF because middle-of-the-pack customers, those not from agricultural backgounds or those part of anti-animal production campaigns, are disconnected and have no clue about food and fiber. Urban people want to know about food, trust me. But often what disconnected customers do know is not accurate, meaning they heard something about something from someone other than an expert. Spreading information about food should be a strategic act, one done by the experts that make the product. To do it you should be honest, true, and if you don’t know something admit it. Get help from your network if you need answers.
Young people are the future. I know they hear that all the time, but truth becomes success when said over and over. Without young people ILF doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist. But it’s not just ILF that depends on young people. All agriculturalists depend on the young people of our nation.
ILF provides young people with a platform to express themselves. You need a place to share your story, to spark conversations? ILF is the place to do it and needs hip, progressive young people to act now. Starting your own blog is cool and all, but you don’t need to do it. Reach out to others who currently promote agriculture and join the cause. I’ve learned that sometimes you don’t have to be “the leader.” In fact, following others is just as, if not more desirable, than leading. Leadership means followership. This is something I hadn’t realized until, um, this year. I always thought I was a leader and I was going to change people. Charge! Don’t buy into all that. Know that you become a leader when you learn how to follow.
Now, you shouldn’t follow blindly. You can still have purpose as a follower. The trouble is when everyone wants to lead. If everyone leads there will be nothing to lead!
5. What can young beef producers do to educate the public about how cattle are raised?
Build a network with like-minded people, and more importantly, with outsiders. Find people on Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites and connect. Don’t just build to build. Engage with people. Challenge their opinions. Provide information. Through dialogue we will create a shift in public perception of cattle management.
You also need to talk face-to-face with people. And when I say “people” I’m talking about strangers, not your buddies or family. Get out there and be somebody. Ask questions. My mom once told me, when she talks with people she first meets, that she acts dumb. She’s not a stupid person, believe me. But by acting dumb you hear what someone has to say. Ask stupid questions and sit back and listen. You’ll learn more than you ever will if you act like an expert who has a story that tops everyone else’s. No one likes a story topper.
Once you learn the nature of people, you will begin growing, really growing. Your perspective will change and you will connect dots in life that were previously too far apart to connect. Remember, it’s difficult to change people. But above all else, remember that you, as cattlemen and women, provide a service to customers. And in business, the customer is always right.
6. How should agriculture education should look in the future?
I feel cheated that I missed out on opportunities to learn about the U.S. food system and global systems. Imagine how many of me there is out there that must know about food and fiber! For this reason, agriculture education should be part of the curriculum at every grade level, from kindergarten to college. Education should be dynamic, bold, entertaining, cool, sexy, and a priority of all teachers. It should be mandatory that every student take a class in which agriculture is the focus. All should know the where, why, what, why, and how of food and fiber production. The history of U.S. agriculture, and all types of production methods should be introduced and covered in depth. Too many people know nothing about what goes in their bodies and what goes on their bodies. They know even less about the work that it takes to feed and clothe people.
7. If you could deliver one message to consumers about how learning more about food and agriculture has changed you, what would that be?
I am lucky to have found a doorway into the Agrosphere. There should not be a secret door, however. All of us are customers: All of us must know about food and agriculture and how it shapes peace, love, and war. When I think about my life before I found entry into the world of agriculture, I shake my head in shame. For reals. I actually feel bad that I had no clue about my food and fiber providers. But I’m hopeful, because I’m proof that once the Agrosphere reveals itself there is no better place to be.
Be a professional customer. Know your food, don’t just throw stuff into your shopping carts and hurry to the checkout line. Visit with others about food. Have faith in your agriculture. Without farmers and ranchers, remember, we don’t exist. And don’t believe everything you read or hear. Do your research and make logical, practical assumptions. Just because you see or hear it in the mainstream news does NOT mean it’s the truth. In the end, the truth is your choice. Be thankful for choice, both in life and in our food marketplaces.
Anthony invites you to share your ag story with I Love Farmers by sending him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter (@Agrospheric) and friend him on Facebook. For more information on I Love Farmers, please visit their website.