Common Ground

by Miranda Reiman

November 2019

It was a memorable steak supper under the stars. Live music played in the background and I thought to myself, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed this much.”

Earlier this fall, a few of my colleagues and I were gathered at an event designed to bring those who produce beef together with those who prepare it. We dined with restaurant owners, a trained chef and a ranching couple.

We swapped stories about meeting our significant others, of vacation blunders and parenting priorities. There were some great storytellers in our ranks, and it seemed one tale would just spark an even better one from across the table. The food was outstanding, but the company surpassed it.

It was a great evening.

But as I got back to my hotel room, I wondered if I should have formally facilitated discussions between the far ends of the beef chain, like some kind of moderator or emcee. Should have I asked the producers to talk about implants or explain cattle handling? Should have I prompted the chef with questions about the traits that are most likely to make beef perform for him?

It was a chance for education, after all.

Over the course of that conference, I watched cattle families take the stage and instantly relate. The audience laughed and some even cried as cattlemen and women shared bits of real life on the ranch. They talked about kids arguing who had the better heifer, and about trying to save newborn calves they ultimately couldn’t when blizzards struck.

It captured the high points and heartaches that make up cattle production.

They didn’t talk about the technicalities of increasing calories during a winter cold snap or about the intricacies of genetic selection, but they conveyed the fact that cattlemen care….about their families, about their livestock, about their businesses and their way of life.

Dedication and sincerity are powerful emotions. Just that honest and open sharing showed the cattlemen as real, genuine and human. They were not abstract “producers” in some far-off place. They were totally relatable, conscientious caretakers.

In turn, the cattlemen made connections with people running food businesses and selling beef across the country. They figured out pretty quickly that, even though some headlines like to villainize those who make their living in the pastures and feedyards they call home, most of America doesn’t feel that way.

If you’re honest, there might be a time or two you’ve labeled “city people” and said, “if the consumer only knew [fill in the blank.]”

Meeting them in real life, all of a sudden, they went from abstract “consumers” in some far-off place to passionate partners in the beef community, with a name and a face.

Protein demand is alive and well, in large part thanks to those who present your product to consumers every day. 

They are dedicated and sincere.

As the breeze drifted in and the band called it night, we realized we’d learned again what we probably knew all along: We’re all just people. And we’re in this together.