By Melanie Wilt
Clichés are phrases that have lost their meaning from being so overused in society. We notice these rote phrases in everyday language, like “thinking outside the box,” “low-hanging fruit” and “close to the vest.” But, are we able to recognize the clichés that have resulted from our insufferable repetition of industry jargon? My work team and I have been trying to remove some phrases from our agricultural vernacular, and we want to encourage the industry in joining us to let go of these colloquial phrases that no longer serve us:
1. “People think milk comes from the grocery store.”
There’s no better way to disparage the intelligence of the average American than to assume they don’t understand basic food and nutrition. This is as effective as starting the conversation with, “everybody’s stupid if they don’t live or work on a farm.” Granted, we have work to do on building agricultural literacy, but it is our responsibility to make people care, not theirs.
2. “Thank a Farmer”
This mantra runs deep within our ranks and is the epitome of self-serving. I chose to work in this industry because of the deep love and appreciation I have for farmers, especially those in my family. However, farmers do not deserve thanks more than the average essential worker. Farming is a noble job, but let’s keep it humble. We don’t need to ask for appreciation for doing what comes from our hearts and souls. Our thanks is in the impact we have and the reward of our grit. If we are effective in communicating that impact, the result will be a grateful consumer base. Perhaps we should practice thanking those who buy our food and make it possible for us to practice our craft and live the good life!
3. “Feeding the World”
Much like the one above, this is a chest-pounding cliche that has been used ad nauseam over the last 30 years. It is a fact that farmers produce all of the food consumed in the world. It is a fact that less than 2 percent of the population manages this gargantuan task. But, this phrase doesn’t mean much to consumers without context. Center for Food Integrity research even shows that the average person is focused on feeding their families and neighbors, and they tune out what’s going on beyond that. We can do better to make our vision relevant!
4. “Agvocate” and other Ag-cronyms
When the industry was building its battle chest against activists who sought to erase livestock farms, the phrase “agvocate” was born. It’s used today as a noun to describe a person who advocates for agriculture, and as a verb to describe the action of advocating. As social media and society in general has progressed in the past decade or more, this type of terminology has become toxic because of the badge that some wear as warriors on a crusade.
5. “We care” without action
Every ag spokesperson training has incorporated an element of this phrase into its teaching, but it loses its impact if it’s only said and not demonstrated. The idea of the “we care” campaigns was to show compassion and that we could empathize with those with concerns related to our farming practices. However, it eventually became an introduction to defend and protect our practices at all costs. “We care, but we will continue to spread manure next to your house the day before Thanksgiving” doesn’t work. Don’t say “we care,” just care!
Lisa Lepke, CMO and Editor of the ProWritingAid says, “What was once a fresh way of looking at something has become a weak prop … that feels unimaginative and dull. Clichés are what you write when you don’t have the energy or inspiration to think of a new way to express an idea.”
I’m guilty of using the ag phrases listed above as convenient fluff over my 25-year agricultural communication career. I cringingly admit I’ve used them as campaign taglines, headline and website copy, and inspiration for spokespersons-in-training. It’s time for me — and you — to retire our trite verbiage and create meaning for consumers in new and dynamic ways.