Recently, I sat down to watch Food Inc., a film by director Robert Kenner and marketing firm Participant Media.
I was anxious to see the film because it included my company, Monsanto. But, I was also very interested because I took the initial call from one of the film’s L.A.-based producers, Elise Pearlstein, asking my company to be a participant a number of months ago.
When I got the call, I asked a number of questions: “Who would be in it? Who would present the opposing view? Who was funding the film? Would the film present balance and fairness or present one side of the story?”
Over the course of a few weeks, Elise and I talked and e-mailed several times, but I never felt I had those key questions answered. Despite this, we invited Elise and a crew to a trade show to learn more about Monsanto, agriculture and talk with farmers. They opted not to come to the show.
By this time, as my dad would say, I had an inkling something wasn’t right. Given the one-sided view I watched play out on the silver screen that night, I would say my intuition proved right. But, bottom line, we didn’t decline to participate.
So knowing what I know now, let’s ask the questions: Why not participate? Why not be a participant?
Dictionary.com defines the verb participate as “to take or have a part or share in.” The popular Web site describes a participant as “a person or group that participates” and one interesting synonym as “actor.”
I can tell you Monsanto is very interested in participating in thoughtful dialogue about food production and other topics related to agriculture. It’s why we’ve spoken at Google’s Zeitgeist 2008, the Milken Institute Global Conference and participated in Davos for years. It’s also why you’ll find us blogging, tweeting and sharing information online as well.
We believe taking part and sharing in rich conversations about the important challenges facing agriculture, food production and our well being are inherently intertwined. Climate change, water use and drought, exploding global populations, rural development and poverty, all deserve our best ideas and our thoughtful participation.
What we’re not interested in doing is being an actor, typecast in a film with pre-determined outcomes; outcomes that conveniently step around important issues facing agriculture today. Beverly Hills-based Participant Media describes their mission as one of telling “compelling, entertaining stories…” and “entertain[ing] audiences first…”
When it comes to the important topics facing agriculture, we’re happy to participate, we just have no interest in being someone’s participant.
More information on Food, Inc.
Darren is a native Missourian and grew up on a family farm in Southeast Missouri where his dad, mom and brother still farm today. He has worked for Monsanto for two years in public affairs.