The Taste of Elegance is a pork checkoff sponsored event that features a competition between some of the most creative gourmet chefs in Indiana. Held at the swanky Indiana Roof Ballroom, the annual event draws state ag leaders, lawmakers, and pork producers. It has been referred to as the “pork prom.” If this event is the prom, then the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry held just a few days later is the “pep rally for agriculture.”
The Fish Fry goes back to 1949. Held each year, it brings alumni of the Purdue College of Agriculture together for an event that is part reunion, part fundraiser, and part celebration of agriculture. Over 1500 ag alumni turned out this year and, in some years, that number has been closer to 2000. In addition, hundreds of volunteers work on the event from current students to current and former faculty. The event draws top state leaders including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senators, members of Congress, and leaders of agribusinesses. It is truly a unique event without equal in most other states.
As I sat in the Blue Ribbon Pavilion at the Indiana State Fairgrounds where the event was held last week, I could not help but appreciate what a wonderful and safe place this was go be. Everyone in the place understood agriculture. Everyone had a passion for farming and was optimistic about its future. Here there were no PETA protestors, no one asking if the food was GMO free, or it if the pork (they serve pork at a fish fry, too) was free-range or hormone-free. It was a place where agriculture could be freely and openly talked about without having to be on the defensive.
While there was a good deal of reminiscing, the focus of the meeting was on the future. There was talk about preparing the current students in the college of ag for careers in agribusiness or taking over the family farm. There was discussion about the technological innovation that would be needed to meet the food demands of the future. There was acknowledgment by the top leaders in the state that agriculture is an important priority for the state of Indiana.
Then it was over as the alumni sang “Hail Purdue.” They began to filter out of the building and back into the real world. A world that, for the most part, does not understand agriculture or much else about their food supply. A world that is skeptical of science and cynical of farm subsidies. A world where the government stresses agricultural regulation rather than agricultural education.
While spending time in the ag bubble is very nice — whether at the pork prom, the Purdue ag pep rally, or other farm meetings or trade shows that occur this time of year — it is not a place we can linger too long. The days of not looking beyond the farm gate are over. We must work to maintain the trust of consumers and fight back against those who would legislate and regulate our business out of existence.
By Gary Truitt