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Should we listen to celebs who weigh in on food and agriculture?

Celebrity diet

I’ve never put much stock in celebrities and their lifestyles. Sure, there are some actors and actresses I enjoy watching on the big screen more than others, and some musical artists I enjoy hearing more than the next. But I don’t buy into their day-to-day drama, their special line of cleaning supplies or purchase their novels. And, I certainly do not trust their off-the-wall advice when it comes to food.

Take Kelly Clarkson, for example. If you’ve watched this former American Idol star throughout the years, then you know she’s had her ups and downs in the weight department (as many of us, myself included, have). Recently, after having lost nearly 40 pounds, Clarkson attributes her weight loss to eating foods that are “non-GMO,” grown with “no pesticides” and raised “organic.”

While we all applaud the hard work that goes into weight loss, it’s sometimes caused by a more complicated problem. In Clarkson’s case, she admits to having an underlying condition that prohibited her weight loss—a thyroid issue. Apparently, Clarkson’s condition hadn’t been treated properly for years and is now under better control. But also, the foods Clarkson newly added to her diet, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are no doubt a part of her successful weight loss as they are simply good for you. However, it’s not about how these foods were grown, but the lack of them in the diet that can spell disaster, says a registered dietician and a university vice chair of food and science. It’s a dietary fallacy I see many make; thinking the way a food is grown is “healthier,” without crediting the little swaps such as simply eating a banana and toast instead of a giant cinnamon roll for breakfast.

Clarkson isn’t the only one giving bad information about diets, food and farming. Just last week, self-proclaimed vegan Natalie Portman made some very strong assertions about how livestock animals are raised on family farms, saying there is only a small percentage who are “doing it right.” Many farmers across the country took to Twitter to joke about the “extensive” on-farm visits Portman has obviously taken to come to her conclusion, while others who struggle to purchase food at the grocery store became frustrated with yet another Hollywood elite with unlimited funds trying to influence consumer choice. But we’ll try to give Portman the benefit of the doubt. With her busy, glamorous life I’m sure she didn’t have time to visit a variety of farms to learn the truth. For example:

1. Raising livestock today is done in a way that’s better for the animals and our environment. In the case of dairy farming, the amount of milk made by a cow has gone up by 443 percent since the 1940s while also reducing the carbon footprint of milk production by 41 percent in the same timeframe. (And that’s with 16 million fewer cows!) I’ve heard many dairy farmers talk about how their herd are treated like “queens”—getting everything from back scratches to special treats and choosing when they get milked.

2. Today’s farmers seek ways to improve animal care, and it’s far more diverse than most people know. Here in Iowa, we have farmers who raise pigs on pasture, in hoop barns and in modern hog barns. Each practice has its advantages and challenges, but at the heart of it all is animal care. Portman’s assertions about the “extreme” conditions animals are raised in are false! An animal raised indoors is closely monitored and protected from predators and harsh weather, just as an animal raised outdoors would be, too. Good management is at the heart of all responsible livestock farms, and farmers achieve this by working alongside their local veterinarians and professionals from Iowa State University to keep up-to-date on the latest animal care standards because a healthy animal means safe food for all of us. It’s no wonder 87 percent of Iowans report they are confident Iowa farmers are caring for their animals responsibly.

3. Farmers are providing consumer choice at the grocery store. Can you imagine walking into your grocery store and there’s only one flavor of ice cream, and it’s not only the most expensive option in the freezer but your least favorite? We like choices that fit our taste and budget! Which is why it’s often concerning to me when celebrities, authors, anti-ag groups and other pseudo-science regurgitators try to influence freedom of choice. While they make claims about what people “really” want and being able to vote with the almighty dollar, they’re not actually talking to people who have few of those almighty dollars to spend to feed their entire families. Grocery and restaurant chains are being harassed by well-funded organizations to mandate changes on the farm that don’t work for everyone’s pocketbook. A grocery budget and shopping list at a supermarket near me, where the median household income is $42,000, may look different than that of someone who lives in a larger city just 45 minutes away where the household income is $77,000. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman is worth more than $54 million. Chances are, a private chef is cooking her food and her choices are endless.

We are all entitled to eat whatever we want. Celebrities can stick to their concoctions of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup as meal substitutions or in Clarkson’s case, eat strictly organic foods. But as for me? I’ll be seeking out credible information and digging into an Iowa-grown pork chop—bacon wrapped, please.

By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau’s public relations specialist.