Boone County resident Michele Payn-Knoper has been in agriculture all her life. She grew up on a farm in southern Michigan and studied agriculture at Michigan State University. A job with the National FFA Foundation landed her in Indiana, where she has lived for the last 16 years. But after years of hearing questions and concerns about the food that appears on American plates — and knowing the real answers on the agriculture side — she decided to do something about it. So she wrote a book.
Payn-Knoper’s first book, “No More Food Fights!”, was released in February and aims to bring farmers and grocery store shoppers together to have a civil conversation and build a mutual understanding. There is a food side of the book, written to food consumers who are not part of the agricultural world, and, flipping the book over, a farm side, written to farmers.
“The conversation around food has continued to get more extreme,” she said Wednesday, sitting in her home office in western Boone County. “There’s a lot of opinions. Food has become very emotional. Unfortunately, it’s becoming the next politics and religion, where people are afraid to talk about it with their friends because they don’t want to offend anyone.”
And that makes Payn-Knoper sad, she said, because everyone eats. She wanted people to put aside their opinions and first be able to make a human connection in order to have a conversation about hot topics like food safety, biotechnology, antibiotics and animal care. There is a great deal of misinformation out there today, she said, and only about 1.5 percent of the population is on a farm.
“And they aren’t necessarily the most vocal people; they’re very modest,” she said.
The other 98.5 percent of people may be three to four generations removed from a farm. That equation does not bode well for people understanding where their food comes from, she said.
Payn-Knoper asked 35 professionals to contribute to the book, people like farmers, doctors, dietitians and chefs from across North America. She even interviewed an Olympic athlete, along with several local people whose identities have been protected with fake names. The beginning of the food side of the book starts with a tour through Payn-Knoper’s regular grocery store, and she said many people will be able to recognize which store it is through her description.
“A lot of conversations with local friends happened at local stores, like The Fig Tree,” she said. “I tried to provide a lot of perspectives, because it’s not like one side is wrong and the other is right. It’s about being able to have a conversation.”
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