Is Food Thoughtfully Sourced an extension of Food With Integrity?
This year the American Dairy Science Association and American Society of Animal Scientists added a unique component to their joint meeting, one that has been sorely lacking from past agendas and one ASAS President James Sartin and ADSA President Ken McGuffey labeled a “new and emerging topic:” bioethics -- the field of study concerned with ethical behavior within our life sciences.
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For several years now I have been warning the agricultural community of the swift and unfettered advancement of the Food Morality Movement. This movement condemns agriculture and challenges it to explain its behavior based on the grounds of religion, ethics and morality.
Richard Reynnells, former national program lead for the United States Department of Agriculture, extended a kind invitation to have me speak at the 2013 meeting after reading Where Have You Gone Moral Champion? a story exposing the weakness of agriculture’s over-reliance on science alone as a defense to a moral inquiry.
Reynells was excited with what could be accomplished by equipping such bright, scientifically minded people with a proper understanding of how to respond to the Food Morality Movement. He clearly saw that if agriculture could combine scientific reasoning (logos) with a moral/ethical component (ethos), it would soundly defeat any nemesis.
I gladly accepted Reynells’ invitation and looked forward to our time together.
'I was about to be presented with an undeniable and powerful case study in the Food Morality Movement'
Anyone who owns a small business knows being out of the office can sometimes be problematic, so I booked the last flight out of Kansas City on Monday evening and the first flight back on Wednesday morning, giving me just one full business day away. Due to air traffic issues, my departing flight was delayed, and I didn’t arrive at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis until 2 a.m. The bioethics sessions were scheduled early that morning, so after just a few hours of sleep I got up and went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Little did I know that in the laboratory of real life my bioethics session was set to begin. One South, the hotel restaurant, was about to present me with an undeniable and powerful case study.
As I entered the restaurant and sat down, the waitress approached my table and took my drink order. She then offered the option of the breakfast buffet or ordering off the menu.
Being a seasoned traveler I know enough to inspect any buffet before committing and so like a drill sergeant inspecting the troops I walked up and down the buffet line spotting the usual -- eggs, sausage, fried potatoes and fruit. But, then an unusual sign caught my eye:
Amused and bewildered, I took a picture of the sign and texted it to a few friends. One friend quickly retorted, “I didn’t know yogurt ate grass.”
I had to remind myself I was in Indiana, the Corn Belt, where corn constitutes over 50 percent of all crop income, and agriculture’s reverberating impact is felt far beyond the farm, producing income and jobs for the state that reaches into manufacturing, trucking, grocery retail, restaurants and hotels like the Hyatt Regency. I decided to turn and make my way back to the table to see what the full breakfast menu might have to offer. I suspected the organic grass fed yogurt sign wasn’t an anomaly.
Unfortunately, I was right!
Across the top of the menu: "Food Thoughtfully Sourced, Carefully Served"
The third option down was a Vegan Breakfast Wrap. There’s also:
- Egg White and Grilled Veggie Sandwich
- Organic Chicken
- Cage-Free Eggs
- Naturally Cured Bacon
- Fresh local ingredients that reflect the season and the local flavors
- Organic yogurt
- Organic smoothies with all organic ingredients
- Local sorghum syrup
And finally, across the bottom, the promise: We only serve cage free eggs, hormone free milk and naturally cured bacon.
The back of the menu tells more of the story about Hyatt’s food philosophy and can be seen here.
It is more than ironic that I was asked to rouse animal scientists into recognizing the growing power of the Food Morality Movement and the reality that scientific conclusions are not winning the day but instead are being hijacked by food politics, giving way to communication aimed at raising moral criticisms over farming and our modern food system. And, right there, under our noses, the chosen ADSA headquarter hotel was one of the Food Morality Movement’s newest rising stars -- The Hyatt Regency, with 508 locations in 46 countries! With that kind of market presence the Hyatt has the ability to influence millions of people every day with a global Food Thoughtfully Sourced campaign catapulting them into the category of the Chipotle of hotels!
Further inquiry unveiled Hyatt began implementing this food philosophy in mid 2011. It had driven the chain to design a three-course organic meal for children developed exclusively by Alice Waters, the Berkeley founder of the countercultural food movement known as California Cuisine and long-time critic of the modern food system as we know it. According to the Hyatt, it serves more than 3 million children annually through its hotels and resorts.
After returning home from the joint meeting I received a satisfaction survey, emailed to me on behalf of the Hyatt. I took the time to share my frustration with its marketing-communication efforts and soon thereafter was contacted by Jeff Steward, food and beverage director, Hyatt Regency Indianapolis.
Steward listened carefully, inquiring and adding his opinion, but always respectful of me as a consumer and Hyatt Gold Card member. Steward was fully behind some things like the cage-free eggs the Hyatt offered, which he claimed were “more humane.” When I challenged him on his view, he was astonished, as though the conclusion was patently obvious. Steward promised to take my concerns to the creators of this program, Susan Santiago, vice president of food and beverage, and Susan Terry, director of culinary operations for Hyatt.
'When I challenged him on his view that cage-free eggs the Hyatt offered were more humane, he was astonished, as though the conclusion was patently obvious.'
In the meantime, I also called Rakesh Sarna, Hyatt Group President of the Americas, whose name was at the bottom of my satisfaction survey. The next morning a representative for Sarna contacted me and, after hearing my complaint, also sought to connect me with food and beverage VP Santiago.
A few hours later my telephone rang. Susan Santiago and I finally came ear to ear.
We talked for 45 minutes about the Hyatt’s effort and its communication, bouncing from topic to topic including organics, hormones, antibiotics, animal care, obesity, customer roundtables and other issues. I voiced my criticism of the Hyatt’s Food Thoughtfully Sourced campaign, arguing that, like Chipotle’s Food with Integrity, it created a false dichotomy dividing our food system in two, with one side being the pristine, natural and organic side and the other technological, conventional and ultimately evil. I reminded Santiago of the positive impact “conventional” agriculture has on the state of Indiana and the world. She agreed and sought to assure me Food Thoughtfully Sourced was not meant to pick sides in today’s food battles but simply reflect customer demand.
'You're the first negative feedback I've gotten. Everyone else has thanked us for the program'
- Susan Santiago, VP Food and Beverage, Hyatt
“You’re the first negative feedback I’ve gotten,” said Santiago. “Everyone else has thanked us for the program.”
Absorbing the impact of her statement, I thought for a moment, where are all the trained agvocates? Surely agricultural leaders have stayed in a Hyatt and eaten in its restaurants. Has the repetitive nature of “organic as healthier” and absence marketing claims wearied agriculture to the point of despair? Or, does agriculture only recognize and wish to respond to radical activists (Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mercy for Animals, Union of Concerned Scientists) when the Food Morality Movement, which is much broader in scope, surrounds them daily and requires constant engagement?
Truth in Food wants to take your feedback back to Hyatt.
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