Pundit’s Mailbag — A Closer Look At
Chefs Collaborative’s Mission Statement
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 11, 2007
Our piece, Chefs Collaborative Opposes Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, aroused passionate opposition from smaller growers, and we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Small Farmers Have More At Stake With Food Safety, which included a letter from Ken Kimes of New Natives in Freedom, California.
We also received another vituperative letter on the subject. This one from Dale Coke, who runs a 200-plus acre organic farm in San Benito County:
Some may find difficulty understanding a priori how the Pundit could arrive at a pronouncement like the Chefs Collaborative ‘has already decided…that locally grown foods are always better’ from the mission statement quoted.
Perhaps the Pundit was distracted from understanding the mission statement by the constantly flashing advertisements lining the sides of the Pundit’s web pages?
Of course, local and small certainly aren’t words used to define the advertisers flashing their messages on the Pundit’s sides. Those advertisers aren’t paying for slots next to a story that doesn’t question why we should even allow small local growers who can’t pay ‘the ante to get into the supply game’ to grow produce.
It is not really surprising — the Pundit defines itself this way: “We failed… not for want of the relevant materials but because of a plethora of irrelevant ones.”
To be fair, there were one or two points the Pundit brought up that were relevant. Too bad they’re lost in a quagmire of the Pundit’s a priori chimeras and the unabashed bias towards the processing advertisers lining the sides.
— Dale Coke
Dale, you are killing us here. When Dale wanted to dissent from a position Dole took, we gave him a forum in our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — GAPs Are Living Documents, and now, when he wishes to attack us, we give him a forum again.
Our assessment of the Chefs Collaborative is based on a simple fact. In its mission statement, the Chefs Collaborative could have said that its goal is to work with Chefs to make sure restaurant patrons are served dishes prepared with the highest quality ingredients.
That would be an open-ended statement that says the Chefs Collaborative is prepared to evaluate each product and, after study, decide which product is the best quality. After study, the Collaborative might come to the conclusion that product from a national shipper is better than locally grown, or that locally grown is better than a nationally processed product.
However, the actual mission statement says this: Chefs Collaborative works with chefs and the greater food community to celebrate local foods…
That is precisely what a priori means — the Chefs Collaborative is founded on the premise of celebrating local.
We would hold that it is wiser to evaluate the facts in each situation and be geographically agnostic in terms of preference for where food is grown. To say that local automatically deserves celebration is simply not credible.
Still, though we could discuss this matter with Dale in a civilized manner, we take exception to his assertion that the Pundit’s opinions are somehow shaped by our financial interests.
First, Dale is irresponsible to make the charge simply because he has no idea if it is true or not. After all, sometimes people’s opinions just happen to correspond with their own interests.
Second, having written as much as we have over as long as we have, our record is pretty clear — we are an equal-opportunity analyst. We try to be constructive but great publications such as the Pundit and PRODUCE BUSINESS have many advertisers but ONLY ONE REPUTATION, and we have no choice but to defend our hard-earned reputation
Third, there is an old piece of advice given to lawyers: “If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table.”
We read this letter from our correspondent and see an old debate trick, the ad hominem attack. If our writer actually had something substantive to say, we suppose he would say it. Instead he attacks our character.
Fourth, this saddens us as we think it impoverishes debate within the industry. We’ve been around long enough that we doubt many readers will think we allow our opinions to sway in the wind. The problem is that our industry depends on many people speaking out and sharing their knowledge and understanding to help advance the trade.
When people, including the Pundit, speak out they are entering the arena and are subjecting the quality of their thinking and the extent of their knowledge to the withering scrutiny of thousands of industry participants and outside experts — that in itself requires some courage.
At very least, however, contributors to industry debate are entitled to a presumption of sincerity. They are entitled to think that their ideas will be scrutinized, not that unsubstantiated attacks will be made on their character.
It is no small thing to accuse a man of promoting opinions he doesn’t believe in order that he might line his pockets with money, and if we speak that way to one another the most likely outcome is that information helpful to the industry just won’t be shared.
Perhaps we have made punditry look easier than it is — it is no trick to express opinions, but to analyze things honestly and do it in such a way that we can all go out for a drink or a meal the next time we meet, and thus keep working to build the industry, that is no small trick.
We appreciate Dale’s reaching out to us and hope we are good enough to have clearly explained why the attacks on the Pundit’s personal integrity are unjustified, inappropriate to civil discourse and not helpful to the industry.
Yet we extend a hand and hope that on our next visit to San Benito County, Dale will give us a tour of that organic farm he has and give us a chance to get to know one another a little better. In the end, our piece was not opposed to Coke Farms or any other small farm; it was an expression of our hope that every farm will produce safe and wholesome food, a goal we are certain we share with Dale Coke.
Many thanks to Dale for his letter which enabled us to discuss such important issues.