When it comes to food, Americans have a real love/hate relationship.
We have entire televisions shows -- channels even -- dedicated to it. Making food, eating food, buying food, judging food... In 2012 the Food Network celebrated its most watched year, boasting a nightly viewership of 1.1 million. In 2013, the company announced that its website was pulling in an estimated $901 million annually.
And yet, as much as our love of food has grown, our appetite for all-things weight-loss remains insatiable. Today, there are approximately 108 million Americans actively participating in a diet regimen. We constantly search blogs, books and magazines for the next big trend and spend vast amounts of money on the latest weight-loss "solution." According to the FDA, the amount of money Americans spend on weight-loss has doubled in the past 20 years -- from an estimated $30 billion in 1992 to upwards of $60 billion in 2013.
Somewhere amid the obsession of eating and not eating, Americans started to develop a new level of interest in food -- the production process.
The introduction of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's ushered in a new era of how American consumers thought about food. We stopped caring so much about what was "quick" and "convenient," and started looking for labels like "farm-fresh" and "locally-grown." City centers began hosting farmers' markets on the weekends where urbanites could buy local products and get to know their farmers.
Everyone involved in agriculture agreed: This was a wonderful development. U.S. farming had survived its own version of a mass exodus at the start of the 20th century when the number of Americans living in cities grew from 10 million to 54 million in just 50 years, so, to have Americans excited about farming and food production again was an exciting notion.
Unfortunately, many Americans were disappointed to find that the present-day farm wasn't exactly the way we left it.
A lot has changed in how we produce food in the past 100 years: Seeds aren't planted by hand, fields aren't tilled by a horse-drawn plow and chickens aren't raised by the dozen. Just as we've moved on and evolved in our nation's cities -- making everything from our cars to our homes, to our cell phones more efficient -- so too have we evolved in our rural communities to improve the efficiency of our food production.
This evolution was necessary to meet the needs of American consumers and has measurably improved the quality and affordability of our food supply. But there is a definite trace of negativity when it comes to modern agriculture. Terms like "factory farming" and "big agribusiness" are thrown around by critics who command attention under the guise of "consumer advocate" or "industry expert" but know very little about the realities of food production.
For years we've tried to correct the record and argue our detractors, but the drum beat just gets louder. So we're trying a different approach. We know how important food is to Americans and we've always taken pride in adapting to meet the needs of our consumers. When they wanted quick and convenient, we gave them pre-cut, pre-cooked, pre-packaged products. Our members offer organic and traditional products, chicken raised without antibiotics and every type of chicken in between. We're in the business of providing choice.
Now, the National Chicken Council (NCC) is once again making changes to give consumers what they want: A more transparent food production process. Last year, we hosted members of the media on a farm-to-fork tour of how chickens are raised and processed, with our first-ever Chicken Media Summit.
We're continuing our commitment to transparency with a new online campaign dedicated entirely about how chickens are raised and processed, addressing issues such as antibiotic use, food safety regulations, animal welfare practices, environmental stewardship and even the relationship between chicken companies and chicken farmers.
Many of these topics have been the focal point of a great deal of misguided criticism that has resulted in consumer confusion and fear, and we acknowledge that a lot of it has been rooted in a lack of understanding due, in part, to the industry's lack of communication.
With this campaign, we aim to provide consumers with enough facts so that they can feel comfortable and confident in their decision to eat chicken, no matter which product they choose. We share with them the perspective of our farmers and take them inside a growout house, so they can see firsthand that chickens are raised in safe and clean conditions, by farmers and veterinarians -- not factory workers -- and how they produce chicken responsibly and sustainably. We outline the steps companies take to ensure chicken is as safe as possible before leaving the plant.
The newfound interest in food production among Americans is an exciting opportunity for the entire agriculture industry to show how we have evolved to provide American consumers with the highest quality and most abundant food supply, all while decreasing our environmental footprint and maintaining a low cost to consumers.
And if that's not enough to get you to visit our page, we've included a recipe section. After all, if the only thing we love more than food is figuring out how to slim down, then why not combine the two and learn how to make great-tasting food with the leanest protein on the market?