How to talk about factory farming so people listen

 
 Katie Cantrell and her team present audiences with the facts about factory farming, and allow people to draw their own conclusions. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition

Katie Cantrell and her team present audiences with the facts about factory farming, and allow people to draw their own conclusions. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition

Since she started the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition in 2010, Katie Cantrell has become an expert in talking about a subject no one wants to hear about. She persists because the industry is a powerful threat to the health of this planet, its people, and animals. 

She and her team spotlight the problems - and the opportunities to do something about it - in highly engaging, fact-based presentations. So far FFAC has delivered presentations to more than 75,000 people in schools and businesses, convincing many to cut back on their burgers and ribs along the way. (Here's how to request your own presentation.)

Recently Stone Pier Press writer Nate Lotze sat down to talk with Katie about how she tries to inspire action. (Here's where to go to see the full interview, which includes what each of us can do about it.)

NATE LOTZE:  What specific approaches work best to connect with people around factory farming? Which ones don't work?

KATIE CANTRELL: They key tactic we use is tailoring the message for the audience. We try to connect with their existing beliefs and values. Factory farming has such vast consequences that it can be related to nearly any subject or interest. Rather than trying to get people to care about a totally new issue, we frame it in terms that already resonate with them.

With younger audiences, we focus on animals, environment, and social justice. With older audiences, we focus on health. With business audiences, we focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

 Most people in Katie Cantrell's audiences are surprised to hear how wasteful large-scale animal production is. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition

Most people in Katie Cantrell's audiences are surprised to hear how wasteful large-scale animal production is. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition

We also make it fact-based and ask questions that lead people to make their own decisions. You have to trust that if you're telling the audience about a piglet having his tail and testicles cut off without pain relief, they're going to know that it goes against their moral beliefs about how animals should be treated. There's no need to add commentary about how horrific and cruel these practices are.

By allowing people to draw those conclusions for themselves, we avoid the commonly-held stigma that animal-related messaging is bleeding heart or emotionally manipulative. By trusting the audience and giving them the benefit of the doubt, we also avoid coming off as angry or scolding.

How do you approach the topic with children? What's your response to parents who say they don't want their kids to know about the realities of factory farming?

We speak primarily to high school and college students because they have at least some agency over their food choices. It is difficult when you're speaking to younger students who are entirely dependent on their parents' shopping and cooking, especially because the parents haven't had access to the information their children have received.

As for parents who don't want to expose their kids to the realities of factory farming, I certainly think it's important to provide age-appropriate information and would never show graphic or disturbing imagery to small children. But we can foster their compassion and critical thinking, two skills that aren't controversial, by talking about the food system. We can encourage children to feel compassion for farmed animals as well as for dogs and cats. We can encourage them to think about where food and other products come from before we see them at the store or restaurant. We can empower children to stand up for what they believe in and know that they're making a difference.

 Factory farming is so loosely regulated it's a major source of pollution in this country. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition.

Factory farming is so loosely regulated it's a major source of pollution in this country. Source: Factory Farming Awareness Coalition.

Do you track audience members over time to see if they actually follow through?

Audience members take a survey immediately after the presentation, and over 88% of respondents pledge to reduce or eliminate their animal product consumption. We have been working with Animal Charity Evaluators and Statistics Without Borders on a follow-up study to assess long-term change, but it's extremely difficult to get reliable survey data from enough respondents long after they've seen the presentation, and people are notoriously bad at self-reporting diet. So right now we're working through those challenges.

More from Katie Cantrell in Conversation with Nate Lotze


Nate Lotze, a News Fellow for Stone Pier Press, works for a statewide conservation organization in Pennsylvania and has also spent time as an environmental organizer and organic farmer.