By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

Sometimes as I ponder the blank page that stares back from the beginning of every column, what occurs to me is that I am tasked with providing to the readers who might stumble upon my work the “answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.”

In other words, there is a burden to provide some profound commentary on things that are truly important. Of course, if you have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you already know that the answer is 42. More important, you know that it was calculated by the “enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought” over the course of 7.5 million years. The problem is that we don’t really know what the question is – only that it is the “ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.”

That begs the further question, “are my words really important?” I think, clearly, the answer is an emphatic, YES! I’m not referring just to my words, but to all words.

We are constantly bombarded with messaging created within the bowels of corporate giants who hire small armies whose sole purpose in life is to convince consumers to buy their products. They carefully craft words into weapons of mass illusion that paint the desired picture – or, perception – in the mind of the hearer, reader or what-have-you. The canvas on which their masterpiece is applied may or may not be blank. However, with enough smoke, mirrors, whitewash and just plain organic fertilizer, they can obscure what was once there before, covering it with something new.

We love to believe that we live in the “real” world. The problem with that belief is that it is not completely true; we actually live in a world of our perceptions. We learn about that world through our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Those senses give us a basis for comparison between one thing and another, but our interpretation of what each thing we identify truly is, is determined by our lifetime of accumulating data by those same senses and then filing them in categories within the amazing organ that resides between our ears – our brain – for further analysis.

An example might be in order. What I perceive as the color “white” is actually an interpretation of the reflected light bouncing off of a surface. Color blindness can affect how a person might perceive reflected light waves. It can be the result of a genetic anomaly, or can be due to damage to “cones” in the eyes.

At this point in my discourse, I perceive a white page covered with words designed to convey a message to the reader, which is likely somewhat unclear. This lack of clarity, if you trust that I can actually think on such a level, is by design. It is necessary to prepare the reader for my message, which is that the answer to what determines consumer perceptions of the food they choose is simply the number 42. It must be 42, since that is the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”

Our food choices certainly must be among the most important questions we must answer each day, even if they are not the ultimate question. I recall years as a “road warrior” in which the question of what I wanted for dinner might affect the route taken on my sales calls for the day.

When I think of the words, “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner,” I see a juicy steak on or freshly off of the grill. The scent of broiled beef lingers in my thoughts and hunger begins to well up within me. There is no possible way a vegan has ever eaten a really good steak.

Perceptions. Messaging. Words that create images that trigger hunger responses. Effective marketing may sometimes contain an element of guilt, but it is primarily about desire.

We are taught to desire a healthy lifestyle and a clean planet that is constantly at the perfect temperature, with sunshine, green grass and a dog that can catch a frisbee. The “ideal” has been painted for us and we are conditioned to think that anything less is wrong or somehow makes us a failure. Messaging conditions us to desire what the crafter of the message wishes us to be and to somehow feel guilty when we fail to do so.

Money is the driver of the messages with which we are daily bombarded. Just like every other politically or power-motivated thing in this life, the best way to understand what is driving it is to “follow the money.” The money behind lab-grown, or plant-based meat likely isn’t particularly concerned with the price of corn. They aren’t price takers; they are price setters. They know their cost of production and set their prices accordingly.

Can we in the cattle industry compete with the big-money corporations that hire hundreds of marketing people to craft messages with which to daily bombard consumers? Traditionally, our response has been to become more efficient at production. That approach still leaves us as price takers. Until we can find a way to become price setters – based on the value of the products we produce – we will continue to remain in a defensive mode.

Defense is important, but ultimately, most scores are made on offense. There has only been one Major League Baseball jersey to be retired – #42, Jackie Robinson. He had a career batting average of .311 with 137 home runs and 734 RBI’s. He may have been an amazing first baseman, but he was pretty good at offense as well. Maybe the answer to the ultimate question really is 42.

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