One of the worst meals of my life occurred on a stormy June evening in the early 1980s at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel. The main course that night was a stringy, tasteless filet of me that my bosses at Successful Farming magazine served up to an unhappy advertiser, Allis Chalmers.
The sin that put me on the spit was a wisecrack — OK, I might have made it in print to a million or so of SF’s readers — on how AC’s no-till corn planters were still fighting soil erosion despite their ancient, 1950s engineering: most had been dumped into the nearest ditch shortly after Deere introduced its Max Emerge planter in the 1970s.
When that joke saw ink, telephone lines between West Allis, Wis., and Des Moines caught fire.
Two minutes later my professional food chain — me, my senior editor, SF‘s editor and its publisher — were in the air for a supper of Wisconsin beer and Iowa crow.
During dinner, Jim, the publisher, made an eloquent apology while AC’s boss, a tight-lipped man named Roy, sat motionless amid a wedge of nodding vice presidents.
When Jim finished, Roy rose to acknowledge Jim’s “unbelievable” love (true; I didn’t believe it) for the color orange and his warm words about AC’s “century of devotion” to American farmers.
He then raised his beer, shook Jim’s hand and life went on. For a while, anyway.
Within two years, Roy and AC were gone; in 1985, AC’s farm equipment line was sold. Most orange tractors seen today are either in parades or ditches.
Me? I’m still around and I’m still practicing the key lesson learned that night in Milwaukee: the best way for editors and publishers to avoid awkward meals in big city hotels is for writers to avoid unpleasant stories.
That’s why I’m not going to write about another unpleasant, Monsanto-focused seed industry study released Dec. 9. So what if it notes “at least 200 independent seed companies have been lost in the last 13 years” and “in fact,” 2009 “marked the first reduction of GE (genetically engineered) soybean acres since their introduction in 1996”?
As stunning as those facts might seem, there’s no way I’m gonna report on what they mean to you, your farm and your community because I doubt this newspaper’s editor and publisher want to eat dinner in St. Louis tonight. I know I don’t.
But if you’re curious, point your web browser to www.farmertofarmercampaign.org and click. Once there, you may — I’m just guessin’ here — find a report titled something like Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Seed Industry.
I’m not gonna face nothing (nor will this paper’s brilliant editor and publisher) because I’m but a vessel here, a ship passing in the night somewhere on Lake Michigan.
On the cruise, however, I’ll likely pass www.manitobacooperator.ca, another port with several Big Seed-related stories. I think some even examine Monsanto’s fascinating new “Violator Exclusion Policy” implemented in Canada Oct. 19.
Since I will never write about it — as the Manitoba Co-Operator did Oct. 21, Nov. 12 and Nov. 26 — I won’t have to worry about jamming up my many editors over Monsanto’s formal policy whereby patent “violators who do not reach a settlement with Monsanto and whose violation results in Monsanto having to go to court, lose all access to current and future Monsanto technologies.”
I mean the brave editors and the publishers who stand alongside your cowardly columnist don’t deserve to bothered now or in their lifetimes about what I won’t write about, right?
So, no, I’m not ever going there or, for that matter, back to the Pfister, mister.
But here’s news: crow tastes like chicken.