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Thinking clearly in a muddled age

Dairy conferences always give me plenty to think about and avenues to pursue, and the World Dairy Summit in Belfast, hosted by Dairy UK and the International Dairy Federation, was no different.

The issue of sustainability is now one of the key tenets of the dairy industry, and as the speakers reminded us, it’s not just about the farmland, it’s about ensuring the farmers and the rural economies that depend on them also are sustainable and viable. Sometimes I think certain entities in today’s modern world forget that humans are also part of the ecosystem and the health of the earth is dependent on them.

I was particularly interested in the presentation given by Dr Moshe Mishali, a psychologist at the University of Haifa in Israel. Israel is the hotbed of psychology – it is where the subjects of Michael Lewis’ book, The Undoing Project, first formulated their theories that are now being used globally. If you’ve ever heard of the nudge theory of getting people to indulge in better behaviours, it is down to Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. A good book to pick up.

Dr Mishali discussed a key issue confronting all of us, no matter where we sit in nutrition, which is how to get people to eat dairy. As the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue knows, it is not about providing them with scientific facts about nutrition. It is more about telling a story, and appealing to their emotional bases.

Fear is a driver, and although the audience laughed heartily when he discussed how anti-dairy sorts are saying that the presence of kazomorfin in milk is a dangerous drug that addicts children, he warned about the undecided middle who may be convinced by these alleged horror stories. As 45 has discovered, it doesn’t have to be true, or even make sense, for people to buy into it.

Dr Mishali also warned against what I have believed for a long time. If people are spouting complete nonsense, ignore them. Instead, focus on the people who listen to them, but who are not sure. People who are still buying dairy products, and looking into vaccinating their children.

In this day of rapid-fire information, it is easy to go off piste and wind up lost, or worse yet, malnourished, overweight and sick in a mature economy. Part of our job in dairy is to make sure the 9.7 billion people who will live on this planet by 2050 have sufficient nutrition and health to live happy lives.

See? So much to think about.

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