Hadrick had been a 25-year-old ranch hand at the time, taking care of “No. 534” and corresponding regularly with that now-famous scribe:

Michael Pollan.

Adding insult to injury, says Hadrick, are Pollan’s hugely successful Omnivore’s Dilemma — which was derived from the seminal Sunday-magazine article — his appearances on national television programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show and his lucrative speaking gigs across America. (Pollan commands $20,000 a speech; the Hadricks get $2,000 to $3,000).

Dave Hillebrand practices old-fashioned animal husbandry but worries about the 
Humane Society’s intentions.
Kristen Hinman
Dave Hillebrand practices old-fashioned animal husbandry but worries about the Humane Society’s intentions.
Charles Steck

Perhaps worst of all was the floating of Pollan’s name in the mainstream press as a potential U.S. agriculture secretary. “He’s not an expert,” Hadrick sums up for the Fargo crowd. “You are. And you’ve got to get out and tell your story so some journalism professor at UC–Berkeley” — that would be Pollan — “doesn’t do it for you.”

After the session the Hadricks describe how their feeling of betrayal by Pollan propelled them into activism. “He called [the day after the article appeared] and said, ‘I guess you’re not too happy with me,’” Troy recalls. “He ended up talking with my father-in-law and basically admitting, you know, that to make it a good story that people would read, he had to sensationalize it.”

Through an assistant, Pollan declined to be interviewed for this article.

Advocates for Ag urges farmers and ranchers to take every opportunity — at state fairs, meat counters, even at ride lines at Disney World — to tell consumers one-on-one about the animal care and science that go into producing cheap meat. That way when the curtain goes up on a movie like Food Inc., viewers will have heard the other side from the horse’s mouth.

“Just because you’re a big farm doesn’t mean you don’t care about your animals,” Hadrick emphasizes. Is it negligence when a rancher brings a calf into the house on a winter night and warms it with a blow dryer? Or uses ultrasound to monitor a pregnant heifer? “It’s so frustrating for us to hear people say we’re abusing our livestock,” says the rancher.

The Hadricks say their speaking has accelerated over the past year and a half. They’ve been to both coasts and up and down the nation’s midsection, speaking to meat cutters, veterinarians and farmers of all stripes, handing out “I Met a Rancher Today” stickers at every stop.

Stacy works a nine-to-five job at the state ag department’s extension office, is studying for a master’s degree and keeps house with three kids. Troy toils on his blog, where he runs down press on everything from poverty to activist outrage at the “sport” known as donkey basketball. He has been urged to shoot another clip like the Yellow Tail rant, but the right opportunity hasn’t come along yet.

Though they miss day-to-day ranching, for now this is the right tack, the Hadricks say — even though beef cattle aren’t a current Humane Society target.

“Say tomorrow they got pig crates, veal crates and [chicken] cages banned throughout the country,” Troy posits. “They’re not just going to stop there and say, ‘OK, we met our goals.’ They’re going to say, ‘What’s next?’ If we don’t talk about the care that hog and chicken and veal producers put into their animals, then there won’t be anybody left to help stand up for us when it’s our turn.”


Call it the Colorado compromise.

In early 2007 Wayne Pacelle ran into Colorado governor Bill Ritter and announced his intention to go for the jugular in his state. Ritter persuaded Pacelle to meet with farmers instead. After the first tête-à-tête, at a Colorado steak house, it was clear a negotiator would be needed.

Enter Bernard Rollin.

“They had 12 million bucks allocated to do this referendum, and the livestock association told me that their people told them that if they don’t fight it, they’ll lose three to one, and if they do fight it, they’ll lose two to one,” recalls Rollin, a professor of philosophy and animal science at Colorado State University. “They didn’t have the money to fight it, so they asked me to fight it. Well, I had never met Wayne Pacelle. I work alone.

“Two months later I’m on a panel with Pacelle and he came over and said, ‘I really admire your work, I’ve used it,’ and so forth. And I said, ‘Then with all due respect, don’t screw me in my own state.’”

The conversation eventually concluded, according to Rollin, with Pacelle acquiescing. “He said, ‘OK, if you can broker a deal, I’ll cancel the referendum.’ And 150 hours of unpaid time later, we had the deal. My wife will still tell you how many dinners I ate with one phone in each ear and the face in the plate.”

Rollin is an unusual animal, as it were. He authored the first ethics textbook for veterinarians and was an architect of a federal law enforcing certain standards for animals used in research labs. A New York Jew who settled in Colorado 40 years ago, he’s a weightlifting enthusiast who owns three motorcycles and flips the bird at helmet laws.

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