Super Bowl Commercials 2013: Does Dodge's Ad Whitewash American Farms?

Dodge stirred up quite a bit of controversy with its Paul Harvey narrated, "So God Made a Farmer" Super Bowl ad. There has been much commentary over the past week about the "whitewashing" of the American farmer and the nostalgic look at farms and farmers that ignores the current state of the American food system.

There is ample documentation on the current state of the American farm. While the ad's portrayal of farm managers is largely correct – most of them are white men – the actual "farmers," the people who do the hard work of the farm are overwhelmingly Latino, specifically Mexican who, it is estimated, make up 70% of the agricultural work force. Most Americans get their food via the system of factory farms that are largely run by big agriculture companies who regard profit more highly than they do producing good food for people to consume. This equates to pollution of ecosystems, massive monocultures that breed resistant weeds and pests, and dwindling rural communities that continue to see their primary means of livelihood – farm revenue – shunted into corporate coffers. The health consequences of the spread of GMO crops is still a question mark with both sides pouring money into the fight over labeling and sales. Additionally, the massive influence of American Big Ag plays a pivotal role in global food prices and subsequent food shortages due to price spikes.

What Dodge did was portray the American farm as it used to be in the early 20th century. But even that portrayal is not terribly accurate. Most farms of that time were small, manual labor driven affairs. Mules pulled plows more commonly than did tractors. Before the Farm Bill came along and stabilized prices by giving farmers assurances of a market for their crops, if the weather was bad farmers suffered, as did eaters. Farming was no sure thing. A farm enterprise is still not a sure thing – the work is back breaking, the profits are small, and the markets are global and fluctuating – but because of the protections built into the system through the efforts of Big Ag, famers now receive payments for their crops from the government regardless of the conditions of the market.

Here is the now of American farming, "So God Made a Factory Farm." Though it is a parody of the Dodge ad, it shows what the American farm actually looks like today, Latino field workers, CAFO's, and all. But then again, the real "Rest of the Story" wouldn't sell many trucks, would it?