Full Disclosure: Anheuser-Busch paid to fly me out to Wyoming and Idaho to view some of their barley farms and a malt processing facility. They covered my travel, lodging, food, drink, and other costs.
Additional, personal disclosure: At the risk of alienating a subsection of readers, I fully admit: it was awesome. I drank some pilot beer that will never see market, met some wonderful folks, and put more knowledge about agrarian logistics into my brain than I had previously planned to this summer. That said, I’m still the same Oliver now that I was when I got on a plane on Sunday.
But realistically, the conversation about disclosure is fruitless.
If someone pays for your trip, you disclose. There are forms. You sign them. Game over. A winner is you.
I’m much more concerned with the handling of disclosure. Without rehashing too much of what Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting said about his Twitter interactions with Andy Crouch on Monday, I want to note that it’s really easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about objectivity when you’re not actively in the middle of a junket, doing your best to, you know, actually be objective.
For those reading this who weren’t privy to what went down, here’s the TL;DR – A bunch of media folks were invited on a raw-materials trip, sponsored by Budweiser. When we started posting on social media, several people made baseless comments about not disclosing the nature of our trip.
It all kind of went pear-shaped from there.
I never even got a chance to disclose because within seconds of mentioning I was dangerously near the jaws of AB, people made some gross assumptions.
Two of Kiser’s points sang perfect harmony to what I felt, too:
- Assumption attacks a person’s creative and ethical integrity
- Fueling the AB hate creates a false dichotomy of dialogue with clear-cut goods and bads
The first stings. I’ve spent the past six years spending money I earn from another job to write about beer. I’ve never had advertising nor merchandised anything. I’m clearly not in this for the money or free stuff. I care about beer and brewing, from raw ingredients to pint glass. I’ve written negative and positive essays about all the players, big and small, corporate and independent, so to even insinuate that I’m somehow now ethically compromised based on one 2 day trip is particularly insulting.
Ignoring the fact that a lot of personal attacks are echoes of psychological projection, when you attack someone’s integrity, you’re attacking their baser identity. You’re saying you can’t or don’t trust them. It’s a cruel jab at writers, especially those who’ve worked very hard to to create at their best level of fair.
But here’s the real grind of my grist: I shouldn’t have to defend myself. I shouldn’t have to justify going to a place to see and learn things I would never normally have the chance to see and learn.
I didn’t join in the Twitter conversations (for the most part), because I did not want to feed the false dichotomy that has taken over all macro vs. craft debate like a malignant cancer. I didn’t feel the need (or desire) to explain my actions when my entire ethical pedigree points pretty damn clearly to “skeptical of everything.”
People on both sides have transcended the “us vs. them” argument, dug in deep, transformed beer from a beverage with deep ties to culture, economy, and biology, into some kind of political maelstrom where craft might as well be a blue C and macro might as well be a red M.
It sucks, and we lose so many potential stories to the hellish pit of needing to be correct.
I understand we’re wired to take sides, and in turn, assume our side is right. But a two-path dialogue misses all the nuance, scrutinizes the bad of one side while glossing it over on the other, and most definitely vice versa.
I know people want AB to be this sinister, root evil who are in cahoots with the Illuminati and lizard people that want to take over the planet and grow humans as meat, but it’s just not true. Has ABInBev done some brutal, less-than-desirable, rampantly capitalistic shit? You betcha (check out this piece from Christopher Barnes). Have they also done other, more altruistic things, like not patenting or trademarking barley varieties and sharing their agronomic research to the benefit of the entire global malting community? Yes.
Check your prejudice. If your immediate reaction is to decide you are right, you are probably not. What’s right and what’s wrong is a sliding scale, unique to each human and her specific experience. We need to stop with this binary either/or rhetoric. Modern beer culture could stand for a bit of intellectual humility, critical thinking, and amiable neutrality.
We’re all right. We’re all wrong. That’s the beauty of this crazy life. Try not to force your presuppositions onto others who are trying to look a little past the horizon of current party lines, but if you absolutely have to, be kind about it.