Ah, avocado toast. The trendy brunch food is one of my favorite go-tos, although I’ve been told it’s also the reason — at $10 a slice — I can’t afford to buy a home anytime soon, maybe ever. Well, that and I grew up during the Great Recession compounded by life in a city that touts one of the highest living costs in the nation.
Although my love affair with expensive toast and inability to afford a home backs up my millennialness more than my actual age does, I was the most un-millennial person at Four Seasons hotel Thursday morning, munching on salmon avocado toast with some 10 influencers around the table.
It was a media breakfast sponsored by the California Department of Food and Agriculture intended to introduce the California Grown agriculture tour — a tour for influencers to visit local farms and try a variety of their produce in all its photogenic glory.
I showed up ready to interview the department’s secretary, Karen Ross, about some of the state’s most hot-button agriculture issues: the shortage of agricultural workers and affordable housing, Trump’s culture of fear and its effect on vital immigrant workers, how cannabis impacts neighboring crops, and what the imminent threat of climate change and drought will have on California farms. You know, the big and important stuff.
When I arrived, though, my curiosity shifted to the other attendees. These so-called agricultural influencers outnumbered me 10 to one. Who are they? Why have I never heard of them? I asked the closest influencer to my left what exactly his job entails, and why he and others at our table were invited to travel with Ross to tour the state’s richest agricultural areas, including our Santa Barbara County.
“Oh, I’m not an agricultural influencer. My husband and I run a food blog called Husbands That Cook,” said Adam Merrin. “We are social media influencers.”
Social media influencers.
As it turns out, I was the only person from the media at the “media breakfast.” At 8 o’clock in the morning, I found myself surrounded by people who make their living by posting photos of home-cooked food, recipes, and fine dining on Instagram. These influencers wield as much, if not more, power than the mainstream media does in their respective blogger fields.
As Secretary Ross spoke about the group’s tour so far, the first of three California Grown Agri-Tours, the influencers around the table pulled their phones out, snapping pictures and videos to post on their social media accounts. The day before, the group went to Good Land Organics, Ross said. Her favorite agricultural product was the caviar limes that owner Jay Ruskey picked for her and the influencers to try. But not before taking the perfect Instagram snapshot.
“We are trying to send the message that local is better,” said Steve Burns, the public relations manager for the agriculture tour. “If you have a choice between buying blueberries from down the road or blueberries that were shipped from out of state, pick the berries from down the road.”
This was the event’s main message, along with conserving water and moving toward a more sustainable farming approach. The PR team invited some of the most-followed food influencers to share photos of the vibrant, local produce to plant that message in the minds of their hundreds of thousands of followers.
Although my avocado-eating peers share the same generational title, our jobs couldn’t be more opposite. Maybe this is just a sign that I’m getting older, but times have changed. A pretty Snapchat photo lacking any context can reach more people than well-reported news coverage of the same event, which too often is never read past the headline before being dismissed as fake news.
Looking to journalists for the facts instead of your Facebook feed is imperative. This era is marked by Twitter’s fusion into the fabric of the presidential administration, and by the forlorn fact that over half of American adults who prefer getting news through social media have reported sharing false information.
I probably will never buy my own home, at least not here. But I love this town. I’m on a mission to walk every inch of its streets, meet as many Santa Barbarans as possible, and find every hidden story in all the nooks and crannies. A surface-level glamour shot on Instagram will never tell the full story, no matter how many double-taps it receives.
But I still love avocado toast.