Melissa Quintero: Agriculture Business Major & Dedicated Vegetarian

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Jumbo shrimp. Tragi-comedy. Definitely maybe. Great Depression. Passive Aggressive. Seriously funny. Vegetarian agriculture major?

Okay, it may not be as much of an oxymoron as the rest. But, there are definitely some intertwined ironies in being both an agriculture business major and a vegetarian, considering the agriculture industry often perpetuates some unethical treatment of animals. Along with the scrutiny of the treatment of livestock, biotechnology, environmentalism and technology growth are also all relevant factors to the increasingly complex world of agriculture. Cal Poly’s highly accredited agriculture business program aims to cultivate the development of agriculture business leaders that will be ready to embark into this realm of intricacies. Melissa Quintero is one these leaders.

As a sophomore agriculture business major and vegetarian she embraces the ironies of her studies and plant-based diet with open arms. With an undeniable charisma and compassion, Melissa expresses how she yearns to find the balance between her ethical views regarding vegetarianism and the world of agriculture business, which is married to her sense of home.

HCCP: What made you decide to be vegetarian?

Melissa Quintero: To be honest, the reason why I initially became a vegetarian was all because someone challenged me to see how long I could go without eating meat. But coincidently around the same time in my 7th grade AVID class, we started to learn more about animal rights, PETA and animal testing, which essentially is what fueled my choice to remain vegetarian.

HCCP: How long have you been vegetarian?

MQ: Since January 1st, 2010.

HCCP: How does being an Ag Business major enhance your desire to be vegetarian or reassure your choice to be vegetarian?

MQ: Learning more about how mass produced food items get from farms to my table really makes me think about what I consume. It also makes me wonder about the future of our food more often than if I would be a computer science major per say.  Finding the balance in doing what I believe is best for me and the planet — being vegetarian — and voluntarily working in an industry that’s in great part responsible for so many of the things I consider problems is really tricky, but it all lies in how you want to interpret the information you are given.

If you take a moment to try to understand a marketer and identify their goal of selling you something, you’ll start to question and figure out how to make it so that specific type of marketing doesn’t cater to you, so in essence another thing I have learned in my Ag classes is how to be a smarter vegetarian. I feel like a hypocrite, trying to teach my family about the dangers of consuming too much meat, or the negative effects of dairy, all the while in school I’m trying to learn how it is I can market products better so the world increases their consumption of said foods.

HCCP: Can you elaborate on the irony of being a vegetarian and an Ag Business major?

MQ: When you think Agricultural Business majors, the first thing that might come to mind are row crops, or commodities picked from trees, but agricultural business encompasses more than that. We are trained to be marketers, salesmen and women, interpreters of local economies and lastly, how to take business models and apply them to the unpredictable agriculture industry. We are trained to think in futuristic terms, planning out things in a way that will benefit the agricultural sector in the long run.

With that being said, the agriculture industry gets a lot of shit for being responsible for things like GMOs, unethical treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and even water shortages in some cases. So when you put someone that wants to be ethical, eco-friendly and still wants to make a business profitable in the agricultural business world, there might be some conflict. It’s ironic because I’m taught that new technology in the way we mass-produce livestock is a very good thing for the industry, that breakthroughs in regards to pesticides used for our fruits and vegetables are the epitome of efficiency, and that drops in sales of dairy products or meats always translate to bad news.  I’m conflicted because, as a vegetarian, I want to stay away from products that contain any ingredients coming from animals, but I also want to see my industry thrive.  It’s an interesting thing to be studying ways to expand the industry, but also dismantle it because it doesn’t align with your own ethical beliefs.

HCCP: What stemmed your interest in your major?

MQ: I’m from Salinas, California, the salad bowl of the world. I’m from a community with really close ties to agriculture, and furthermore, a family very involved in agriculture. My parents worked in the fields when they initially came to the United States; I have aunts and uncles that now work in higher positions in the harvesting sector, and also a brother with degrees in plant science and Agricultural Business as well, so it’s to no surprise that I chose that path as well. Not only that, but my goal is to one day have a family company that operates in the transportation aspect of agriculture.

HCCP: Can you describe that goal more?

MQ: I went into my major thinking I wanted to do a certain thing. But the more I learn, and the more experience I gain in the field, the more I see is encompassed by agricultural business. Sometimes by listening to the literal words you might think strictly accounting or managing a business, but I think it's more to it. I think there's more to learn and maybe with more knowledge I can decide where to go with that idea. That's the idea we started with — my brother and I. Because my dad has been a truck driver for over 20 years, so he knows the ins and outs of the transportation sector, and since that's what we've grown up with, it's something dear to us.  Although a business in transportation of commodities doesn't directly correlate with vegetarianism, I feel that if my family can help, even slightly with making plant based diets more available, I think it's a start.