Despite an increase in cattle sales, beef consumption in the United States has been on a steady decline—down from 94 pounds a person in 1976 to 62 pounds in 2009. That’s not acceptable to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. So to spread some good words about beef, the organization created an MBA—Masters of Beef Advocacy—program two years ago. In places like Denver, the curriculum teaches ranchers, feedlot operators, butchers, chefs—”anyone, really, who loves a good, thick rib eye—in the fine art of promoting and defending red meat” (Wall Street Journal). The association seeks to create a legion of defenders to counter arguments about factory farms and assembly-line slaughterhouses.

But critics aren’t limited to animal rights advocates and vegetarians. In the wake of the 2008 documentary Food Inc., more health-conscious people are seeking out “clean,” grass-fed, locally raised beef. One of the film’s narrators, journalist Michael Pollan, has been an outspoken critic of Big Beef for years. “Pollan is really our enemy right now,” one MBA student told Mother Jones late last year in an article that gets to the heart of the issue for advocates on both sides: the future of American agriculture.