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The Full Yield Blog


January 04, 2011 | Tags: Featured , Food , Health | Post comment


Good designs, whether of culture or of goods and services, are those which promote life-and health-supporting messages and which make life-and health-supporting choices the easy and obvious ones.
Having had minimal exposure to consumerism when I was growing up, years ago I noticed that I could enter a shopping mall --the very epicenter of consumerism-- feeling perfectly at peace about myself and exit full of new worries about my personhood and my life: without perfume, makeup, tonics and supplements, different clothes, shoes, furniture, and new electronics perhaps I was not actually okay.

Only in the past 3000 years, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, has economy determined cultural design.  For the first million years of human existence, elders consciously designed culture, establishing life-sustaining rites and rituals that governed everything from kinship rules to hygiene and health to the use of natural resources.   These rites and rituals were understood to be sacred because they insured survival, well-being, and peace.   Further, they reflected awareness that everything on earth is inextricably related and every element is part of the whole.  Please see my previous blog on this topic for more about Elders.

By contrast, modern cultures are primarily dictated by economies: how we live, day in and day out, has everything to do with the movement of goods and services, with what we manufacture, sell, consume, stockpile, and dispose of, and very little with whether or not we’re living vital, conscious, engaged, sustainable lives.   In order for our economy to thrive, our cultural messages inform people that they need all kinds of things they don’t actually need and which in many cases lead to impoverished bodies, minds, and spirits.

One of the many missteps in using economy to design culture is that modern economies assume unlimited natural resources. But the world is running out of many resources: potable water, clean air, nutrient-dense soil for agricultural purposes, and quality food (both enough for the global population and the regional distribution systems to transport it) are increasingly scarce relative to the human population.  Human resources, on the other hand, are extensive.  In fact, they’re practically unlimited, so we need to take their well being far more seriously.

Our current culture does little to empower people to care for themselves and does even less to make life- and health-supporting choices the default.

Look at how we approach our health now:  we see one healthcare provider for our hearts, another for our skin, another for our lungs, another for our feet and increasingly we are prescribed medications for these various body parts which undermine other parts.  We are encouraged to eat this way for heart disease, that way for diabetes, and another way for weight loss.  Rarely do providers look at our whole selves, in the context of our whole lives. And, with covert regularity, in addition to feeling we are less than we should be because we don’t have the right material goods, we’re also shamed:  after all, if we only did as we were told, we would be just fine.

Our approach to food is no better, of course.  Production and distribution efficiencies have led to the creation of highly refined, easily transported and long-lasting “edible food-like substances” (thank you Michael Pollan) made from just a handful of subsidized crops.  And manufacturers and retailers market the piece parts of foods in the same way healthcare providers treat the piece parts of our bodies: forget the tomato, just get your lycopene in a pill; don’t eat whole grains, but do be sure your yogurt contains inulin; don’t eat nuts—they’re so fattening---but here, please enjoy this 16 ounce serving of hamburger topped with high-sodium, highly refined, artificially colored cheese.

The current healthcare crisis is a health and human capital crisis created, inadvertently, by a cultural design which perpetually values short-term, mechanical-and-technological productivity and efficiency largely out-of-whack with nature over long-term human productivity and efficiency and which insidiously disables us to feel and act fully and powerfully engaged in our lives and fully and powerfully connected to the earth.

We need a new model, a thoughtful, intentional, collaborative, integrated re-design so that we can create a different culture, one which supports a truly sustainable economy, powerfully good public health, and a productive and engaged population.

With wishes for a unified effort, here’s to the design work ahead in 2011.