Saturday, June 26, 2010

Large scale change in behavior requires behavior change

Well, I stopped posting for a while. That was fairly predictable, but I'm not ready to give this blog up for dead yet. One thing I've notices is that the focus of the blog has been narrower than I think it should be. Not that I need to share everything that is going on in my head, but I think that by focusing overly intensely on the agriculture side of food and the environment, I am really not engaging with the aspect of this blog that I think could be the most unique.

By training and vocation, I am a psychotherapist. As I've discussed previously, the consumption of food is a common moment in the lives of all people in which the arbitrary boundary between person and environment is unambiguously suspended. The food brings with it a natural history, as Michael Pollan has so brilliantly described in The Omnivore's Dilemma. That entire history is swallowed in a moment of convergence with a human consumer, and is integrated into the being of that consumer. That moment can occur mindlessly, degrading the health of the consumer and the quality of the environment, or it can be done with intention and attention, honoring that moment of union.

The focus of this blog has thus far been the natural history of the food, from field to fork. But the procurement, preparation and consumption of foods are behaviors, actions taken by human beings with capacities for choice and the exercise of will. As is clearly evident in the manifest dysfunction of our eating lives, these decisions are agonizing and are correlated with incredible misery. The choice of what and when to eat is filled with incredible ambiguity for most people, convinced of the importance of healthy eating, but unsure of what that means and of their own ability to maintain fidelity to such an ill-defined ideal.

If this choice were rationally made on the best available information, we wouldn't be seeing the runaway dysfunction that has come to embody our culture of food. But clearly, it isn't- not that the "best available information" has been very good. Obesity rates are high, and treatment for weight issues is famously unsuccessful. People can often be helped to lose weight, but nearly everyone regains it.

Millions of people long to change their eating behavior. Such a change could be a boon, not only to the individuals directly involved, but to those involved in alternative systems of production and distribution of nutritious, whole foods. Farmers and members of a much shorter distubution chain have a lot to gain by a large-scale rejection of our current food system and an embrace of a more meaningful, environmentally sound one. Leaders in the development and implementation of behavior change technologies could have a huge role to play in helping facilitate that shift. I will explore this theme in depth on this blog.

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