Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creating Business & Change Through Community Insight - Part 1

You hear it all of the time. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Consume less processed foods. Smaller portions are better. Half the plate should be vegetables. Don't snack between meals. Use whole ingredients. Try simple recipes. Cook at home twice as much as you eat out. Etc, etc, etc.....

Despite the abundance of information and advice on eating healthier that is available today, the government agencies that monitor health in the United States (such as the CDC, DHHS, and USDA) are all saying the same thing: eating behaviors are not really improving and obesity is very much on the rise. Given that little eating behavior change seems to be taking hold amongst most Americans, one has to wonder just what it is that the experts are getting wrong.

One answer may be that it's the experts themselves that are partly the problem. A majority of information in the media about improving diet and lifestyle comes from experts in the field of public health such as academics, public officials, physicians and dietitians. While these professionals are highly educated and do have a scientific understanding of the kind of dietary changes that are needed to improve health, they rarely have direct and personal insight into how to actually get people to make the changes.

To gain insight into what really works in motivating someone to do something one must be a part of that particular life experience in order to understand its perspectives, values and challenges. Experts aren't usually able to live inside of the many diverse and complex life experiences and perspectives that exist in the United States today. So they can't possibly have a complete understanding of what each person feels, experiences, and cares about. And it is often these things - the very personal aspects of an individual's world - that matter most when it comes to motivating change.

Too often public health experts and industry leaders tend to assume that average people don't have useful knowledge to offer in shaping a solution and, therefore, the experts don't build upon the knowledge that already exists among a given group of people. This is especially the case in relation to lower income citizens and people of diverse cultural backgrounds. At the core of this assumption is a belief that people are not capable of solving their own problems and, therefore, need the help of experts to solve their problems for them. A common result is that the experts end up coming up with approaches that are disconnected from the day-to-day experiences of the people they're hoping to reach and don't reflect the key elements that could inspire individuals to take action or adopt a change.

It's certainly true that People's Community Market is being created partly out of a desire to support healthy eating behaviors amongst West Oakland residents. Responding to the problem of diet-related chronic disease is a central impetus for creating our store. But instead of telling people what to do, we plan to listen to them. Instead of prescribing food choices based on what experts say, we plan to promote and hold up what residents say themselves. Instead of looking to science and industry for how to make dietary change, we plan to look to community and culture for guidance and ideas. Instead of using rules for eating healthier, we plan to use relationships centered on personal perspectives.

Next week we'll post a second blog on this topic in which we'll go into more detail on some of the ways that People's Community Market will work with its community in promoting healthier eating. 


  1. Yay!! That's awesome! I'm really hoping you guys will be open to carrying vegan products in addition to great produce/beans/grains. :)

  2. PCM will carry some vegan products but we will not be a vegetarian/vegan store nor an exclusively natural/organic foods store. We feel a sense of responsibility to offering something relevant and desirable to everyone of all orientations.