My background as both an anthropologist and a movement educator have trained my mind to see beyond the surface—to look at cultural behaviors and physical movement to explicate and understand underlying patterns. Ultimately, I see myself as someone who exposes this elusive obvious and then supports people to make choices about what to do with this knowledge.
A recent experience highlighted these skills and led me to create a new term for what I see as the elusive obvious.
This spring I volunteered as a Blue Zones Project Ambassador at a local health fair sponsored by a large HMO. As an ambassador, I shared information about the Power 9: nine lifestyle habits shared by the 5 communities in the world with the highest percentage of centenarians. Along with the Blue Zones Project, there were a number of health-oriented organizations advocating their programs to the public. These included two concerned with diabetes prevention, two focused on pre and post-natal care, and one that offered yoga in the workplace. I was looking forward to learning about local efforts to increase public health.
All of the organizations were giving away swag, mostly tote bags and pens. However, one of the diabetes prevention organizations had a large stack of commercial brand granola bars sitting in the center of their display table. This surprised me. I had thought that diabetics are generally encouraged to stay away from processed sugar. I looked at the ingredients. The list was long and included high fructose corn syrup. I didn’t want to come across as obnoxious but I also wanted to understand this glaring contradiction. I decided to gently engage in conversation. “It appears that these bars have a lot of processed sugar. Is that good for diabetics?” The man at the table responded with a disinterested shrug, “It doesn’t have as much sugar as it used to.” I walked away with a perplexed frown on my forehead.
I explored the fair a bit more. I was happy to get a new pink tote bag and some sleek ball point pens. I was hungry and had no desire for a granola bar. Fortunately, the host organization was providing lunch for the volunteers. I looked forward to what I assumed would be good quality food.
As I stepped into the room set aside for the volunteers, my eye first caught site of a small plastic container of melon and pineapple as well as some raw vegetables. It looked like a prepared plate from the nearby chain grocery store where almost all the produce is imported and conventionally grown. Nonetheless, I was happy to see fresh produce even though it was not organic. I then turned to look at the main course. It was disheartening; factory-made croissant sandwiches with processed cheese and processed turkey. I was surprised to see foods that are high in sodium and cancer-causing nitrates. I looked around to see if there was anything else I would want to eat. My eyes settled on the last offering; a big box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!
While it seemed obvious to me that a health fair would only offer nutritious fresh food, no one there seemed to mind the dismal offerings.
The thought of eating this food reminded me of stories I’ve heard about doctors in medical lounges sitting around smoking cigarettes. I acknowledge that my expectations for free food were perhaps a bit high but even so, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at a health fair was over the top!
Sometimes I feel that I really don’t have a lot to offer because all I’m doing is expounding upon what is in plain sight. I continually need to remind myself that something becomes obvious only when you become aware of it.
Everyday I see people making choices about their health that I think lead to long term harm. I am confident that on many occasions—such as the Krispy Kreme incident—people are aware of the consequences of their decisions, but many times they are not. While I do believe that most people know that doughnuts are not a nutritious choice, our normalized cultural habits have blinded us to many things that cause harm.
Primary examples of common habits that can cause harm include: wearing heeled shoes (see Stiletogait), frontal and backpack-style baby carriers that immobilize hips (see Well-Intentioned Intrusion), the position of most car seats and chairs which force one to sit with a posterior tilt of the pelvis (see A Good Way to Sit in a Chair) and common standing postures (see Don’t Stand Like a Banana).
Since my experience at the health fair, I now lightheartedly refer to these elusively obvious kinds of harmful behaviors as, “Krispy Kremes.”
I tried to engage a few of the volunteers in a discussion about the food but it felt awkward. I didn’t want to them to feel that I was personally criticizing them so I began to conjure in my mind ways to have discussions about making good food choices without provoking shame. A few days later, I came up with an idea for a topic to present in my Hawaiian Studies class at the University of Hawaii: “The Unintended Outcomes of Living a Traditional Hawaiian Life.” It will include a discussion about the health benefits of traditional Hawaiian foods. I look forward to sharing that with you in a future post.
Note: I think it’s fine to eat a doughnut every so often. It’s fun to dress up in 4-inch heels, wear a tight dress or sit in a lazy-boy recliner. It becomes problematic when such things become the norm and the deleterious effects are obfuscated.
* The Elusive Obvious is the title of Moshe Feldenkrais’ last book. He was the founder of Awareness Through Movement; a system that focuses on retraining the brain to improve physical movement.