Scrolling through instagram, I see so many opportunities to become healthy. I have this love and hate relationship with our current over-saturation of the term “wellness.” The messaging becomes convoluted once you become critical of whose selling and why they are selling. Our nation has a history of commercializing wellness into an industry that enables our health care system to further to its job of disenfranchising our “common” public and prioritizing our top percent.The new wave of holistic therapies and healthy living perpetuate our white hegemony that once “othered” non-european values of psychological and socio-spiritual engagement with ourselves and self-governing..
In developing countries, we learned to heal through the spirit and mind before our body. We have a deep appreciation for the body as a vessel of our souls, but our souls are the treasures we hold. Till this day, my grandma will not allow me to go to the doctors when I visit her in Corea. Even if I am throwing up in the toilet, she will let me purge, eat some mysterious herbal pills as she rubs down my body in prayer. Though my family has become Christian, her practice of holistic healing mirrors the rituals arose from the people’s belief in the interconnected experience and manifestations of the mind, body and soul.
Little did I know that I would soon live in a day and age where they sell ginseng at Whole Foods and alternative wellness practices is not only accepted, but a fad. The hot new fade has been an integral part in many of our third world and non-european countries. The ancient cultures had these systems and sophisticated perspectives of wellness that go beyond the physical, but integrate the robust aspects of human well-being. The emphasis on lifestyle and ethical behavior is the premise of wellness for most of us non-whites.
At first, Europeans “othered” this way of life, in which Edward Said would label as “the Orient.” Said emphasizes that European culture dominates Eastern ideologies (and other non-European values) and has direct impact in the formation of institutions and policies. Said adapts Gramsci’s study of discourse to further enstate that these eurocentric cultural norms is hegemonic and belittles non-European culture. During Said’s time, the term orient identifies objects and artifacts from Eastern countries, but was being used to describe the people group. Thus became the objectification and primitive convolution of all the practices and beliefs of the foreigner. Rituals and traditions became demonic stigmas and much of our lifestyles were condemned. White europeans became to create new institutions, replacing collective communities, that unlearned our practices and decades of history of theoretical frameworks our ancestors devoted their lives to inquire.
Ginseng at Whole Foods: Capitalizing on our Culture
To fully understand the exploitation of third world intellectual capital, we have to dive into the history of colonization. Though the first european encounters with foreigners may have been early in Medieval China, the 19th century marks the major wave of European colonization in the Americas, India, and Southeast Asian. In the meantime, the Americas was exploring natural therapies and holistic approach to health. Strohecker (2006) states that Germany first introduced this to America in 1840s and inspired American colleges of naturopathy, homeopathy, and chiropractic. Though Strohecker does not highlight the influence of non-european countries on America’s holistic health therapies, the ongoing colonization and exposure to non-white countries undoubtedly was a source of inquiry and muse.
America took an aspect of non-euro culture and communal pedagogy and practice of healing the body and created a system. Our ancestors respected the body as an extension of our existence and thus, cared and healed it with the land and love. These natural remedies was now extremely marketable and companies began to capitalize on it. John Harvey Kellogg, who began Kellogg's cereal brand that aimed to help people regain good health through diet, exercise and other activities that promotes wellbeing. As the culture of natural remedies and where holistic healing becomes marketable and capitalism leverages the natural movement creates some of our largest food companies. This shift was necessary for America because our companies SHOULD BE communicating a message of the natural health movement, yet it failed to appreciate our predecessors who who gave up their lives to devotion to study our unique experience with spirituality, physical expressions, and mind growths.
Health Care System: They took our idea and ran with it
Furthermore, the little inspiration of holistic healing medicine gave a radical turn in our nation’s development of the healthcare system. Strohecker summarizes in his research that in 1910 the Flexner Report, initiated by the Carnagie Foundation, published an article that proved the effectivity and “superiority” of German medicine, based on chemical drugs, over herbalism and other forms of natural remedies. This system based approach of natural based medicine was replaced with drug-based approach. The conversation of wellness and illness became a binary, and our dialogue move through a highly politicized and monetize tension of healthcare and medicine. Even “prevention” of illness would require the public to engage in a system and government-based programming. The poor fall most victim to these misleading and bad systems because of the structures that inhibit community mobilization and create barriers to create space and community.
Our history tells the truth, America is wired to create systems--it’s the country we live in. I do not believe that socialism is the most current solution, however, empowering our people who have not only been exploited for our intellectual capital and now are positioned on the social ladder to be victims of America’s underdeveloped approach to healing. Our ancestors developed these practices because they were true to them. Though we should adapt wisely and assess most logically what rituals are appropriate to our current times (e.g. sometimes rituals led to death and sacrifices), we can glean wisdom from history. Dr. Ginwright, a professor at SFSU, shares that, “What is needed is more balanced attention to both the policies that create and sustain poverty and therefore stress, as well as the biological, psycho-spiritual consequences of living in poverty.” This is when we take charge of the programming and humanize our people in management. We hold our honour for our homelands and share the studies of our people. We move up the ladder and become gatekeepers in our democratic system. We not only widen access to resources that psychologically and physically increase our wellbeing, but also determine the accountability metrics that determines good programming and quality service. We know what is best for our folks, so let us create the spaces that serve our folks.
So what now?
Consciousness: stay alive and keep your eyes open for media inspired momentum.
Intentional investment: it’s cool to shop at Whole Foods, but diversity your investment by also buying from local and independent markets/artists/herbalist (make sure you can trust them though)
Instagram Influencers: Currently our companies are really hyped about holistic healing, use social media wisely. To be brand thirsty, but promote what you really love and be transparent in your intentions.
Companies: careful marketing and diverse representation..and give back both in public and secret--not everything has to be to build the brand.-Diversity/Equity scorecard: Look at your board and employees, are they diverse in experience, gender, race...etcetc.