I have often said that being healthy is a revolutionary act — in part because it involves a lot of unconventional, and sometimes inconvenient, daily choices, and also because the collective demands of health-motivated individuals impose a certain amount of change on a dominant culture that would otherwise continue, largely unabated, on an unnecessarily destructive and unsatisfying path.
In the ’90s, for example, demands by health-seekers interested in alternative and complementary medicine forced the American Medical Association to change its previously dismissive tune about what Western doctors saw as “unconventional and unproven” treatments. One result: Federal funding for research into complementary and alternative therapies increased from $2 million in 1992 to $121 million in 2005.
Another result: A more inclusive, flexible and effective “integrative” medical model began to emerge — one that is now raising the game for medical practices everywhere. Integrative medicine, as its name suggests, marries the best of conventional Western medicine with the best approaches offered by other medical traditions. It also places more importance on the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
That major step in the right direction paved the way for an even more revolutionary leap — the emergence of functional medicine (learn more here and also at www.functionalmedicine.org). Functional medicine not only puts the whole-person patient (vs. the disease) at the center of attention, but also focuses on addressing the root causes of disease (vs. just the symptoms), considers biochemical individuality of the patient (vs. treating all patients alike), and acknowledges the web-like interconnection of all of our bodies’ physiological processes (vs. addressing them as though they existed in a set of simplistic and static “hip bone connected to the leg bone” linkages).
Makes sense, right? I mean, who wouldn’t prefer to be treated as a unique, whole, complex person and to have the root causes of his or her health problems addressed in an integrated way? Who wouldn’t prefer the goal of optimal health to the simple eradication of symptoms?
Looking back 10 years from now, I believe we’ll all be struck not so much by how forward thinking and revolutionary these contemporary medical approaches were, but that any of us were ever remotely satisfied with a medical system that did not embrace these self-evident values.
And to think it all started with some oddball pesky types demanding a better way.
Of course, it’s not just the medical system that is currently being reformed by popular demand. Many people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired are calling for reforms and reinventions of our cities and communities, our food supply, our approach to work and play, and perhaps most important of all, of our troubled relationship with our planet.
As Margaret Mead so famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I’m not sure I’ve changed the world in any great way, but I do feel that by being willing to buck a number of unhealthy trends, I have become part of a gentle revolution that is changing things for the better. And I take huge satisfaction in knowing that many of you, my fellow health-seekers, are working for the same healthy changes.
The demise of trans fats and parabens, the return of green spaces, the interest in yoga, local foods, and environmentally sustainable solutions — all these things have been fueled by commonsense grassroots interests in better living.
And change can happen quickly! It wasn’t even three years ago that I wrote about my disappointment at finding only instant oatmeal available at a restaurant where I was having breakfast (“In Praise of Picky Eating,” January 2006). Just yesterday, I walked into a neighborhood restaurant and found “build your own” steel-cut oats being offered — with fresh seasonal berries, real maple syrup, raw nuts and, yes, flaxseeds, all available for the choosing. Yum!
I think Sandor Ellix Katz is right when he says that the revolution will not be microwaved (see Edibles). What it will be, I hope, is both satisfying and delicious.