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Communal Wellness & Digital Dieting

October 2010

By Claire Brooks, President, ModelPeople Inc

American societal values tend to be individual rather than communal, and nowhere more so than in the drive to be fit, healthy and gorgeous. Yet the combined pressures of recession and a new awareness of the environment may be changing all that. This edition of CultureBlog looks at the shift from "me" to "we" in diet, health and wellness.

In 2007, we reported on the “slow food” eco-gastronomic trend, which brings communal values back to the dinner table, along with healthier food. Communal in an environmental sense and also in that preparing and enjoying a meal as a group activity brings us back to the traditional function of the dinner table -- to foster relationships around memorable experiences. The recession has enhanced this trend of communal eating even among the affluent. According to the recently published American Express "Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America", more than 80% of families are eating four meals a week together compared with 16% five years ago.

A balanced diet, high in – preferably, organic and locally produced - natural products is now established as equally important as fitness routines for all-around health and wellness. It’s hard to find this in a fast food joint, though fast casual chains like Sweet Green, a favorite with our DC City Correspondent, are a step in the right direction. While the raw food diet, popular in LA, may be too costly for many, the KIND brand of fruit bars “with ingredients you can pronounce,” promises to be affordably kind to the body; and their “not-only-for-profit business model” enshrines, that “…by challenging our impersonal routines, we hope we will discover our shared humanity with people we don’t know.”

Now, fitness is also a communal experience to be shared and provide opportunities for social interaction and fun. Non-traditional regimens like La Gym Suédoise in Paris and Austin’s Wednesday Assault Ride bring groups of fitness lovers into the great outdoors while Go Ape! in London is a treetop adventure playground for adults. Most mainstream gym chains are reporting huge losses but the few that are staying alive, such as Pure Fitness in Hong Kong, cater to the need for community building by adding restaurants and bars into their facilities.

Our last technology blog talked about the importance of tech innovations to have social usability – the ability to deliver technical utility and simultaneously enhance human interaction. Demonstrating the breadth of this trend is the new PlayStation Move platform, offering a more immersive experience in communal gaming. Even dieting is going digital on social platforms. While people used to see diets as private or even a bit embarrassing, the new Twitter phenomenon, Tweet what you eat! has people in Berlin counting calories for all to see.

Will we return to a "me-centric" mentality once recession is long forgotten? We don’t think so. For now, brands should reflect on the shift in consumer priorities from “Because you’re worth it” to “Because we’re worth it”.

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