- Understanding Sustainability
- Wholistic Approach
- Principles of Sustainable Foods
- Local Foods
- Authentic Foods
ARSAN believes that a wholistic approach must be utilized in order to build a sustainable local food system. We live in the world of systems; an endless number of interactive and interdependent systems. Our challenges need to be perceived in the systemic, wholistic way. When facing many mounting problems the first fundamental step in an effective response is the proper perception of all these challenges, big and small. Compartmentalization of the problems always leads to addressing just one or very few, usually superficial parts of a challenge, making the approach ineffective. It may, at best, deliver some short term results. Without accepting and understanding this basic fact, any effort to address major challenges will be fundamentally flawed.
Those who are involved or interested in alternative farming are familiar with the concept of holistic farm management. Holistic, wholistic (which is the older and more descriptive way to spell the word) or systemic are all synonyms that refer to perceiving and dealing with reality seen as whole functioning systems. A farm is a system but so is the entire infrastructure supplying our foods; our food system. This consists of many interconnected elements spreading from soil to a consumer's plate. Every organization is also a system. A website is a system. The list is endless because wherever we turn, there are interdependent systems. Any system must be fully functional internally but it also is affected and responds to other systems with which it interacts or of which it is a part.
It is not easy to properly and clearly describe the nature of complex systems and even more difficult to provide any instructions about how to use the wholistic approach. This all sounds very fuzzy, difficult and not practical. It is, indeed, if we try to understand and apply to it the analytical, logical, reductionist thinking, which seems to be the norm in our society. It just doesn't work. However, we humans have the natural ability to deal with systemic nature of the reality, we just don't use it much now. We need to practice it, learn to trust it and use it in all aspects of our lives. The challenge of sustainability cannot be considered in any other way but wholisitic.
Describing wholistic thinking through words in a logical fashion is the most awkward and difficult way because a logical approach is contradictory to wholistic thinking. Through logic we come to conclusions following some definite steps, dealing with issues one by one to reach final results. Through wholistic thinking conclusions “appear” and then they just make sense. We may only then use logic to assess their validity.
Logical/analytical and wholistic/systemic thinking are not opposing alternatives. We should not claim that one is better than the other because they are two complementary parts of how our minds function. We need them both and we should use them both. Yet, in our culture we have put wholistic thinking in disregard to our great detriment. We don’t encourage and learn wholistic thinking, and consequently don’t trust it.
Most of us feel very uncomfortable with the wholistic approach as it seems to be out of our control. Such thinking is often not even considered "thinking" since it seems to happen somewhere beyond our conscious minds. We state and internalize the challenge, we gradually load the information in and the "thinking” occurs beyond our direct control, at a time and at terms we cannot schedule or dictate. For complex tasks, answers usually shape gradually. Then, they can be assessed and acknowledged or rejected. But sometimes solutions also come at instant as specific answers we were looking for.
Developing abilities for wholistic thinking is a process that starts with trusting such approach and training our minds. We all have these capacities and we all use them when maybe not even knowing about it. It is important to keep the proper balance between logical and systemic thinking. As this is related to right/left brain activities each person may have predispositions to be more of a right or a left brain thinker. This seems to be also true that women more than men seem to be inclined and more reliant on the right brain thinking. Yet, these are just our predispositions and often learned preferences. We all are capable of using both approaches. And most certainly, we all can understand, accept and appreciate how useful and important the wholistic, systemic thinking is, particularly in dealing with our most serious challenges.
The systemic, wholistic approach is fundamental to all we do at ARSAN. Being an educational organization committed to educating by example we also want to demonstrate and share with others the power and need for wholistic approach. This can be beneficial particularly for all who want to bring higher levels of sustainability to our public and personal lives.