From fighting disease to promoting health


For many years, there has been a noticeable shift in consumer behaviours towards holistic, natural, and complementary nutrition and medicine. This movement has resulted in an important growth in the market share of organic foods and regenerative agriculture, traditional medicine (Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Naturopathy, Homeopathy etc.), as well as holistic therapeutical health support. However, providers face unique communication and PR challenges in a landscape that is often dominated by conventional approaches. In this article, we will explore the challenges holistic actors encounter, and discuss the potential of a regenerative approach to communications and marketing for these sectors.

"We can re-empower, re-enchant, and re-vitalise our relationship to health through new ways of sensing, speaking, and spinning in our communications."

Jean-Philippe Steeger
Founder of Perspectivist

Today’s health and food sectors in Western economies face important systemic challenges. At the latest with the Covid-19 pandemic, public health services have been increasingly unable to respond to the record growth in civilizational diseases, including a mental health pandemic. Across indicators, we can see an accelerating degeneration of physical and mental health. The interconnectedness of human and planetary health becomes increasingly visible, as confirmed by the 2023 Lancet Countdown on health and climate change.

Furthermore, today’s industrial approach to food and agriculture requires ever more subsidies, energy, synthetic fertilisers, and technology to compensate decreasing productivity and soil health. Rather than sequestrating carbon and providing healthy foods, the sector harms climate, biodiversity, and human health. Agriculture today is the source of 30% of global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The monocultures of production are reflected by monocultures in the way of speaking about food and agriculture.

At the same time, despite a great need for healing and better food, holistic offers to promote health and food quality face multiple challenges: artificial narratives, an unfavorable legal context, the variable trustworthiness of products and services, fragmented community-engagement, as well as a poor and confusing information and support infrastructure. Knowing this, what is the role of communications in tapping into the healing potential of food and nutrition?

The story: beyond the separation of health and food

Underlying the modern Western approach to health is the focus on “fighting disease” at a symptom-level and the departmentalization of health into separate categories (e.g. mental vs. physical). Food and medicine have been approached in separation, despite being tightly interconnected. Furthermore, root causes such as consumerist lifestyles, environmental degradation, different kinds of pollution, social isolation, toxic industrial foods, and poor communications find little consideration.

The focus of most Western health agendas, the design of agricultural and health systems, and therapeutic landscapes remains anchored in a world view that sees health as the absence of disease. This narrative legitimizes war instruments to “fight disease” in humans and on farms: from toxic synthetic pesticides to a heavy and increasingly regular use of medicines with significant side effects.

The commodification of health and food has led to the sidelining of healing factors in modern PR on health and food: community life (incl. food), an ecosystemic perspective on health, the consideration of the role of healers and farmers in society, personal thrivability, emotional wisdoms, as well as personally and collectively meaningful ways of relating to food and health. Today, it is quite profitable – and promulgated as normal - to sell products poisoning soils together with the solutions to resulting diseases, as some multinational food-pharma mergers may have indicated. These are essentially challenging conditions for a nevertheless growing holistic health and food sector.

Regenerative perspectives on health and soil

Holistic approaches to health and food are rooted in ancient wisdoms, and enriched by modern scientific knowledge in agriculture, medicine, and interdisciplinary research. Today, actors communicating around a holistic approach to food and health can contribute to creating win-win-win situations for their ecosystem, their communities and themselves. Together, we can re-empower, re-enchant, and re-vitalise our relationship to health through new ways of sensing, speaking, and spinning in our communications. Only that can re-fertilise the conditions for holistic actors to thrive.

Furthermore, regenerative innovation happens by listening to and integrating complementary perspectives from the fringes (e.g. perspectives from nature, women, indigenous people, LGBTIQ, disabled etc.). For instance, the rather recent Western re-discovery and detailed study of the gut microbiome (“second brain”) as key to health, and in tight interconnection with soil health, was known in Ayurveda for 4000 years already. To tap into the regenerative food and medical potential, there are recurring socio-cultural communication patterns that have been impeding healing and the thrivability of the food and health sectors.

Challenges for Communications and Marketing on Food and Health

1. A toxic attention economy
One of the primary challenges is the perception of holistic products and services. Within the context of a highly artificial and toxic attention landscape (online and offline), there has been a normalization of toxic products and processes. Nature has been commodified and marketed as a luxury product. Polluted and destroyed soils, waterways, human bodies, and other species - violence is made to appear as “normal”, now under the label "natural". Communications are increasingly devoid of meaning, healing and aliveness. For holistically working actors, these conditions leave little time and space for what matters to them. Turning to traditional marketing may however just further fuel an industry with a track record of creating illusions to market toxic products. Instead, it may be time to “pay” attention to what serves healing and thriving in our stories, conversations, marketing practice, and attention landscapes.

2. Eroding trust in nature
Coming to holistic and natural medicines and foods, a significant share of media coverage and health influencers question their efficacy, benefits, and market share - especially when presented in opposition to conventional products and services. For medication, this stands against evidence that pharmaceutical industries face great distrust. In the US, 58% hold negative views in a Gallup survey. and only 13% of consumers were found to completely trust pharmaceutical industries. Even in the West, a significant share of the population trusts natural remedies more than laboratory-made medicine (58% in the US ). Yet, PR often presents them as marginal, although their market share is important and growing (34% market share, 25% annual growth rate). Promoting unhealthy foods and excessive synthetic pharmaceutical consumption for growing markets has therefore focused on framing nature-connected approaches as marginal (e.g.: unscientific, hippie, it’s just wellness, just for rich, just for women, or just for weak people).

3. Legal and financial hurdles
The organic and regenerative agriculture sector often faces disproportionate regulation and poor funding. In the EU, industrial agriculture is heavily subsidized and protected. Such hurdles can make it difficult to work in ways that represent the essence of a holistic value proposition. Natural, complementary, and alternative medicine products are made to often operate in a regulatory gray area. Legislation, public authorities, and insurers often one-sidedly favour conventional pharmaceutical industries. Lastly, both sectors have in common that most public funding is available to incumbent market leaders, despite contrasting evidence regarding the impact on health, society, nature, and climate.

4. Disoriented patients and consumers
The adoption of healthier and more holistic approaches to medicine and nutrition require awareness, education, and practice. Conventionally, users are offered quick-fixes and little education about health and food, from education to marketing. Furthermore, in Western cultures, the relationship to the own emotions, subconsciousness and body only comes to the attention at a very late stage – when we “fall” sick. Contributing to a better, community-based, information infrastructure, as well as self- and peer-learning opportunities can create more fertile conditions for holistic offers. Furthermore, by offering such orientation, providers can benefit from creating more sustainable relationships with different communities.

5. Separating the health and agriculture agendas from nature and society
In many ways, the modern economy often capitalizes on the artificial creation of scarcity and disease. It is well-evidenced that the deterioration of our climate, nature and social well-being has a great deteriorative impact on our health. However, poor physical and mental health are also contributing to the perpetuation of harmful trends. Clarifying the ecosystemic relationships between health, climate, nature, and society is thus a key precondition to make the case for natural and holistic products and services in health and nutrition. Siloed approaches have so far led only to further fragmentation of communication spaces. Providers in these areas can contribute in sharpening the narrative on planetary and human health, as well as their role in it.

Promoters of holistic, natural, and complementary nutrition and medicine face nothing less than systems change. The increasingly visible incoherence and limitations of the current approach to health and food is an opportunity to narrate a different story to inspire transformational action. However, much of today’s communications and marketing in these sectors operate from the same mindset that have contributed to these harmful trends in the first place. Against that background, regenerative communications propose a living-systems perspective that embraces healing and thriving by design.

How regenerative communications contribute to shifting the story on health and food:

1. Shifting the Narrative: it’s about healing and thriving
Holistic actors can contribute to the shift in the narrative about health and food in Western cultures. Starting with drawing the root causes of today’s record levels of diseases, communications can challenge how health is covered today in media, politics and among market actors. Such regenerative storytelling will by essence integrate personal and collective embodiment, sensations, emotions, and the quest for healing and nature-connection. By deepening, diversifying, and integrating perspectives on health, new opportunities can appear to create more fertile conditions for holistic offers. Furthermore, narratives can use the role of imagination to bring communities, providers, and other stakeholders together to prepare transformative action in relevant areas.

What if we shifted the narrative to focus on health?

2. Making consumers an ally for innovation and impact
Many consumers today feel overwhelmed, disoriented, and disengaged around food and health. One factor are PR strategies that aim at seeding confusion, doubt, and disengagement with regards to regenerative, sustainable, holistic, organic, nature-based, integrative approaches to health and nutrition. In advertisement, fear-based instant gratification is often used to sell harmful products. Today’s marketing and PR strategies around health may have further contributed to an alienation between healers/farmers and patients/consumers, as well as with public health authorities. By listening to the real needs of patients and customers, involving them in product development, and giving visibility to their stories, there is great transformative potential. Indeed, they can become a partner in creating more fertile conditions in the market, in policymaking, via health insurances, as well as in media narratives. Lastly, showing genuine interest in the concerns of users that are skeptical about holistic approaches can improve the own communications with these groups.

What transformative insights do consumer stories have?

3. Building communities of users to ground success
Rather than focusing on markets, holistic providers can build communities of users to anchor their success and innovation capacity in communities and places. This allows for authentic and reciprocal exchanges for both users and providers. Beyond just engaging users with the brand, it can also give important information about how to market and develop products, engage other stakeholders, or find new team members. From a user-perspective, engaging in a community can become part of a healing and learning journey. Their transformational stories are likely to inspire others to join as well. Activities can include community building, educational offerings, or associated services like health coaching.

What is the role of community in your value proposition?

4. Moving beyond the level-playing field
Despite the huge costs to public health systems, individual health and the planet, many harmful practices are today subsidized and legally protected. To ground the success of holistic approaches to health and food, it is important to refertilise the conditions. Besides advocating for a more supportive financial and regulatory framework, holistic health alliances can engage stakeholders more sustainably and purposefully. Such alliances can amplify the impact by bringing together innovators among users, health services, suppliers, and providers. For a real paradigm shift however, a deeper exploration of the wisdom from fringe perspectives on health, including disadvantaged groups and nature is needed.

Which role do fringe perspectives play in creating a thriving health and food systems?

Conclusion and opening

Holistic providers of health and food face unique challenges in the contemporary marketing and PR landscape, but a regenerative approach can ground success where it is needed, while unlocking new possibilities. By shifting the narrative, building communities, and weaving a new story for thriving food and health systems, new opportunities for the transition can arise. This not only benefits the providers themselves but also contributes to the overall well-being of personal, social, economic, ecologic, and planetary health.