Bacon, Bagel & Lox, Breakfast, Burrito, Celebrity, China Dream, Christ In Concrete, Cornbread, Dr Suess, Dream In A Box, fast Food, Food As Fuel, Grapes Of Wrath, Grits, Ham, Hollywood, Identity, Immigrant nation, industrial farming, Jerry Springer, Midwest Farmers, Motor City, Native Americans, New York, Occidental College, Over Easy, Peggy Liu, people Powered Behaviour Change, Pietro Donato, Reframing the Language of Sustainability, Reimagining Prosperity, Route 66, Sam I Am, Sausage patties, Skyscrapers, Steak & Eggs, Steinbeck, Sunny Side Up, TEDx, the American Dream, The Great American Song&StoryBook, The Great Depression, The US Constitution, water stewardship
Someone was going to do it. Someone was always going to think it was a good idea to eventually bite the bullet and look the
beast of the all consuming American Dream in the eye and say Whoa buddy! No buddy. The time’s they are a changin’.
Someone was always going to go to the dark heart of what has got us all junked up on toxic fantasies of infinite everything and stick a sign on its door that simply says ‘obsolete’.
On March 29th 2014, Peggy Liu of JUCCCE and a fellowship of like minds found themselves doing just that at TEDx Occidental. They had an inaugural ‘You are Here!’moment. A first step towards pouring some cool crystal waters on the seemingly unquenchable fires of the old American Dream.
Peggy gave a deeply-felt entreat for why we might ever choose to set about re-imagining something as unwieldy as the American concept of Prosperity. It’s not just a big challenge. I’d say more planet-sized and very very defensive, aggressive and grumpy.
I understand the power of the ambition and how it could shift more paradigms towards improved human existence than we could reasonably count. But the biggest thing for me is – Where the hell would we begin?
Where do we start the journey to a more enduring aspiration for every American? Especially given how entrenched, sprawling and absolutist the old Dream has become and how resilient its ability to seduce still is.
Where do we even begin in unpacking the old one to get to the new? The Constitution? Hollywood? Skyscrapers? Motor City? Fast Food? Celebrity? Route 66? The great American Song book? Jerry Springer’s underwear drawer? the NRA?
The first stage of the Dream in a Box methodology that I developed with Peggy imagines that you will need to include all of them – the more diverse the collection of mindsets, values beliefs, ambitions, truths, myths, inspirations and provocations the better. The Frame The Dream stage actively encourages them.
The Frame The Dream stage endeavours to explore and curate the most diverse cultural levers – beliefs, insights, idioms, visualisations and language – in such a way as to identify some themes or ideas – something human and everyday – that might help can-open the topic in a productive creative and constructive manner. Because you’re going to need a super simple ‘something’ – a word, a thing, a ritual, a truth, an insight, a moment – that helps everyone to make a very complex thing simple and engaging.
And given that the American Dream sprawls across a collision of cultures, tribes, myths, histories, lifestyles and beliefs all wrapped in a star spangled constitution, it needs to be a ‘something’ that is both broadly representative and quite singular at the same time.
Your ‘something’ will need to be representative of what is, informative of what can be, and illustrative and what might be.
Furthermore, the Dream In A Box methodology is constructed for and committed to making sure that whatever that ‘something’ might be, that it is culturally rooted and relevant – inextricable from the society it is supposed to grow out of.
So lets just cat’s paw around what that might demand of the ‘something’ that might give us a starting point in this journey.
Well, we’d need a ‘something’ that sits at the heart of every American movie, myth and icon, written into the Great American Songbook; something that builds skyscrapers; with its toes in the red-earth of the native and its fingers touching the craters on the Moon; something that stands as an inalienable right of every American and sits at the heart of the great American pioneering spirit would be great; something that feeds the soul and raises a barn; tells you you’re Home and reassures you when you’re away. And hell while we’re at it let’s expect that it has to be a something that is as much of the Corn Belt as it is of the Montana Mountaineer, New England Fisherman and the Mexican ranch worker. It’s got to be quick slow big small light n heavy. As happy on the front seat of the Caddy as it is on the Stoop.
If it is to help inspire the beginnings of re-imagination and the multiple strands that would need to fall out of that, the ‘something’ needs to be multi-talented – a prop, a firework a lever and a pulley. It has to inspire as much as it deconstructs, elevate to the same degree that it mines, and unify as much as divides.
What’s more, to do that authentically and with meaning it has to have an authentic people-powered everyday language of its own; authentically written through the cultural vernacular of the tribes and lives we are trying to inspire. It must enable us to mine insights; and help us ask the right questions by being something that people talk of without ‘side’.
Most importantly the ‘something’ must come from a happy place – be something that people engage with easily and on which they will happily venture an reasoned opinion.
It has to be something people look forwards to, love, fetishise, pore over, chill with, feel protective of, and loyal to; a powerful signature of their identity and a seamless pillar in their everyday
Only a ‘something’ like that will allow us to exit the Glass Half empty world of mitigation and reduction and allows us to enter the Glass half full world of celebration and aspiration.
So no pressure then.
With all of that in mind, my starter for ten against that small list of needs based criteria: my small suggestion for the room.
Re-imagining The Great American Breakfast
The Breakfast of champions – the Great American Breakfast – legendary output of every diner from Montana to New Mexico and Mississippi, via NYC to LA and Chicago and back.
Movies are written around it. Pictures painted of it. Love is made both before it and after it. Lives complete themselves through it. What fuels the Dream? Oil? Wheat? Gold? Nickel? Gas? Perhaps. Breakfast? Always.
Hash browns, three eggs sunny side up or over easy. Sausage patties. Hickory smoked bacon, grits, cornbread, beans, breakfast burrito, Bagel Lox and cheese, 3 egg omelette, steak and eggs. The list is endless. And it comes fast and it comes big. All in or on the side. This is the corner stone of the old pioneer/engineer/farmer America.
Railways may well have been built upon the idea that a businessman in Chicago could eat a fresh caught Maine Lobster for supper in the dining carriage on his way to San Francisco!! But the railways were forged around the great American breakfast (with an Irish & Chinese twist to be fair).
Big dreams are built on big breakfasts in the land of plenty. Scrawny beaten underfed workers don’t build dreams.
So I say if we’re going to re-imagine the American Dream and build a new one – lets start with the right breakfast.
If we’re going to show how a glass-half-full approach allows us to re-imagine something people will turn towards as opposed to away from – lets use the great American breakfast as an illustration of how we move from hectoring and depressing mitigation strategies of more sustainable living plans – relentlessly obsessing on energy and emission reduction, recycle reuse mantras, calorific intake and portion control – to one of celebration.
We love the Great American Breakfast as the foundation on which American Dreams are built. Every great American breakfast type was built and fit for calorific contextual and cultural purpose. It is deeply etched with physiological and psychological truths.
In sustainability, CSR and responsible living terms the breakfast is a road that can lead us to everything – diet; wellbeing; performance; healthcare; social cohesion; myths and rituals; provenance; water stewardship; energy consumption; land crop and livestock management; logistics; pulp, paper & card packaging; pretty much everything.
We could potentially use the popular people-powered culture of the great American breakfast to start to unpack the old dream to shape a new one based around a more enduring aspiration built of people sized values, not corporate sized imperatives. We could start to see that Green Eggs & ham Sam I Am is a far more productive and sociable lever to get everyday people into talking nutrition, ethics, provenance, traceability, consumer bullying, and the caprices of 6-foot tall Cat In a rather special hat and its role in the Great American Child’s dietary intake!
Let’s use its role in the American Dream to frame the American Breakfast as a fluid concept rooted at the very heart of an individuals concept of Prosperity
Use smart savvy storytelling to go on a journey – show why the vast expanse and sometimes behemoth portions sizes of the American breakfast have evolved; its scale and purpose fuelled both by the original immigrant poor seeking the world where they would never put an empty plate in front of their child or scratch another breakfast again – like the Italian Immigrant Construction workers building the skyscrapers of New York in Pietro Donato’s book, Christ In Concrete. Or the transient and vagrant farming poor of the Midwest walking through the flatlands of the Great depression and the pages of The Grapes Of Wrath. Lets celebrate those reasons for being, not throw stones at them.
Lets look at the breakfast culture of the German and Dutch farmers and their substantial daily foundations of steak cheese and eggs, The lox and cheese of the New York Jewish disapora and the Bear Claw pastry commute. let’s get us some of that Southern grits soul of a Cat On A Hot Breakfast Roll Baking Tin Roof and the sleepy spice of a barrio breakfast burrito signorito.
Because the Great American Breakfast could be the doorway into scaling the conversation – through stimulating the myths and storytelling of individuals and their relationships with their breakfast.
We can introduce the joy of collaborating across the social networks to co-create the Great American Breakfast of the 21st Century – what is it made up of? Who’s represented in there? Is their a hybrid? How do we socialize around it? Use it as a lever to open up the deeper insights of being belonging and thriving.
In scoping a new model for what the great American people need right now, for how they live and work – framed in terms of dietary needs (energy/nutrition/format), wellbeing, balance, speed of life, community and identity – we can start to engage in conversations around calorific intake, obesity, balanced diet, fuel vs. flavor, provenance, quality as a proxy for resilience, and the role of tribes and communities in reshaping the new dream of prosperity without starting with the don’t do this eat less of that, trash fewer of these, torch less of those and stop frackin that speech.
A chat about the Great American Breakfast as a metaphor for the joy, wellbeing, balance and thriving ecosystem of interrelatedness and mutuual respect of all things good at the heart of the New American Dream just might Switch them on and not turn them off.
DISCUSS (over breakfast perhaps?)