Stockbox, integrative consciousness in a shipping container

stockbox-grocers-mainA new Seattle startup is designed to bring fresh, healthy foods to an urban neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is 45 minutes away. Stockbox might think they are bringing food, but they are also bringing consciousness.

Stockbox is one of the latest efforts by entrepreneurs to provide a for-profit and socially conscious response to “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of people far from a grocery store. But to succeed they must do more than sell cigarettes and potato chips; they must educate potential customers in nutrition who have been getting what they need in another way. They have to sell the message, “Change your eating lifestyle… or die from diabetes or heart disease.”

Fast Company’s Ben Schiller writes:

According to the USDA, 23 million Americans live in “food deserts” – areas without ready access to fresh, affordable, and healthy food. And that doesn’t just mean a less interesting diet. One study, focusing on Chicago, found that residents who lived without proper grocery stores, but within range of fast food, were more likely to die, or suffer, from diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

But one group of enterprising business school graduates thinks the answer could be shipping containers – a popular choice for social initiatives these days. Stockbox Grocers has a plan to sell a range of fresh food, meat, and dairy in converted shipping containers, stationing mini-outlets on rented parking lots. The group opened its first prototype two weeks ago in the Delridge area of Seattle. It wants to open two permanent sites in early 2012, and at least two more later in the year.

Carrie Ferrence, Stockbox’s co-founder, says the response so far has been promising. “The community has been really supportive of having access to good food. There is a level of education we need to do. But in the short period we’ve been in Delridge, we’ve been blown away by the level of engagement people have around food, and this as a food option.”

When we see something new arising like Stockbox, it’s natural to try to peg it into a map of reality; in other words, to make sense out of the bigger picture. It’s possible to ask of a phenomenon like Stockbox, “Is this Orange? Is this Green? Is this Teal? Is this Turquoise?” or “Is this modern? Is this postmodern? Is this post-postmodern (i.e., Integral)?”

Let’s say that the socio-economic forces which create “food deserts” arise out of modernist trends in our society. As food distribution becomes centralized in national and international grocery conglomerates, they add new stores where there are attractive, rich consumers and they move stores out of less profitable low-income areas.

If this assumption is correct, then the emergence of Stockbox and the like is either post-modern or integral, because it is a response to the modernist trend. And offhand it seems much more likely to be integral than post-modern; after all, postmodern ideas have been shifting urbanity in the US since before the creation of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965. If postmodern ideas could have delivered Stockbox, they would have done so well before 2011, I expect.

Postmodern ideas were powerful in identifying the problem of “food deserts,” because (a) they were suspicious of modernity’s entrenched power, embodied in the grocery conglomerates, and (b) they were genuinely concerned to alleviate the suffering of those marginalized by modernity, the inner city poor.

But postmodernity was impotent to create the Stockbox because it’s an enormously ineffective philosophy. It’s good at deconstructing structures, not creating new ones via experimentation and adaptation. It’s good at empathizing with the poor’s victimhood, not conducting expeditions in consciousness raising among them. It’s good at villifying the evils of big business, not empowering entrepreneurs to start new ventures without drowning in government red tape.

Integral is the trend behind the trend. Stockbox … quite a post-postmodern arising. Go for it, guys!


  1. Mark Davenport says

    I’m not saying this is true in the case of Stockbox, but very “traditional” Orange entrepreneurism is fully capable of identifying a niche market and exploiting it in a very “traditional” manner. I would rather judge it, if judge we must, by its operation rather than by its mission statement, so to speak.

    • says


      What the article was trying to convey is the distinction between (a) a business exploiting a niche market, which would generally be Orange/Modernist, and (b) a business exploiting a niche market which is made visible through a postmodern analysis of capitalism’s failures. Since (b) cannot logically arise prior to post-modernism, the point is that (b) is an integral or post-postmodern sort of phenomenon.

      That’s true, I argue, no matter what the CEO of Stockbox and all its employees were to be individually assessed at, should they undergo developmental profiling or leadership maturity testing, since it’s a claim about the collective spaces in which consciousness arises, not primarily about the individual spaces. This may be too broad a way of thinking about integral v. non-integral, I’m not sure.

      Does that make sense?

  2. says

    I wholeheartedly agree that from the description Stockbox appears to be coming from (that is designed and implemented from) an ‘integral’ level of perspective, though I also agree with Mark that there is a danger that such a manifesto could be skin deep cover over image-for-profit scenario(which is one of the worst kinds of fallacy in business – I’ve worked in such a place in the past). It seems like a fantastic project.

    To come in from a different angle, I think social enterprise (especially if Integrally-influenced/informed) is very well suited to tackling the problem of food (and food culture) deserts, as well as cultural and economic deserts per se.
    You get freedom from funders (as in a government or charity funded educational service) bypassing the limits of an educational system (not that I’m knocking it, but it’s not appropriate/successful with everyone), where customers (and/or the ‘target group’ of the social element of the enterprise) are invited to participate, learn and grow, enticed by the momentum of it (hopefully) being a successful business. The pressure to learn comes from wanting to be successful (rather than being told this will be useful), which is a language accessible to all levels of development.
    Also, in the current economic climate where a lot of funding allocated to educating deprived sectors of society is being cut, and ‘big society’ is largely responsible for filling the gap, i think social enterprise (in an integral sense/from an integral perspective) offers not only a viable solution, but a potentially very powerful one.

    Loving this Awake, Alive & Aware blog!

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