Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How flaks, quacks, and hacks pimp the public health
373 pages; Hardcover
Can anyone remember life before “Ask your Doctor” ads?—Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, p. 17
How can drugs designed to make animals gain weight fast not have an impact on national obesity?—Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, p. 219
Certain books are for certain people. Born with a Junk Food Deficiency is for people who eat, use prescription drugs, have or intend to have children, or care for or expect to care for aged parents. People who are concerned about women’s health, veterans’ health, animal welfare, consumer rights, truth-in-advertising, state or federal budget crises, or the undue influence of corporate money on democracy will want to read this book. Given that the food and pharmaceutical corporations that are mentioned in the book are transnational, I would also recommend it to anyone in the world who reads English.
Born with a Junk Food Deficiency is a thoroughly researched and documented exposé of what Big Food, Big Ag, and Big Pharma are doing to us, to animals, and to our ways of practicing business, medicine and democracy, all in the name of Big Profit. The author, independent investigative journalist Martha Rosenberg, told me in a telephone interview that she took seven years to do the research and another year to write and illustrate the book. What emerges from Rosenberg’s research is a no-holds-barred indictment of corporate control over some of the most intimate aspects of our lives: The food we eat and the medicines, especially psychiatric medicines, we take.
Despite the title, the first part of Born with a Junk Food Deficiency is all about prescription drugs. The first chapter, “When the Medication is ready, the Disease (and Patients) will appear—OR when TV makes you sick,” takes us on a journey through pharmaceutical advertising, starting in the ’50s and ’60s in professional journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) through the current Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) advertising touting medications for every condition from seasonal allergies to bipolar disorder. She shows that these ads are heavily sexist and ageist and that in the effort to develop new markets, the pharmaceutical industry has developed a population that sees itself as ill. (According to About,com, nearly 4 billion prescriptions were written in the United States in 2010). People self-diagnose on websites, then report to their doctors demanding the latest advertised drug, sometimes with a coupon in hand. Rosenberg states in the book that doctors have had to take classes in refusal skills to deal with these patients.
Of course, sometimes people really do become ill, no thanks, in part, to our junk food diets. But the problem is not just too much soda and a sedentary lifestyle. Sometimes the problem is the chemicals with which Big Ag has laced our foods, especially our animal products, to make the most money in the shortest amount of time. A recent Agence France Press article, about the southern region of the U.S. being the most obese in the country, cast the blame on “cliché” Southern foods such as fried chicken and fried okra. As I pointed out to Rosenberg in our interview, these foods had been popular in the South long before the obesity epidemic. And as Rosenberg wrote in Chapter 9 of the book, titled The drugstore in your meat, ” . . . [C]hickens were once slaughtered at 14 weeks old, when they weighed about two pounds, but by 2001, they were slaughtered at seven weeks, when they weighed between four and six pounds.” (Hint: cooking does not rid the meat of growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics the animals are fed.)
For me, the best things about Born with a Junk Food Deficiency are the sometimes sarcastic, sometimes rhetorical, but unfailingly thoughtful questions Rosenberg poses throughout the book, such as the two at the top of this review. They prod the reader into thinking about the issues. Thinking may lead readers to action, whether it is changing buying and eating habits, seeking out more natural, wholistic forms of treatment for physical or mental disorders, or engaging in forms of political activism for campaign finance reform, lobbying reform or other changes that will decrease the influence of corporations and their money in our political system. The latter is necessary; Rosenberg’s accounts of the relationships between Big Pharma and the Food and Drug Administration and the Veterans Administration are chilling.
Born with a Junk Food Deficiency will make a significant impact if it gets people to realize that medicalizing our social ills is the wrong prescription.