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The Drugstore in Your Meat and Other Table Top Terrors

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Review of Born with a Junk Food Deficiency by Hugh Iglarsh

Excerpted from New City

Martha Rosenberg's scrutiny of Big Pharma and agribusiness is so bleak and unrelenting, it sometimes seems to go beyond muckraking into something more closely resembling war correspondence. On one side of the battlefield are the pharmaceutical companies, depicted here as blockbuster-fixated marketing organizations that, having run thin of obvious diseases to treat, seek to convert the fixed circumstances of life-being young, being old, being male, being female-into medicable ailments. Their comrades-in-arms are Monsanto and other gene-tinkering research companies, whose overarching mission is to overwhelm and supplant nature with profit-driven science. Allied with both of them are revolving-door regulatory agencies and interest-conflicted professional associations, and much of the authority and knowledge structure of society, from the military to the university to the media.

On the other side is just... us, reduced to guinea pigs and passive inhabitants of an increasingly chemicalized reality. Only in America are prescription drugs treated as advertisable commodities, creating the widespread impression, after sufficient battering by pharmaceutical TV commercials, that every variety of human suffering and inadequacy is a preventable symptom of pill deficiency, and producing an irresistible pressure on even the most conscientious of physicians to prescribe, prescribe, prescribe.

Author Martha Rosenberg-an Evanston-based writer and cartoonist whose pithy if rough graphics dot the text-notes the predictable result of this unequal contest: Direct-to-consumer advertising means that the U.S. has the "sickest people in the world," at least in our own media-chondriacal imaginations, while the glut of highly advertised junk food saps our vitality and leaves us vulnerable to such preventable conditions as obesity and type-II diabetes. According to Rosenberg, the agribusiness and pharma industries are locked in unholy commercial embrace, the food suppliers creating the chronic illnesses, unknown to less-affluent societies, that Big Pharma expensively prolongs, while the pharmaceutical companies supply the livestock antibiotics and growth hormones that make possible the humanitarian and health horrors of factory farming.

There are stories here to chill the blood of anyone who has ever placed trust in a doctor, government official or scholarly journal. We read that the drug companies aggressively target children, pathologizing behaviors that only yesterday were thought of as simply a phase, because kids make such fine customers in terms of compliance and longevity. "Few indeed are kids who start out diagnosed and treated for ADHD [and] bipolar disorder... who end up on no drugs," notes the author. "Even if they outgrow their original diagnoses-a big 'if' with a mental health history that follows them-the side effects from years of psychoactive drugs on their physical health and on mental, social and emotional development take their toll."

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Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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