Friday, March 16, 2012

Health, Pink Slime, and the Making of Soul

So I learned today that male fruit flies shunned by their female counterparts are attracted to food that is spiked with alcohol. This is courtesy of the Journal Science. The finding makes a great deal of sense. When a man's March Madness bracket collapses or he gets dumped or realizes that he had been caught in a Mother Complex all his woeful adult years, he probably turns to booze. Probably should turn to booze.

Earlier in my career I wrote health articles and books for a number of publishers, including Prevention magazine. I wrote about what I knew and didn't know. As a runner I was comfortable writing about the activity. How can I forget the first sentence of an unremarkable article: "Like a deer I told myself so quick and nimble was my gait." I must have been reading Wordsworth and chasing his cloud on my daily trot. My chief editor forgave this mix of hyperbole and vanity and let me keep my job another day. Thanks Mark.

For another piece I nosed around pharmacies in Bethlehem and Allentown, Pa., asking people about their drug purchases. Some actually provided the information, apparently unaware that there must have been a HIPPA law for journalists.  Legal restraint didn't prevent me from writing a self-indulgent piece, "Under a Rainbow of Drugs." At that time I hadn't introduced myself to the pharmaceutical industry who would later become my new best friend.

I was on even less solid ground when writing about use of the trace element selenium to protect against prostate cancer, though that is what the medical literature suggested at the time. And therein is the rub. Sorry guys.

Prevention got an early and healthy leg up on the competition, such as it was, by subscribing to the dozens of available medicals journals available at the time. We mined this gold and used it to bring new, topical advice to milllions of readers in a timely manner fit for Middle America. But this kind of insight and editorial policy was a breakthrough and became a basis for Rodale's powerful health franchise.

But that was then. Now everyone gets the journals in digital form on the same day and we can all pontificate about trending fruit flies or why men's brains change organically when a woman enters the room. The more thing change, the more I stay the same.

I am reading a book, One Hundred Years of Therapy and the World Is Getting Worse," by Dr. James Hillman. The recently-deceased Hillman is a provocateur and occasional thorn in the side of Freudian and Jungian psychotherapists. But his provocation has a purpose. In his opinion Freud and Jung, both products of the 19th century and who knew something about neurosis, tied therapy too closely to the science-of-the day, to the detriment of soul (psyche = soul). So we have the Id, Ego, and Superego--whatever they mean--and little time for other aspects of psyche, including creativity, the imagination, and even a healthy appreciation of death. Think of B.F. Skimmer and company. But at least we have the pharmaceuticals to help us over to the other side.

I rarely watch the network evening news having long ago realized that all the stories are basically the same, no matter who is sitting in the anchor chair. And TMZ happens to broadcast in the same time slot.  But I broke my own rules the other night and wandered from ABC, to NBC, to CBS. I can't remember a single story but remember all the pharmaceutical advertising, confirming that my expensive sales training is finally paying off.  Though I wasn't employing a set-top box I think every major advertisement on the three networks was from pharmaceutical companies, whether to counter gas, indigestion or RA.  Advertising for Cymbalta and other anti-depression drugs hang over the evening news like a dark could and must tell us something about the American psyche. Throw in sleep medications, usually delivered on angel wings, and we are really in trouble. The key is in not listening to the Rosseau-like fable and watching graphics that celebrate the brand but to the sobering list of side effects that roll off the narrator's tongue like water over perfectly timed rocks. I know; it's just advertising. But I also know dealth when I hear, smell and see it.

I don't know the intended demographics but assume, given the profitable love affair with pharma, the networks must be talking primarily to the Baby Boomers who are quickly aging here. Dr. Hillman has suggested that psychotherapy, including the "inner child" movement, has created a population of self-centered. juvenile adults who are riding into the sunset on their comfortable solipsism. Seventy is the new fifty. This allows me much more time to be Peter Pan and go the way of the fruit fly.

The democratization of health and fitness coverage is an abolute blessing and is hardly restricted to America.  But you don't have to ride the #1 train in the Bronx to realize that we are going on fifty years of the health and fitness movement and parts of our world are getting worse.  New York is probably more aggressive and in-your-face about serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart problems and this effort is indeed salutary.  The #1 train is itself a gallery of warnings and what some would call the accoutrements of the Nanny state.

Hillman might suggest this is only half the problem. The real issue is the state of our food, the structure of our neighborhoods, and loss of a sense of place. The Bronx is a perfect example of an area that  has been violated by the network of highways that have sliced mainly low income areas, the inaccessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the sheer danger of walking in a city that prides itself in being a "walking city."

Pink slime, that odorous side product of industrial meat production, is getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to an attentive social media population who have turned up their noses at this offering, largely because the pink slime slop is fed to school students.

Perhaps it's better that this concoction does not go away so fast. If we keep it under our noses for a bit longer, we might realize this is not only about the texture of my sloppy, Sloppy Joe. It also tells us something about the world a lot of us live in.

Hillman suggests we get back our animal noses and move out of the perfumed gym.

He calls this soul-making.

This might be a good and healthy start.


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