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Anxiety about food additives persisted into the mid-1970s, in the face of a recession that threatened to undermine consumers’ willingness to pay for expensive organic foods. As journalist Anna Colamosca reported in 1974, “Despite soaring prices, the $600 million health food industry seems to be holding up well.” Although Colamosca stated that “hundreds of health food stores across the country have gone out of business because they were overcharging in an effort to make a fast buck,” she also believed continuing newspaper stories “related to the food industry have kept many people doggedly returning to their favorite health food stores over the last six months.”1 One story she cited was Feingold’s recent linkage of food additives and hyperactivity . Just as interest in the Feingold diet was fueled by concern about food additives as well as dissatisfaction with treatments for hyperactivity, Feingold’s theory also kept food additives in the headlines while interest in organic foods began to wane and health food sales began to slump.2 It is worth repeating that Feingold did not initially court such attention himself. It was the AMA who invited him to its 1973 and 1974 conferences and organized Feingold’s press conferences. Nevertheless, once Feingold decided to reach out to the public with his theory, he did so with an eagerness and energy that belied his age. Ironically, the refusal of the top medical journals to provide Feingold with a forum in which to circulate his ideas among his fellow physicians resulted in his idea receiving much greater exposure in the mainstream media; and just as parents were able to read about the diet in their local newspaper, so too were clinicians more likely to read New York Times than JAMA. The Feingold Diet in the Media Chapter 6 87 Feingold’s ability to disseminate his ideas through the media was facilitated by increased media interest in health reporting during the postwar period.3 Given the intertwining relationships between the media, policy makers , physicians, patients, advertisers, and readers, the media’s role with regards to health was a complex one. The reliance of mass media on advertising revenue helps to explain some of these ambiguities. Historians Virginia Berridge and Kelly Loughlin have described how “the mass media has been enlisted as a public health tool through the development of mass advertising campaigns, and it has been the focus of opposition and control due to the use of mass advertising by commercial interests such as tobacco and alcohol.”4 The role of the advertiser, however, was passive compared to the media’s role as a purveyor and interpreter of news and a teller of tales. Both health scares and miracle cures made for compelling stories, ones that generated interest and could have a profound impact on both public policy and the actions of the general public. Sociologist Clive Seale has emphasized how reports about food scares were particularly apt to attract media interest, stating that “the depiction of ordinary objects whose ingestion is essential for life, yet nevertheless reveal themselves as threats to life, presents a highly entertaining juxtaposition of opposites for the media health producer.”5 Other researchers have echoed Seale’s observations about the popularity of food-scare stories.6 The divisive nature of many of the nutrition-related health scares during the postwar period probably added to their appeal. Unlike the thalidomide scandal, however, which was presented as a clear-cut case of corporate greed and incompetence, there were almost always two justifiable perspectives represented in stories involving pesticides, food colors, artificial sweeteners, and even the recommended daily allowances of fat, cholesterol, and alcohol. The banning of cyclamate sweeteners, for instance, might have been a victory for organic food advocates and the sugar industry, but it dismayed diabetics, nutritionists, and physicians concerned about obesity.7 Seale’s tendency to portray journalists as scaremongers who exaggerated the seriousness of such food crises also overlooks the fact that journalists did not act alone in constructing these stories. In the British case of the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak of 1964, for instance, a symbiotic relationship existed between the media and the medical officer of health, Ian MacQueen, with regards to reporting the story of contaminated corned beef. While MacQueen, who had originally studied journalism, was able to use the press to help contain the outbreak and to further his desire to promote health education, the media found the outbreak to be “a good story,” one that was “intensely reported,” and...


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MARC Record
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