A 1945 government food guide included a butter group and told readers that “in addition to the basic 7 [food groups], eat any other foods you want.” What a rich-food-eater’s heaven, especially compared with the new USDA-recommended Food Plate crammed with vegetables and whole grains. That old poster is one of more than 100 documents and images, as well as government videos, in the National Archives’ exhibition “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” about the government’s influence on the American diet. Visitors will get to examine Lady Bird Johnson’s chili recipe (a recipe that she said was “almost as popular as the government pamphlet on the care and feeding of children”), posters promoting victory gardens during wartime and what can only be described as one company’s misguided attempt to market “Vitamin Donuts.” The exhibit is on view at the Archives through Jan. 3.
Some aspects of the chummy relationship between pharmaceutical companies and doctors are easy to see, whether it’s an Abilify pen or a Nexium notepad. In a long, muckraking feature in the American Scholar, the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Harriet Washington exposes how “the $310 billion pharmaceutical industry quietly buys something far more influential: the contents of medical journals and, all too often, the trajectory of medical research itself.” Washington writes about how drugmakers suppress negative studies, use advertising dollars to bully publications and hire ghostwriters to pen journal articles that support the companies’ marketing messages. The crookedness, Washington writes, permeates the most pristine publishers, such as in 2003 when Elsevier put out a look-alike of its medical journal The Lancet that was paid for by Merck. Unsurprisingly, it “lavished unalloyed praise on Merck drugs, such as its troubled painkiller Vioxx. There was no disclosure of Merck’s sponsorship.”