Barbara Ehrenreich has spent much of her journalistic career as a social gadfly, with her contrarian takes on the “American Dream,” positive thinking, and masculinity. Natural Causes is her most controversial polemic to date. She strongly advocates against unnecessary medical exams, corporate mandated weight loss programs, fitness regimes, extreme diets, mindfulness meditation sessions, and wellness lifestyle gurus. Ehrenreich bemoans the attention paid to healthy choices, which she feels will only postpone the inevitable. Her own background in microbiology, in addition to her experience as a cancer survivor, point to the prominence of macrophages, which can actively destroy healthy tissue and increase the size of tumors. Also the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to mortality are often overlooked by medical professionals, who increasingly see the human body through a mechanized lens.
Ehrenreich believes that the problem with viewing the human body as a machine is that many common medical procedures (e.g., breast exams, PSA tests) have limited utility. By contrast, many medical professionals now perceive the failure of their patients to adhere to healthy lifestyle behaviors as a personal failure. Holistic and spiritual approaches may be equally effective as traditional medical treatment, though some unorthodox techniques have not been rigorously evaluated. Ehrenreich mocks the embrace of mindfulness by profit oriented major corporations, and lambastes luxury lifestyle brands which only benefit the wealthiest Americans.
At the end of Ehrenreich’s discursive work, she makes a plea for a dignified embrace of aging, dying and death. As we age, social support is much more valuable than physical fitness in determining our quality of life. Accepting our decaying bodies is the price we pay for our sanity. Embracing death without fear is paramount. Readers may disagree with many of Ehrenreich's thoughts and opinions, but as always she makes us think about many preconceived and accepted ideas, which is the hallmark of her advocacy journalism.