• Book Review: Methland, The Death and Life of a Small American Town

    December 27, 2014

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent

    Methland: The Death and Life of a Small American Townby Nick Reding is one scary book. It is the only book I’m aware of that understands at a fundamental level meth isn’t a drug problem, it is a symptom of our current societal and economic problems. The meth epidemic isn’t about a drug, its about the economy, and so Reding’s book is as much about the death of a way of life as the birth of a drug.

    Left Behind

    For those looking for a Breaking Bad experience, or another drug-porn description of whacked-out meth addicts, this is not your book. Instead, Reding, after returning to his hometown of Oelwein, Iowa, chronicles the descent from a thriving agricultural-based economy into a desperate place where cheap, easy to obtain drugs like meth were just waiting to move in. Along the way Iowa’s story parallels the changes in our broader national society and economy, focused here on Big Agra moving in, first destroying family farms and local meat packers, then replacing the workers in its new mega-facilities with cheap, disposable labor from south of the border. Such changes, whether wrought by Big Agra businesses, Chinese steel or Walmart, take away the life of the town but leave behind the people.

    Just like Big Agra destroyed a way of life in Iowa, Big Pharma profited off the remains. Reding details how the pharmaceutical industry spent heavily and lobbied successfully to not limit the import of pseudoephedrine into the U.S. The drug companies needed that chemical to be available and cheap for their cold medicines, and were without care that that same chemical, distilled out of those same cold medicines, fueled the meth epidemic. Hey, it was just business, a perfect metaphor for the rise of profit above all else, the leaving behind of the 99 percent.

    And Then There is Meth

    Reding touches on how easy the drug is to cook up in small batches, although a small mistake in the chemistry can result in horrific burns and explosions. Meth wasn’t a social drug, and so you didn’t need to hang around with old juicers in a dark bar. Meth came to you. Your friends were using it, if not selling it or cooking it, and the angry, speedo high it gave fit the young guys better. Meth wasn’t only for boys, either. Girls liked it too, and because you never thought about eating on a meth cruise, they called it the Jenny Crank diet.

    As part of research leading to my upcoming book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, I spent some time in the Rust Belt of the Midwest, where meth is as popular as in Iowa, and for the same reasons. Reding’s descriptions and conclusion ring true.

    But most importantly, meth just isn’t cheap and easy, it is a Midwest drug. Instead of the flighty high of weed or the dulled feeling of alcohol, meth at first offers a powerful feeling of self-worth, of energy, that is the perfect antidote for the crushing depression and lack of hope the space around the user represents. For a world stuck in crap, meth was the answer. This was a drug designed for unemployed people with poor self-images and no confidence. Of course the drug is a false front, as users quickly suffer from the debilitating health problems we are all familiar with. But that’s a tomorrow kind of problem, and the lost users in Iowa and elsewhere know they have no tomorrow anyway.

    Criticisms of the book are few. Reding includes far too much information on the personal lives of the few good people in town trying to better things, and about himself. These do little to support the central ideas and often detour the narrative. The book tries perhaps too hard to end on a positive note, focusing on the progress made but losing sight of how little winning one battle in rural Iowa means in the larger war for our America.

    Rock Bottom

    But don’t let those points stop you from looking into this book. Skim the filler and focus on the important point: People without jobs, without hope, without tomorrows, will turn to things like meth to ease the pain. It’s human nature. As Reding writes, rock bottom is not a foundation to build on. And unless we as a nation figure out a better way forward– jobs that pay a living wage for more Americans, the reining in of big interests that rip apart the fabric of the nation around them– methland will be our land. We can’t fix America’s meth problem without fixing America.

    Methland: The Death and Life of a Small American Town

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      12/27/14 2:42 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      quote”But most importantly, meth just isn’t cheap and easy, it is a Midwest drug.”unquote

      Ummm, no it isn’t. I speak from experience. I lived in Sacramento CA for 30yrs, which at the time lived there, had a meth epidemic from hell. I should know. I was a victim of it for a 6 years in the late 80’s. At the time, I was living with..well..a stripper. Haha. Unfortunately, that lifestyle was rife with drug users. Every gal who worked in the ..ahem..”exotic dancer” trade was hooked. I barely escaped.
      The Sac valley is known for it’s meth labs too. Huge ones too. I don’t know about now, but at the time it WASN’T cheap either. I basically lost everything to it. Finally in desperation, I simply packed up and moved to another area, and never touched it again.

      10 yrs later, I moved to the southern coast of Oregon, which might as well be the Midwest. Because most of the lumber mills had closed during the last 10 years, unemployment was rampant, so the entire coast became a haven of Meth users and labs. Still is today. Because of Coos Bay being the only real port between Portland and San Francisco, drugs of all kinds were coming into Coos Bay. Here’s an example just this week…

      God am I glad I got away from it. I’d probably be in jail by now.

      12/27/14 3:56 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      see..ya’d never know I was an ex user. Although.. my online “persona” might make you think so though. Haha! speaking of drugs…

      bartender, make it water tonight. Christmas is over..thank god. Bahhumbug.

      12/27/14 4:04 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      btw..this is what saved me…



      Thanks babe.

      ya know, now that I think about it, by the looks of a lot of people right here where I live in Michigan looks like it’s a Meth town too. sheeezus. Walking Zombies. Thinking about moving back to Oregon though. This place sucks.

      12/27/14 4:21 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      You’re a tough man, Pitch. You did good.

      12/27/14 4:34 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      Hey..thanks Peter. Now if only I could split a cord of firewood in a day…like I used to. sheezus..getting old sucks. Haha. 🙂

      12/27/14 5:09 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Just say. NO.

      Can an entire country benefit from a non-intervention?


      12/28/14 3:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      But Obomba thinks we are safer.

      12/28/14 8:11 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      @Rich’s link:

      quote”After 13 years, the United States is winding down its war in Afghanistan, plagued by doubts about what was accomplished at such a high cost.”
      “Instead of a sense of triumph at the close of the longest conflict in America’s history, there is mostly regret and fatigue over a war that claimed the lives of more than 2,300 American troops and cost more than a trillion dollars.”unquote

      There you have it. Living proof the DFCOTP will never understand why they ARE.. the DFCOTP.

      12/29/14 1:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Wrong from Vietnam to Afghanistan. At least TDCOTP is consistent.

      12/29/14 12:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      12/29/14 1:14 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      We can’t fix America’s problem without fixing America when crime pays: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/12/31/winner-war-terror-financed-dream-home-2014-giveaway/

      01/1/15 2:45 PM | Comment Link

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