The Scientific and Cultural Story of Food Allergy: An Ongoing Drama

The once questionable ailment called food allergy is now a recognized medical condition that has altered the way our food is produced, prepared, and consumed.

Why Did You Visit This Website?
I have a peanut and/or nut allergy
100%
A family member has a peanut and/or nut allergy
0%
I might have a peanut and/or nut allergy
0%
I am just looking for information
0%
Total votes: 3

How this amazing shift occurred is the subject of a book called Another Person’s Poison: A History of Food Allergy, written by Matthew Smith.

Not everyone who lives with a food allergy by day will want to curl up with an allergy history book at night. However, those interested in why food allergy has always been controversial, and why explanations for it are elusive, may enjoy this historical drama.

Early History

The book reveals how many of today’s food allergy debates echo the allergy controversies of previous centuries, when physicians struggled to explain the bizarre symptoms some people developed after consuming certain foods.

Eventually, by the early 1900s, allergy developed into a unique field of medical study, and competing theories about food allergy began to surface, as did a new breed of treatment specialist—the food allergist.

Food allergists began diagnosing, treating, and defining food allergies more broadly than more orthodox allergists who focused their skills on non-food allergies such as hay fever and pet dander. A rift that grew between the broad and orthodox approach to food allergy still exists.

Allergy After WWII

Post WWII, the topic of food allergy became even more controversial. That is when several food allergists began speculating that food allergy resulted from man’s strained relationship with the environment, and the toxins and additives finding their way into our food supply.

This perspective clashed with the more orthodox allergy community who increasingly looked to the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries for financial support. Psychosomatic explanations for food allergy were also being bandied about by this time.

The discovery of IgE (immunoglobulin E) in 1966 gave orthodox specialists an immunological marker for allergic reactions. It signified to many of them that much of what food allergists deemed an allergy was actually a psychosomatic reaction, or an intolerance. Subsequently, the allergy debate subsided.

Enter the Peanut

What brought food allergy back into the media limelight was the increase of anaphylactic food allergy in the early 1990s. Particularly, it was peanut allergy that turned anaphylaxis into a public-health issue.

Today, most allergists concentrate on biomedical treatments, such as desensitization therapy, to address this growing allergy concern. However, the possibility that food allergy sufferers might be demonstrating the harmful effects of food, drug, and environmental contaminants still exists.

To conclude Another Person’s Poison, author Matthew Smith calls for food allergists and orthodox allergists to reconcile their differences and ”examine food allergy afresh in a more pluralistic, open-minded, and holistic fashion.”

While anyone with an interest in food allergy may appreciate the material in this eye-opening book, it might prove especially helpful to those doing advocacy or fund-raising work for food allergy awareness, safety, or research.

Source: Smith, Matthew, Another Person’s Poison: A History of Food Allergy, Columbia University Press, 2015.
Photo credit: Florin Gorgan

Community

Latest Post by blprestangen Mon, 09/16/2019 - 1:06pm
Comments: 12
Latest Post by mom2two Mon, 09/16/2019 - 1:03pm
Comments: 18
Latest Post by Kathryn Mon, 09/16/2019 - 1:02pm
Comments: 7

More Articles

Parents of children with food allergies often share tips about safe foods, allergy-friendly restaurants, and other experiences and challenges of...

Because food allergies are so common among children today, a great idea for sharing information with other classmates is to incorporate the topic...

When a child is diagnosed with peanut allergy, the implications ripple past the parents to rattle the rest of us - older siblings, grandparents,...

Your best defense against anaphylactic shock is to know what you’re up against. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction....

Inhalers Sometimes Contain Soy

Many people use inhalers to take the drug albuterol to help their asthma or allergies, and those with COPD...

More Articles

More Articles

Some people with shellfish allergy have concerns about consuming sea salt that might be contaminated with traces of shellfish. Though there are...

Nearly 25 percent of children with a peanut allergy will outgrow it. However, there is a small risk...

Many people managing food allergies understand that allergy is an immune system response to a specific food. What people may not realize is that...

Salmonella Is One of the Most Common Types of Food Poisoning

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Salmonella enterocolitis...

Heading into spring and Allergy and Asthma Awareness month, many people load up on antihistamines and get their inhaler prescriptions renewed. A...

Individuals with severe food allergies always need to carry their epinephrine auto-injectors, but even highly organized individuals sometimes...

Those hoping that epinephrine auto-injectors would be required by law on all U.S. flights will have to hold that hope a while longer. The...

It’s hard to think of Chinese food without thinking of peanuts. China is the world’s leading peanut producer, and that’s not a coincidence....

A young food allergic child is unlikely to say, “My throat is swelling and I’m having difficulty swallowing - I think I’m having an allergic...

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities, including those with asthma and allergies. A disability...

Although it's true that peanuts are in many snack items, there are several snacks that do not contain peanuts. Anyone who has a peanut...

You can make light, fluffy pancakes without eggs or milk. If you have some type of food...

The more things are repeated, the more likely they will become part of what we call “common knowledge,” or things that most people know.

If...

Hives, or urticaria, affect about 20 percent of all people at one time or another. They can start as a simple itch followed by swollen, red welts...

A tomato allergy is rare but troublesome. Tomatoes are in many different foods, including ketchup, chili, and tacos, and are used in salads and in...