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What some (ignorant) people think about food allergies

Posted on January 12th, 2009 by Alison Read 18 Comments - Add Your Own »

Nut Allergies – A Yuppie Invention. This is the title of an ignorant and offensive piece of writing by Joel Stein, an LA Times writer who in his biography calls himself “desperate for attention.” Clearly.

Citing parents’ mass hysteria as the cause of most food allergies, he writes, “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” Deep breath — I will not allow myself to get worked up over this one man’s idiotic opinion, but unfortunately, he is not the only one who feels this way. I understand the questioning — everyone is baffled by food allergies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real and that parents should be made to feel that somehow it is their fault.

I do feel special being a parent of a food allergy kid, but this isn’t the kind of special I would choose or the kind of special I “need” as the writer accuses. WHY ON EARTH would anyone want their child to have food allergies? It sucks. It’s not fun dropping your daughter off at a new school and the first thing you do is make sure the staff knows where the epinephrine autoinjector is and how to use it. It’s really not fun to have to decide whether to take your child to a birthday party and bring all your own food and be worried and on patrol, or just not go and not let your child get to experience the fun because it is safer and less worrisome and easier to stay home that day. No part of dealing with food allergies is fun or desirable or special in a Look-At-Me-I’m-Special kind of way. In fact, most of us try not to have our kid stand out. We try to blend in and pretend we’re not special at all. We bring our own cupcakes to the party and hope that they look just like the cupcakes every other kid is eating. Food companies are trying hard to make the allergen-free food look just like the “regular” foods so that allergy kids don’t feel different.

Here’s something really special, Mr. Stein, who once taught a class in humor writing: worrying that your child could die in 2 minutes if she eats the wrong thing. Special. And definitely something to make fun of, as you continue to do throughout the article. Maybe next time you could poke at diabetes or cancer — those diseases are HILARIOUS!

“Since food allergies kill about as many people as lightning strikes each year, we probably don’t need to ban peanuts from schools or put warnings on every product… [blah blah jokey joke here]” Another great observation, except that food allergies are preventable, and what if the number of people that die each year is as low as it is because of the prevention measures in place. I know many people whose lives have been SAVED by the Epi-pen. And how many deaths have been prevented because we have an allergen-labeling law requiring that even traces of nuts (which can be deadly to some) are put on the label? As for peanut bans in schools, it may be necessary in the younger grades where we strive to protect all our children from harm when they don’t know yet how to protect themselves.

“It is strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities.” I actually agree with the writer here — it is strange. Why are food allergies increasing? Why are they more prevalent in clean, western societies? I often hear people say “WE never had food allergies growing up” which translates to: “I don’t believe that more kids have more food allergies now, so hysterical parents must be making it up.” There are real theories that doctors and researchers have about why food allergies are on the rise, and parents making it up is not one of them.

Unfortunately for all of us, many immune system problems, like food allergies, are increasing in prevalence, so there is something going on here that we need to figure out. Is it our environment, our food supply, chemicals? No one knows the answer… but why blame the allergy moms? When’s the last time someone was accused of making up cancer?

Did I just imagine that my daughter’s lips swelled up after she kissed someone who had been eating cashews? And how does a parent pretend that their child is going into anaphylactic shock? Oh, I guess it’s just us Yuppies trying to get attention!

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  1. This is the second recent article I have seen like this, that moms are making all this up.

    Here is what I don’t understand…

    My son got a rash everytime he ate a certain food so our pediatrician sent us to an allergist for testing. An allergist tested him and told us to completely avoid certain foods or he may die and prescribed an epi-pen.

    How could this be something I have invented? Is the author suggested I go directly against the doctors orders?

  2. Here, here! Very well said! Thank you!

  3. Ok, I went and read the whole article and now I am even more upset. He clearly intended to be inflammatory.

    I understand there are false positives on these tests which is clearly a problem I would love some answers to, I don’t see how to handle it any differently. No one knows which are false positives.

  4. Thanks for such a great response to the article. It never ceases to amaze me what some people think? I’ve heard everything from I’m making this stuff up, to it must be something in our house (even though the worst reactions don’t happen at home…’cause home is safe) to it’s because you never let them eat junkfood when they were toddlers or that I’m just not trusting God enough. Unbelievable, I wonder what his thoughts are on I’m an idiot disease?

  5. Alison, I think Joel needs a little well written, assertive, slap on the wrist – and you would be the perfect person to retort! I see he has 138 replies, (most of them angry)on his artivel site at the LA Times.
    What a brat.

  6. I sent him the link to my article. I doubt he will read it and I’m sure he is getting swamped with hate mail. His editor too.

  7. I have food allergies but not life-threatening ones thankfully. I have worked with children for a long time and I have met many children with various food allergies or intolerances. Unfortunately, I have also met parents who seem almost pleased that their child is ‘different’ and ‘special’ while other parents obviously want their children to be treated like everyone else. Some parents didn’t even know if their child had an allergy or just an intolerance because they never had them tested. The child had a reaction, usually a rash on their mouth, and the parents decided they were allergic and told everyone they could without knowing for sure. It was a bit unnerving when I was given an epi-pen and when I asked the parent what kind of reaction the child had to the allergic food, often the response was “We don’t know.” This was usually the same response I got when I asked if the children axtually had an allergy to the food. Then there were the parents of children under the age of one whose baby apparently had peanut allergies, egg allergies, milk allergies, etc.. and I’m wondering how they could know this when those foods weren’t even supposed to be introduced into their baby’s diet yet. There seems to be many parents who unknowingly cause food allergies by being in too big a hurry to introduce potentially harmful foods to their babies. I don’t know what the rush is but, because of my allergies, I didn’t introduce peanut butter, whole eggs, and citrus (my allergy) until the third year in my children.

  8. Joel’s “humorous” article was just such a sad cry for attention. God damn he pissed me off! Does he have Mommy issues, or what?! Seriously hates moms and children. How much do you want to bet his mom was a bitch? (I hope he reads that)

  9. In response to Carolyn and how parents of children under one know that their baby is allergic to peanut, dairy, egg, etc. More and more mothers are breastfeeding their babies these days(I was one of them until my son was 10 months) and these babies can be exposed to ALL of these allergens in that way, the proteins do travel in breast milk. My son was very rashy/eczematous all of his life and I knew that some sort of allergen was causing it. I didn’t rush to give him any of the 8 most allergic foods, I just breastfed him thinking I was giving him the best start. Because my husband and I both don’t have food allergies at all, we would have never thought to avoid any of these things either during my pregnancy or during breastfeeding. I am sure there are mothers out there that like to make up ailments in their children, but I am sure there are more of them that are aware of their child’s allergies either by testing or by singling out the foods by the reactions they cause.

    I am sickened by the article by this Joel Stein guy. It really shows how ignorant he really is about food allergies. My son projectile vomited for an hour the first time he had cow’s milk and maybe it wasn’t life threatening, although could have been, but it was scary. Food allergies are scary for us moms and we should be given a little sympathy for the anxiety and fear they cause in us, let alone our allergic children. We are on constant watch and that is a very hard job. We may look paranoid, but we love our kids enough to try to keep them safe when their immune systems think a harmless food is an invader. We deserve a little respect and this article is just disgusting.

  10. In response to Carolyn: my son was tested for allergies at 5 months because he was covered from head to toe in eczema, and was so itchy he could not sleep more than 1.5 hours at a time… He was diagnosed as allergic to wheat and dairy at the time.

    Was I feeding him wheat and dairy? Not directly – but he was getting the proteins through my breastmilk, and it was causing him a great deal of physical distress. So that is how babies can show up with allergies to foods that they are not eating yet. And the parents truly do not know what the reaction will be if the child eats the food.

    Also, the medical community is clear that you cannot predict a reaction from one time to the next, even in the same person. It is challenging for parents of young children to know just want to say when people ask them what to look for!

    My son outgrew his wheat allergy when he was 3, thankfully. Less happily, he had an anaphylactic reaction to dairy at 14 months, and another at 26 months. Luckily he got medical attention in time, and was prescribed an EpiPen. Now he is 8, and still very allergic. He still carries an EpiPen for his dairy allergy (and also for his egg and peanut allergy, which were diagnosed later).

    It just goes to show – allergies are much more complicated than most people realize. And articles like that by Joel Stein really do not help.


  11. KAREN your son has a GLUTEN allergy, it’s a substance in wheat, and milk…pasteurization process kills all the good and bad bacteria in the milk, (and juices) then your body does not know what is it that spills from the dead bacteria into the body, immune system get’s killed that way look it up on youtube

  12. Great rebuttal. Thank you!

  13. Ah! Thank you all for your well- written rebuttals. I am an adult with allergies, and although most people understand, I have gotten the occasional rude doubters. As IF I really want attention so much that I won’t get a dog or cat- which I would LOVE to have. I really enjoy spending money on a hotel when I visit my brothers who have pets. It’s FUN going to restaurants and asking the ingredients of stuff from waiters and getting on their nerves! GREAT to go to a party when I’ve forgotten to mention my shellfish allergy and not have any food! WHOOHOO! Makes me SPECIAL. And I’m an adult.

    How can ANYONE doubt a person whose child might DIE from peanuts? WHY on earth would anyone, and especially so many people be so sick to make something like that up for attention? RIDICULOUS. Joel Stein has a heart of stein.

  14. Quoted:
    “It is strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities”

    I work with street people in WA state. Maybe food allergies do not appear to occur in children living in poverty because those children are more likely to die very, very young. We pretend this doesn’t happen in the US but it does. Those of us in rich, left communities just never hear about it and most of these people are invisible to most of us rich lefties.

    I am gluten-free and dairy free. I have a lactose-intolerant adopted child and my spouse is diabetic. Thank you for your commentary on this man’s ignorant and insensitive article.

  15. You summed it up. This is evrything I feel inside. I am so frustrated by the ignorant people that poke fun of me. Why is something so life threatening so funny?

  16. Joel Stein sounds like a world class asshole. I hate having food allergies. It’s entirely possible that people in general are being overly sensitive–parents can be overprotective, of course, and allergies can be misdiagnosed–but his article basically painted all allergy-sufferers as weaklings with a lack of real problems. If only.

    Thanks for addressing this.

  17. i will never forget what i call the mullberry pie incendent i was about 7 and little sister was about 3 are great aunt florence had sent us a pie we didnt know my mother and family friend had sliced it up. my sister and i took a bite and we began to swell up and get hives thankfuly cuz of sisters bee allergy we had 2 epipens and were both jabed and thrown in back of car and rushed to er nurse imdetly jabed us again and got us in i felt fine and tired after that but held my lil sisters hand they had to get epipen 2 more times. then they poked us all over for allergy test.

  18. I’m one of those “allergy kids”. When I was diagnosed with (wheat,eggs,beef&potato allergies and my little sister with the like plus corn,rice,bakers yeast, turkey,chicken,tea,peanuts,apples…everything!)
    The alternatives then were very expensive and difficult to obtain. My parents worked extra hard to make sure we had what other people did too. Even though they worked minimum wage. I was the weird kid with the weird crusty bread! It was the most frusterating thing growing up. It wasn’t that I “wasn’t allowed” it’s that my body won’t let me enjoy all the crap that everyother American kid can enjoy.
    When diagnosed I was around 9. By 16 I was vegan and wheat free.
    By 21 I was vegetarian and not careful at all about my food allergies, and it showed. I was always tired, constantly nauseated or vomitting and the thought of eating ANYTHING made me feel worse!
    Since cleaning up my diet and reducing all grains to minimal, I feel amazing. I did the first day I did not ingest any wheat at all. Whoever believes that food allergies are made up talk to me. I’ll eat an egg and vomit on your shoes. I want to eat Big Macs! Who doesn’t?!
    It’s more frustrating to see parents putting their children through rigious pharmaceutical therapy, than to just admit that their kids have allergies.
    They don’t make you special. They don’t make you cool. Now with the gluten free trend it’s cooler to have an allergy I guess! And those people ruin it for us to.
    If more folks opened up to the idea that maybe what were taught to eat isn’t the best for us, we could make much faster progess. I wish this could happen sooner than later. I don’t want to subject the future generations of children to have to grow up how I did.
    GMO’s should be banned immediately.

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