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Another Person's Poison

Another Person's Poison: A History of Food Allergy

Matthew Smith
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  • Book Info
    Another Person's Poison
    Book Description:

    To some, food allergies seem like fabricated cries for attention. To others, they pose a dangerous health threat. Food allergies are bound up with so many personal and ideological concerns that it is difficult to determine what is medical and what is myth.

    Another Person's Poisonparses the political, economic, cultural, and genuine health factors of a phenomenon that dominates our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. For most of the twentieth century, food allergies were considered a fad or junk science. While many physicians and clinicians argued that certain foods could cause a range of chronic problems, from asthma and eczema to migraines and hyperactivity, others believed that allergies were psychosomatic.

    'This book traces the trajectory of this debate and its effect on public-health policy and the production, manufacture, and consumption of food. Are rising allergy rates purely the result of effective lobbying and a booming industry built on self-diagnosis and expensive remedies? Or should physicians become more flexible in their approach to food allergies and more careful in their diagnoses? Exploring the issue from scientific, political, economic, social, and patient-centered perspectives, this book is the first to engage fully with the history of a major modern affliction, illuminating society's troubled relationship with food, disease, nature, and the creation of medical knowledge.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53919-7
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Public Health, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. Introduction: “WITCHCRAFT, A FAD, OR A RACKET?”
    (pp. 1-16)

    IN AUGUST 2009, the venerable hard rockers AC/DC were scheduled to play the 60,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta. A few days before the concert, theEdmonton Journalpublished a list of tips for fans. Concertgoers were encouraged to arrive early, use public transportation, and tread lightly on the local neighborhood. In order to ensure that security procedures ran smoothly, a list of prohibited items was also posted. Included were many of the usual suspects, including guns, knives, drugs, alcohol, pets, and glass containers, but heading the list was a more unexpected hazard: peanuts.¹

    According to another newspaper, theEdmonton...

  6. ONE Food Allergy Before Allergy
    (pp. 17-42)

    DID FOOD ALLERGY EXIST before the term “allergy” was coined by Clemens von Pirquet in 1906?¹ To some medical historians, there is nothing wrong with this question. Diseases, from this perspective, are biological entities that may evolve over time (for example, in the case of antibiotic-resistant superbugs), but that essentially retain the same characteristics. Following an analysis of the available evidence, the insightful historian can match up the descriptions of a historical figure’s symptoms with a modern disease. Such retrospective diagnoses have been applied habitually, with the “madness” of King George III (1738–1820) and the fatal illness of Queen...

  7. TWO Anaphylaxis, Allergy, and the Food Factor in Disease
    (pp. 43-66)

    DEFINITIONS CAN BE DANGEROUS. In 2013, the fifth edition of theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) amid a cloud of controversy. Although there are a number of debates surroundingDSM-5(nothing new in the history of this, the psychiatric bible), the one most often discussed involves the proliferation of psychiatric disorders included in the manual.¹ While a psychiatrist during the 1950s had only 128 diagnoses with which to contend, today’s psychiatrists have more than 300 options, ranging from fairly standard and long-standing disorders, such as schizophrenia (and some have...

  8. THREE Strangest of All Maladies
    (pp. 67-96)

    IN A 1939 PUBLICATION grudgingly described in theJournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as “another book on food allergy,” the author Helen Morgan (1904–1989) proclaimed, “An age has dawned when medical science admits that simple foods may incite explosions that vary from a rash to a fatality.”¹ Describing the furor, Morgan, a Pennsylvania home economist and poet, explained that

    the numbers who are saying “I can’t eat that!” are reaching into the millions. They are sticking to it, defiantly. Backing them are the physicians, who were the first to scoff at “food fads” a decade ago. They...

  9. FOUR Panic? Or the Pantry?
    (pp. 97-124)

    IN 1957, Ethan Allan Brown (1906–1979), then president of the ACA, declared:

    In this age of chemicals and synthetics there is truly no limit as to what substances may be discovered as causes of allergy. . . . It is not too much to expect that one or several new ubiquitous allergens may be discovered at any time. This would, of course, change overnight the present practice of allergy. Among these might be the more than 1,000 “additives” now ingested with foods and now certified for safety but not to allergenicity.¹

    If this was not alarming enough, added to...

  10. FIVE An Immunological Explosion?
    (pp. 125-152)

    A STRANGE STORY APPEARED on the ABC News Web site in the spring of 2013. Graced by the headline “Weird Food Allergy Stresses Mom, Baffles Doctors,” the article described the difficulties faced by seven-year-old Tyler Trovato, a food allergy sufferer.¹ An astonishingly wide range of foods—including chicken, turkey, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas, and even his mother’s breast milk—caused Tyler severe gastrointestinal distress and shock-like symptoms, so he subsisted on a tiny list of items, including, oddly, peanut butter sandwiches and milk. This was not, however, the bizarre aspect of the story. What bewildered physicians was that Tyler’s allergy...

  11. SIX The Problem with Peanuts
    (pp. 153-186)

    IN HIS SYNDICATED COLUMN published on June 5, 1972, the Franco-American nutritionist Jean Mayer (1920–1993) reprinted a letter he had received from Chester Gryzbinski of Dedham, Massachusetts. Gryzbinski described how his ten-year-old son, Michael, had been invited by a friend to go to his house and eat some Butterfinger ice cream. Michael, who was allergic to peanuts, was accustomed to checking labels, and he examined the tub carefully. There were no ingredients identified, simply a picture of a Butterfinger chocolate bar, so Michael assumed that the ice cream was safe. Tragically, the manufacturers had whipped peanut butter into the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 187-192)

    IN A PROVOCATIVE 1997 ARTICLE, the biophysicist Richard Cone and the anthropologist Emily Martin described how human bodies were increasingly in disharmony with the environment, resulting in epidemic levels of autoimmune disease, including not only allergy and asthma but also multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and diabetes.¹ One of the reasons for this upsurge in immune pathology, according to the authors, had to do with diet. Unlike in the past, when most people were more likely to consume seasonal and local fruits and vegetables as well as a wider range of animal tissues, the modern diet, and especially that of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 193-248)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-290)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-292)