Until I saw our next-door neighbour’s small child have a violent allergic reaction to food containing cows milk - an immediate rash around his lips was the least of it - I don’t think I had ever seen anyone react to food because of an allergy in that way. This was close to forty years ago when our son and the neighbour’s son were not yet two years old. I’d never really thought about allergies before. All through my childhood nobody spoke about them. Nobody we knew had an allergic reaction to anything. Oh, we knew a few people who got very itchy when they wore wool next to the skin but everyone said they were sensitive, not allergic. The world just wasn’t heard.
Then suddenly in the late 1970s, when my friends and I were having babies, you started to hear about certain types of food allergies. No doubt they were around before but they certainly weren’t common knowledge. And Phil and I had done a fair bit of reading about foodstuffs when we went through our macrobiotic vegetarian phase. But when our babies came along we were warned about peanuts and how you shouldn’t let children under the age of seven eat them.
And nowadays allergies are all over the place. Planes and trains stop selling nuts in certain journeys because they have someone on board with a severe nut allergy. People die eating food even mildly contaminated with something they are allergic to. A friend of mine has three daughters, all of whom carry around with them an epi-pen kit in case they go into anaphylactic shock as a consequence of one of their allergies. My brother-in-law suffered from minor illness and indigestion and abdominal pain for years before he was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. He seriously misses toast!
Why are there so many more allergies around now?
Is it one of those odd consequences of our obsession with sanitising stuff to within an inch of existence and thus preventing the development of antibodies? Is it because we now eat more stuff that has never ever grown in our own place, stuff that we have not had generations of people developing tolerance for? Goodness knows. Or are we all suffering from a mass-hallucination, having convinced ourselves that more allergies exist than is actually possible?
According to this article there are restaurants that don’t take food allergies seriously, rather like an extreme version of the many Spanish places I have come across where an “ensalada mixta”, mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, cucumber, onions, hard boiled eggs and a large dollop of tuna fish, is considered to be a vegetarian dish because it contains no meat, only fish! And it’s not only restaurants. Apparently friends, family and prospective in-laws regularly try to slip some forbidden item into the allergic person’s food, to prove that their allergy is just a fad. Oh, boy! Am I glad I have no allergies ... well, not that I know of, and not yet. Who knows how I might react to some new food item.
Then there are food fads. James Wong, self-styled “botany geek” tweeted this:
“Reading that Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘clean beauty’ regime means that she starts every day with a refreshing glass of alkaline water + a spritz of lemon.
(Which makes the alkaline water no longer alkaline and highlights the magnificent level of BS that people will swallow from celebrities.)”
Mind you, la Paltrow is well known for the oddness of some of her recommendations. She manages to look quite good on her lifestyle but I suspect it has more to do with not eating rubbish than with the rubbish she promotes. Here is an excellent article in which a gynaecologist debunks a whole load of stuff our Gwyneth recommend that women should do.After all, women come under enough pressure to confirm to all sorts of norms without being told that we should do some odd stuff as well.
Margaret Atwood has just published a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
She maintains that her motivation to do so came mostly in reaction to increasing restrictions being placed on women’s freedom to decide what can be done to their bodies.
And she is not talking about the places where marriages are arranged and women are not allowed to drive or work or even go out and about unaccompanied.
This is what she had to say:
“What these restrictive laws about women’s bodies are claiming is that the state owns your body. There is a parallel occasion for men and that would be the draft: the state owns your body and you have to go to war. But when they do that, they pay for clothes, lodging, food, medical expenses and a salary,” said a deeply sardonic Atwood.
“I say unto them, if you want to conscript women’s bodies in this way, you’re forcing women to deliver babies, forced childbirth, and you’re not paying for any of it. It is very cheap, amongst other things. For a society claiming to value individual freedom I would say to them, you evidently don’t think those freedoms extend to women.”
One way or another we have to react.