Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Reactions to Allergy Reaction Reactions

I see stories in newspapers, magazines, and blogs every week that mock lactose intolerance and food allergies. Some people seem to find the very term lactose intolerance funny, and the fact that lactose intolerance causes people to fart sends them into gales of hysterics. Other mock the allergy culture in which people - *gasp* - have the temerity to ask hosts not to serve them food which might make them ill. Schools banning peanut butter because of the risks of anaphylactic shock are a special cause of derision. How dare they! Nobody ever died when they were children!

So when I came across Leslea Harmon's Guerrilla Mothering column on the website, I was primed to agree with her intelligent and thoughtful take on the subject.

Someone is attacking my kid, saying his food allergies are exaggerated. ... The author of the article, Meredith Broussard, is a semi-humorist with a history of failed relationships. I’m not saying that to be mean — she has actually built a writing career on the topic of failed relationships, even publishing a presumably witty book on their unique lexicon. I’m sure it’s hilarious, just the kind of thing I would have loved back when I was a single chick who valued a snark above all else. Since I’ve become a mom, I feel differently about that kind of thing, but that’s just me going soft, I’m sure.

On her blog (entitled “The Blog of Failed Relationships,” naturally), Broussard mentions the torture of growing up with food allergies, and the diet of strict avoidance her mother put her on. In her own words “no sugar, no white flour, no peanut butter, no artificial coloring of any kind, no chocolate, no fish, no shellfish, no dairy.” Ouch. Strict avoidance. The diet evidently worked — Broussard outgrew her food allergies — but she still sounds so angry about it.

I hate it, but it’s the same kind of diet we have our kid on, though admittedly Broussard had it worse. Sam doesn’t have to avoid such a long list of things, but he really has trouble with what he has to manage. And now I feel sorry for her. I can’t help but see her as having so much in common with our own witty, impudent, wacky kid. How hard her life must have been, and at the same tender age our child is now.

I wonder if I can do any better than this woman’s mother did — not just in making my child avoid his allergic foods, but in communicating that I am doing so in hopes that he will outgrow his food allergies. Can I somehow impart kindness and caring to my son, who is denied so many treats and experiences that his friends and classmates get to have? Is it part of life for allergic children to be resentful of their parents? Must this baseline frustration hinder him for life?

Being me, I couldn't let it go at that. I had to check Broussard's blog and find the original article.

What I found surprised me. Broussard's blog, The Blog of Failed Relationships, wasn't snarky or satirical or anti-allergy. Broussard was as thoughtful as Harmon and featured several postings sensitive to the community.

Her original article, moreover, was a piece in Harper's Magazine critically analyzing an advertisement run by FAAN, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

I've mentioned FAAN numerous times on this blog. I think it does good work and plays a crucial role in disseminating information about allergies.

Broussard, however, criticizes FAAN for scaring parents about the prevalence and seriousness of allergies, for creating the impression that large numbers of children are at risk of death through anaphylactic shock, and for overclose ties to the adrenalin injector industry.

Ironically, these accusations exactly parallel the ones normally hurled against the pharmaceutical industry or the dairy industry or any industry on the other side of the food advocacy groups.

Broussard does give FAAN some praise; it's not a general attack. She says that food allergies are real, just that the dangers are exaggerated and the press is complicit in making the dangers seem worse than they are.

That's a position near and dear to my heart, since it's one that I've been promulgating since I began this blog.

Both Harmon and Broussard are right in their approaches, their attacks, and their defenses. Too much exaggeration is a commonplace in the allergy world, just as too much derision is an everyday scourge that needs to be fought. More information, more balance, more understanding is needed on all sides.

Let's meet in the middle and make sure everyone gets what's at stake. Allergies are rising in number, in seriousness, and in the length of time they stay with children. Few allergies are deadly. Most require some vigilance in diet but little more and a relapse causes only discomfort. (Ditto for those with lactose intolerance.) The tiny minority who do have to screen the world for every speck of an allergen truly have a serious ailment, though, and should be afforded every respect and courtesy.

Let's keep the arguments on both sides as thoughtful as these and save the scorn for the silly and dangerous quackery, like homeopathy.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Steve. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my recent column.

I failed to mention Broussard's snarky quotes--one was on her NPR interview, pertaining to her allergy to vermouth, and the other was perhaps arguable, in which she called herself a "pain in the ass" due to her personality. I also cringe a little at the implication that the founder of FAAN is retiring in response to her six paragraphs in Harper's. I'm no FAAN lackey--I can take them or leave them--but I think her posting about the retirements in light of the uproar she's caused among parents adds to an unapologetically adversarial stance. She may not be slinging one-liners, but the effect is much the same.

Since you've read my entire piece, you know that ultimately I found compassion for this woman instead of blowing my top and berating her, but I will say, as I pointed out in the most recent audio podcast of Allergy News, that there is something about the flippant tone of her Harper's piece and the tone on the radio interview that I personally believe is designed to provoke allergy parents.

But, in the end it is up to me as an allergy parent to control what my perceptions are, and move forward with positive energy. My perceptions do not define reality! (Thank God.) If I allow myself to be distracted by dealing with tons of emotional baggage in this issue (or any issue), I'm not going to be working from a place of rationality and compassion. Better to be proactive than reactive! I hope that my article will influence other allergy moms to consider a like approach. There is so much pain in the allergy community. I hope only to add healing.

I'm with you. Let's meet in the middle and work this allergy/intolerance thing out. We really can overcome the damage living with food allergy or food intolerance does to our spirits. So what if we're not all in the same place at the same time. One day I hope we'll have more established support for one another this arena, and much of the social friction will be a thing of the past. Look how much the internet has helped people make connections, already. :)

Great to find your blog! Thank you so much for your insightful comments.