January 16, 2009

Nut allergies are a Yuppie invention?

Joel Stein argues nut allergies are mostly a result of a Yuppie mass hysteria (via ToB):

If you don’t think allergic reactions can be caused by mass hysteria, then you don’t know about the uncontrollable dancing that gripped thousands of Europeans between the 14th and 18th centuries, or that the South Korean government recently issued a consumer safety alert saying that electric fans can asphyxiate you if left running overnight, after news reports of several deaths. You, in short, have never looked up “mass hysteria” on Wikipedia.

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 saying it was “made in a factory that also has a break room where a guy named Dave often sneaks in a King Size Snickers despite this ‘diet’ he says he’s on.”

When I talked to Christakis, he made it clear that — unlike me — he doesn’t think peanut allergies represent a mass hysteria. That’s because scientists believe in rigorous study and proof, while opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention.

But we did agree that it is strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities.

“We don’t see this problem much in African American or poor communities. So there’s something going on here. We don’t see them in Ecuador and Guatemala,” Christakis said.


  1. Kris on January 16th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    As someone with a pretty severe nut allergy, and having a keen eye on the medical literature, the latest studies seemed to indicate that the way that peanuts are prepared correlates with allergies. That is, roasting peanuts and salting them produces a histamine that acts an an allergen.

    This kind of preparation is common in Anglo-European and American culture, but less so in South East Asia and Africa. Thus, allergy rates are higher in Australian that in Indonesia. Not so much about class than something else.

    Funnily, most of the recent research suggests that the allergy develops either in uetero or in breast fed babies if the mother consumes a lot of nuts with the allergen. It’s not a hereditary thing in the majority of cases.

    Now that everybody is asleep, I’ll start rifling through your pockets…

  2. Phil Bebbington on January 16th, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Kris, if you rifle too deep into my pockets you are likely to get a variety of nut that you hadn’t anticipated.

  3. Cooper Renner on January 17th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    So when my mouth and throat and even ear canals start itching from almonds or pecans, I’m having a Yuppie delusion? So I’m a Yuppie?

    Wow! I’ve never felt so successful and professional.

  4. Phil Bebbington on January 17th, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Cooper, when your ear canals start to itch, can I suggest you remove the Pecans and Almonds from your ears. I’m probably not qualified to offer such advice, but, I do have an on-line degree.

  5. Lucy Foley on January 17th, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I always knew you would make it, Coop.

  6. Phil Bebbington on January 17th, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Cooper, this may be the perfect time to write that epitaph – you know, whilst you are feeling so successful.

    I seem to remember writing mine at the age of 14, the fear of life slipping away from me from then on was too great. Now I can’t find the damn thing!

  7. India on January 17th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Cooper–your mouth and throat and ear canals itch when you eat nuts.* But you don’t die, right? And you don’t ask to have all nuts removed from the building when you walk in, right?

    What I can’t figure out is where this nut-free schools idea came from. When I was a kid, not only was there, like, only one kid in the whole universe who was allergic to nuts, but also, peanut butter was my sole source of nutrients. It was, notoriously, one of only three things I would eat at summer camp, the other two being salad (which was made of iceberg lettuce and therefore nonnutritive) and Cool Whip. Had my camp been nut-free, I’d be dead—much more certainly than that one kid who was allergic to nuts would be, had he or she eaten my peanut butter sandwich.

    * When I say nut or nuts here, I refer only to the literal “fruit consisting of a hard or tough shell around an edible kernel” kind, or the slightly figurative “peanut.” All other meanings of nut are on hold for the duration of this comment.

  8. Lucy Foley on January 17th, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    “All other meanings of nut are on hold for the duration of this comment.” That means you, Phil.

  9. Phil Bebbington on January 17th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Lucy, of course – I’m not sure what came over me! I will not try and hi-jack this thread down some alternative nut road. I won’t even mention Topic/Snicker bars!

    For the record I am also mystified by nut allergies – It seems I lived the first 35 years of my life with no notion of it as I knew no-one with one and had never heard that it was possible to be allergic to such things – now, it seems every Tom, Dick, Harry and Cooper are sensitive to such things. I really don’t understand.

    Cooper, have you always been allergic to such things?

  10. Lucy Foley on January 17th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I believe that India was referring to the durisdiction of her own comment. Feel free to nutify this comment thread, Phil. I’m just wondering if Coop’s ears are itching.