Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Food Allergies

To those of you visiting for the first time in response to my recent piece about food allergies:


Feel free to email me (mer at and I'll get back to you if I have answers.

I have food allergies. I've had them ever since I was a kid. When I was 4, or 6, or something in that range, my mom put me on a really restricted diet to try to deal with the allergies and some other health issues. The short version: no sugar, no white flour, no peanut butter, no artificial coloring of any kind, no chocolate, no fish, no shellfish, no dairy. It was hellacious.

Like most children, I grew out of my food allergies. By age 10, the incidence of food allergies in children drops to that of the adult population. That's the main way that food allergies differ from environmental allergies: most food allergies are outgrown. Yes, you can even outgrow a nut allergy.

Some other allergy-related questions and answers:

Have you ever had an allergic crisis? Yes.

Have you ever had anaphylaxis? Yes.

Is that the same as going into anaphylactic shock? No. It's confusing, right? The term 'anaphylaxis' can be used to refer to both a range of allergic symptoms OR to anaphylactic shock, the extremely rare and sometimes fatal reaction. When someone says "I had an anaphylactic episode" or "I got anaphylaxis from eating a peanut butter sandwich," they may not mean what you think they mean.

Have you used an Epi-pen? Yes.

Was it prescribed to you? No.

Have you had to seek emergency medical treatment because you had an allergy attack that got so bad you had trouble breathing? Yes.

What happened? I got an adrenaline shot, and it was awesome. My breathing improved immediately. Quelle relief. It was scary, and I suppose I "could have" died, but can't we say that about any crisis?

What else are you allergic to, besides certain foods? Too much stuff to mention. Animals, plants, food, drugs, certain kinds of alcohol, mold. The smell of urban street vendors roasting chestnuts makes me nauseous, but that's merely an aversion, not an allergy.

Do these allergies make you a huge pain in the ass to have dinner with? No, but my charming personality does.



Blogger Hipstorian said...

Meredith... Great to meet you and DG tonight. The nuttiness of feeling nuts about nuts remains to be read, as I am not, alas a Harper's subscriber. But I'm actually *more* excited to read about the failed relationships encyclopedia!! Happy holidays... xo Rachel

10:39 PM  
Blogger Lynda said...

Hi Meredith,

I'd like to email you but I do not see any way to do that on your Web site. I know you are in Philadelphia, and we are in Bucks County.

Lynda Mitchell
lmitchell [at]
Kids with Food Allergies
Doylestown, PA

8:06 AM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

I developed severe food allergies in my late 20s, and was not aware of it until the first time went to the ER with anaphylaxis. (You can grow INTO allergies, as well as out of them!) I since have had severe reactions to other foods, and must always carry an epipen. I ate every kind of food prior to my first reaction, and also used to think that food allergies were hyped up too much. I think it's really dangerous that you are spreading the word that the danger of food allergies is being exaggerated--it's really no small matter and people need to be aware of it.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Joan said...

Benefiting from the misfortune of others appears to be the current career choice of the misinformed and untalented.

Congratulations on your new career.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Cory said...

I have been so upset since I heard your interview on NPR and read your article. My son has multiple food allergies. His reactions have varied from hives, throwing up, swelling of his eyes, flushing and severe stomach pain. I am very lucky that my son has never needed an epipen. I have been told by numerous doctors that there is no way to predict how severe his next reaction could be so I should always keep an epipen with him. Epipens save lives. Even though I know anaphylaxis is not common, I would never want to assume it can't happen. Can you predict who will have an anaphylactic attack?
If you did your research then you would know why schools are peanut free instead of milk free. Nut allergies tend to have more cases of anaphylaxis than milk allergies. Also, peanut proteins are sticky. The issue is not airborne allergies as much as peanut butter sticking to kids hands and on the table. If my son touched the table where peanut butter was and then used his hands to eat his sandwich- he could have a very severe reaction. The only way to get rid of peanut proteins is with soap and water. How many elementary school kids are washing their hands after they eat at school? How many schools wash tables with soap and water in between lunch periods?
I have been very lucky. My son is only in nursery school and all of his friends moms are very supportive. They use the opportunity to teach their children compassion for other children. Most parents call me before parties because they would like to make it safe for my child. I know it is my responsibility to keep him safe and I am trying very hard to teach my kid to be responsible for himself so as he grows he can keep himself safe. Until he is old enough to do so, what is wrong with trying to create a safe environment for him. If you can only look at the world through selfish eyes then think about this- Just imagine if the pb and j sandwich your child brought to school killed a friend of theirs? How would your child feel?
Does it feel good to know that you exposed those few parents who might be overreacting while making life more difficult for those of us with children who really do suffer from life threatening allergies?

6:04 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Meredith, you sure are smug about the risks that you think other people should take with their children!

Gee, why don't you give your precious little one a golf club and have her stand on a hill top in a thunderstorm? She'll be just fine--after all, hardly anyone gets struck by lightning, right?

You are in way over your head here. You don't have the medical qualifications (despite your self-diagnosed vermouth 'allergy') to be making pronouncements on whether the threat of food allergies is exaggerated. Your ill-considered opinions could very well cost a child her life.

3:45 AM  
Blogger Joan said...

"Your ill-considered opinions could very well cost a child her life."

Why in the world would Meredith care? She's going to make money off of these deaths.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Canico~Gateway FEAST Co-Coordinator said...

I don't understand your intentions. Are you trying to pick a bone w/ FAAN? Of course FAAN became the place people knowledgeable reporters go to since they have experts they can interview! One would go to the Epilepsy Foundation as a resource if they had questions about Epilepsy, wouldn't they? Did you want people with food allergies to come to you, especially since of your allergy to vermouth? Why would you want children with severe food allergies not to carry Epi-pens just in case? Anxiety level wise~it's like having band-aids or TUMS in my purse. I don't care how many children died statistically. All I care about is protecting my son's life for that "just in case moment" that may or may not happen. It's about being prepared and being safe rather than sorry. Usually, being prepared makes one less anxious.

After reading your blog, I am baffled why one would make you an expert on food allergies and take your article as fact ~ because you have food allergies yourself, like to vermouth? How common is that allergen? Do they have vermouth in foods?

Apparently anyone can write an article nowadays and become an expert! I hope it is only a publicity stunt, but if that is the case, then I will NEVER buy Harper's or listen to NPR radio again since they use unqualified guests/reporters.

Meredith, since you took the time to write the article, blog and do interviews you may want to respond to the furious parents out there. You may also want to read the 56 something responses (and still growing) at NPR's website at:

12:14 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Here is a quote from Dr. Scott Sicherer, a real expert on food allergies posted in response to your interview on WNYC:

"My name is Scott Sicherer. I am a pediatric allergist and researcher (government and private funded) specializing in food allergy. I am co-author on most of the studies that Ms. Broussard 'quotes' in her Harper's article where she implies conspiracy and trivializes this significant medical problem. I am also a volunteer medical advisor to FAAN, an organization that she mocks but is, in my view, a non-profit that has clearly increased safety for those who suffer from this medical illness. I mention these points because by Ms. Broussard's reasoning these personal involvements would probably disqualify me from discussing food allergy (e.g., conspiracy to exaggerate). Apparently, NPR also sees some odd virtue in having a non-medical expert journalist be a spokesperson for health issues. I have never 'posted' to sites like this and I am a bit reluctant to draw any additional attention to Ms. Broussard's hurtful, confused and potentially dangerous comments, but I was obviously compelled to do so...It is easy to play 'debate team' with any topic but here it has become irresponsible and, indeed, potentially dangerous."

4:54 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

A "journalist" should get all her facts correct before writing an article as damaging as Everyone's Gone Nuts". I have a child with a TRUE food allergy to nuts and peanuts. I have tirelessly worked to educate peers, schools, etc. that my son's allergies are life threatening - not a mere rash or stuffy nose - he will stop breathing - PERIOD. Thankfully, there are more intelligent articles on food allergies out there written by qualified people to counterbalance your worthless journalistic contribution. Get in touch with some real professionals on the subject before you do any further damage or God Forbid - become the reason another child loses their life to food allergies. By the way, I find it interesting you leave no way to be contacted about this joke of an article!
Atlanta, GA

8:19 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Sounds like you have issues with your mother and very low (well deserved) self worth.

4:38 PM  
Blogger kpat said...

I commend you on what you do, and write. I am sick over the food hysteria/food allergy epedemic. In fact, I think I'm allergic to it. :) Especially the parents who are ridiculously and without proper information severly limiting/controlling what their children eat. The media is no help. My son is one of the only kids in his circle that will enjoy a healthy well balanced meal, and the reason is that I haven't made food a control issue with him. He, like most kids, naturally know what their bodies need, and given adequate healthy choices, they WILL choose the right stuff ON THEIR OWN. My son will OFTEN pass up sweets when offered them, because I have never restricted him from eating them-to him it's not a HUGE DEAL. He commonly takes second and third helpings of salad! The worse thing you can do is HOVER fearfully over them every time they are hungry; or deny, deny, deny foods THEY deem are "unhealthy". Children are more intelligent than we give them credit for and bullying them over food will only have adverse effects. That's a promise.
Thanks for attempting to quell the food hysteria, it's about time someone stood up for common sense and logic with some actual information to back it up; not just fear tactic horror stories.

I picked up Harper's soley to read your article today. In a natural food store no less. One can be a healthy eater, without the hysteria!

P.S. Why are people leaving comments so flooded with hatred? They sound so ANGRY. Shesh.

6:32 PM  
Blogger kpat said...


Perhaps there is some confusion over issue of kids with true nut allergies, and the ones who's parents have just decided that they are allergic to everything out of fear. I am speaking in my comments to the later, not the former.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I just heard the NPR interview.
I'm astounded. Meredith you're an idiot.

6:53 PM  
Blogger kpat said...

This Just In Folks:

"In this well-argued commentary, Broussard debunks the food allergy crisis which has swept the nation in recent years. Statistics supplied by the nonprofit Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network are greatly exaggerated according to expert allergists and the CDC -- but the statistics have been picked up by the media. One widely reported story about a girl dying after kissing her boyfriend who had earlier eaten some peanut butter was not accurate; it was later disclosed that an asthma attack was the cause of the girl's death. Broussard isn't denying the existence or seriousness of food allergies, just decrying the current hysteria surround the issue."
Posted 11:27, 26 December 2007
This abstract was written by Cath Stockbridge and edited by Brijit.

6:55 PM  
Blogger pffft said...


OK - here's the deal. There are two pretty distinct phenomena and groups of people here:

1. The rise in incidence and severity of REAL and severe -- life-threatening -- food allergies and the parents of children with such allergifes.

2. The rise in general food ingredient neurosis like people who want to avoid dairy, refined sugar and gluten because they think it's simply healther. These are the annoying, neurotic control-freak people.

The problem with your article is that it makes it really easy for many lay persons to lump the two groups together.

I have a 2-year-old with a REAL, DIAGNOSED severe allergy to milk protein (casein). The first time he had cheese his wind pipe closed up, his heart-rate shot up, he got spots all over his body and we had to rush him to the ER.

So what happens when writers don't do a good job distinguishing groups 1 and 2 above is that the layperson just takes the easy road and assumes we're all just neurotic helicopter parents.

Ultimately, the problem is not that you are wrong per se (although there's some debate as to whether your stats are even reliable) but that your article is unbalanced to the point where it makes it seem as though the whole food allergy thing is just hysteria.

Now, it may be up for debate how real the overall increase in food allergies. But there is no doubt that real and severe food allergies exist. And your extremely unbalanced article just gave the nation an excuse to brush us all off as nuts.

And BTW - it's not good enough to put a quick follow-up comment in some obscure blog or two saying "oh, yeah, i know there are real severe allergies but I'm not talking about those". If you had done a better job of saying that in your article, you wouldn't have stirred up this storm in the first place.

But hey - maybe a storm is what you wanted all along.

But you just made the lives of parents of kids with REAL severe allergies just a bit more diffucult.


7:23 PM  

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