There must be some playbook that news outlets use that instructs them to print something nasty about the food-allergic community when there's nothing else interesting going on. Every couple of months, one of these articles appears and makes me want to throw my laptop against the wall. Here's the latest, on Slate.com, entitled "Nuts to That: The People Profiting from Food Allergies."
Its title would lead you to believe that it's meant to expose some secret consortium bent on bleeding food-allergic parents dry for the sake of its members' own greed. However, all it really does is criticize, yet again, all the "hype" surrounding food allergies. Why, its author asks, are people pouring all of this money into food-allergy research and education when only 100 people die every year from a deadly food-allergic reaction? (This 100 number is thrown around a lot, but I've never been able to find its source. In fact, I can't find any reliable source to tell me the number of food-allergy-related deaths that occur each year.)
The article impugns two of the champions of food-allergy awareness and research, Dr. Hugh Sampson, head of the Food Allergy Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Anna Munoz-Furlong, past head of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. It suggests that, in a 2004 article, they may have overestimated the percentage of the populace suffering from a seafood allergy by having pollsters call random households and ask whether any household members were allergic to seafood, rather than whether anyone in the household had been diagnosed with a seafood allergy, possibly in a conspiratorial attempt to scare people into donating more money to food allergy research.
This suggestion is laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But that's not the end of it. The article also lambasts the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Act, which required manufacturers to list - in bold type and plain English - the common allergens in a particular food. The article states:
"In 2004, FAI [Food Allergy Initiative, another food-allergy advocacy group] hired a consulting firm to devise a plan to include specific ingredient information on food labels. Tax forms show that those expenses "included mailings to the public to help support the proposed legislation." Food allergy legislation was soon proposed by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and passed into law. We experience it now as the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, the law that requires cream cheese to bear the label 'contains milk.'"
Yes, that evil act, the one that allows me to look at a package and know within 10 seconds whether my child can eat it instead of having to pull out my food-allergy dictionary and magnifying glass to sift through the product's ingredient list to find out if the product contains, say, albumen, one of the many ingredient names that mean eggs, or caseinate, one of several names that mean milk.
Finally, the article, like all of the others of this genre, suggests that parents of food-allergic kids are a bunch of hypochondriac alarmists who like nothing better than to worry themselves and everyone else about their child's "allergies."
Seriously, would this author write the same thing about diabetic children and their parents? No, because diabetes seems like a real disease - there are daily injections involved, after all - while food allergies are invisible unless the child ingests (or touches, or breathes, in some cases) the offending food.
For the 1,000th time: Our children's allergies are real, not imagined. The reason you aren't hearing about loads of food-allergy deaths happening every day is because we are diligently and tirelessly protecting our children from the food you are eating. It's a fact that I hate to put into writing, but if I allowed my daughter to eat whatever she wanted or whatever was available to her at a certain location (like a school lunch room, etc.), she would almost certainly die. Perhaps not the first time she ate, say, a sliver of a pecan (a nut she's especially allergic to), but almost certainly by the 5th or 6th time she ingested it (allergic reactions build the more a person consumes the allergen).
The same is true for thousands upon thousands of other children, who are kept safe only through their parents' diligent efforts. We are our children's safety belts. So pardon us for seeming overprotective.
What's more, we would give ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY for a cure. Please, Dr. Sampson, continue doing your research. We will gladly continue contributing to FAAN to have our funds passed along to you to find a cure, as well as to have FAAN and FAI continue their advocacy efforts to get more helpful legislation passed to ease the too-heavy burdens on food-allergy families.
And writers, please stick to what you know - politics, global crises, etc. Just leave us alone and stop kicking food-allergy parents when we're already down.
[Note: If you want to write a response to the author, you may do so here.]