Mouthful

What in the world are you eating?

Intolerant Foodies

20 May 2010 | 0:12 - By Phil Lees

peanuts

It's of great annoyance to a food lover like myself to eat a meal alongside a person who does not like a certain food and cannot justify their position.

I’m completely intolerant of people who eat meat but can’t stand the thought of bones or viscera. I argue with anyone who can’t justify why they eat meat or conversely, why they don’t. Anyone who mixes food and mysticism receives the short shrift. The easy way out is to claim an allergy; the rationalist trump card fresh from the medical diagnosis deck.

Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review article of around 12,000 citations of food allergy studies of which only 72 contained sufficient data to analyse. This poor strike rate was due to the utter lack of consensus as to what constitutes a food allergy – their definition required a reproducible immune response to a given foodstuff.

Among their conclusions is that while there is an increased interest in food allergies, they only “affect more than 1 per cent or 2 per cent but less than 10 per cent of the US population. Whether the prevalence of food allergies is increasing is not well established.”  Around 30 per cent of American adults report having a food allergy.

The New York Times called in a panel to debate the medical reasons behind the reported increase in food allergies – and there are many reasons, from the hygiene hypothesis to mistaking intolerance for allergy. It doesn’t however look at why there is a gap between perception of having a food allergy – the 30 per cent of people who report and allergy – and the 2-10 per cent of people who have one.

Is the self-diagnosis of food allergies more to do with culture than medicine?

Now I don't dispute the fact there are people within genuine and serious food allergies; reactions can be severe and they are well-documented. What is interesting is the claim that individuals make to having an allergy when the immune reaction is neither severe nor documented.

In a culture where we are bombarded with food choices, in a cognitive sense, it is much easier to eliminate a range of those choices by claiming a food allergy rather than citing a preference for one food or the other. It’s easier to blame that dodgy dumpling experience on an MSG allergy, if you wanted to avoid bad pork-filled wontons for an indefinite period. Holding any predilection takes cognitive effort and a perceived allergy reduces the effort required. Amongst the hundreds of minor choices that you might make in a day, generally not many are well thought out and the short cuts probably make life bearable.

There is also that social pressure to like food. As I mention above, I’m probably the person sitting next to you, trying to convince you eat that weird cuisine that you hate; the mention of an allergy is a cheap way out of an argument with an intolerable blowhard.

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06 Jul 2010 14:30 AEST

Taryn

From:

Heal yourself naturally

Up to 70% of us suffer from food intolerance but most of us don't know it. Eating foods we are intolerant to can trigger chronic illness like cancer, arthritis, heart attack, weight gain, diabetes 2, ADHD, Asthma, Alzheimers, Exzema, Insomnia, Infertility, Migraines, Sinusitis and so much incl. more minor symptoms like bloating, flatulence & stomach cramps. The only safe & reliable way to find out if you have an intolerance is with an I.D Kit. See www.thecontentedbody.com to download one now.

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02 Jul 2010 19:33 AEST

Raelene

From:

Fructose Malabsorption

I wish to inform you of Fructose Malabsorption it is a fact that it affects 30-40% of the world population, 50% of people who have it have no symptoms. The symptoms are any of the following in any combination: gas, bloating, constipation, diarhea, nausua, reflux, anxiety, depression, ensomnia, chronic rhinitis, adhd, inflamation, aches and pains, headache, rash, acne, wieght gain, wieght loss and the list just goes on. 70% of people suffering depression have a food intolerance.

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26 Jun 2010 3:08 AEST

Janet K

From: Richmond

To Eat or Not to Eat,

The dodgier self-diagnosed allergies have something to do with society's current obsession with health & beauty. People over-analyse their reactions to foods, hoping to 'fix' their health. Cutting out wheat can be a sort of superstitious reaction to flagging energy levels, akin to eating blueberries every day because you hope they contain antioxidants. But foodies who say we all have a duty to eat meat are just as narcissistic. There is no valid moral imperative for us all to eat alike!

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30 May 2010 18:39 AEST

Zephie Cerny

From:

MSG and flavour enhances

The immunologisist diagnoosed an intolerance to MSG and flavour enhancers. After eating products that contain these I have neurological, cardiac and gastrointestinal disturbances. Many restaurants use MSG disguised as flavour enhances especially in sauces. Generally I go to sleep, awake during the early hours of the morning feeling drugged ie palpitations, wakefulness and stomach discomfort. Good food does not need such products.

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30 May 2010 12:19 AEST

caroline

From:

unimpressed

You wear your ignorance like badge of honor. Who gave you the right to judge other peoples eating habits? Whetther they are picky or have a real allergy it is really none of your business. When you have suffered the symptoms of an allergy or food intolerance you will cringe at your stupid remarks.

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29 May 2010 13:20 AEST

Gill Stannard

From:

What's the real issue?

Food allergies and intolerances are real, though often misunderstood. What fascinates me more is the current public vehemence against those who eat differently. Vegetarians used to be the whipping boy for such outbursts, though that is almost understandable in a country whose economy once relied on sales of meat and dairy, it could be unAustralian to be a vegan. The mass of anti-allergy pieces in the press of late makes me wonder "what's it to you?".Why is it so challenging to the unafflicted?

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29 May 2010 12:23 AEST

another outspoken female

From: melbourne

it's all in the definition

Sigh. This study has birthed dozens of similar articlel accusing those with food reactions as being picky eaters. The study, nor your article, doesn't address food intolerances http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_allergy_and_intolerance. As for MSG, a dud dumpling can cause nausea/vomiting/diarrhoea while an MSG intolerance will cause breathing difficulties, mood changes, skin reactions etc. Anyone with a real food intolerance would prefer not have one.

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29 May 2010 8:14 AEST

Jane

From:

allergy or dislike

When working in a restaurant once I had someone try and convince me that they were allergic to dark chicken meat and could only eat white meat. Naturally I scoffed and said that sorry, you are not allergic as you cant be allergic to only one small part of a bird, the truth is you just dont like dark meat. And unfortunately its people like this person who cause skepticism about allergies. I personally would rather treat all "allergies" as geniune except when they are as pathetic as the above.

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28 May 2010 12:26 AEST

Lisa

From:

Caution

I am frustrated with people who falsely claim food allergies, but for a different reason. My brother has a severe peanut allergy and has to carry an epi pen to avoid actual death if he has even the slightest hint of peanut. Because of the people who cause a fuss due to preference, my brother is treated with suspicion and disbelief which has put him in a couple of life threatening situations. I feel safer giving the benefit of the doubt - for the sake of the real cases. Please be tollerant.

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28 May 2010 9:51 AEST

Tammi

From:

Allergies are overstated

Thanks for this, Phil (& for the levity, Neil). Some will always miss your point that people are over-reporting allergies beyond what we know prevalence to be - of course there are legitimate allergies & other gastro-intestinal disorders that can make people feel bad about certain things they eat. But my word, those who abuse the excuse of allergies had best not sit next to me either. If you don't like something/are squeamish - say so. Your false allergies reflect badly on those with real ones.

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About this Blog

A blog about what the world eats, when and where it eats it, and why it matters to us all. Only much less ambitious than that sounds and with more excruciating puns.

Phil Lees grew up in rural Victoria, the first generation in his family to not have lived on the farm and thereby not slaughter their own meat.

In 2005 he moved to Cambodia and started the nation’s first food blog, Phnomenon.com, named after the best pun that he has ever made. It turns out that Cambodian food is delicious and unlike the warnings in most guidebooks, is not likely to kill you with any immediacy. Gridskipper called him a “national treasure”. Lonely Planet’s Greater Mekong guide called him “the unofficial pimp of Cambodian cuisine”. The New York Times laughed at a funny hotdog he saw.

Phil makes a mean sausage, a hoppy pale ale, a modest laksa. He owns three barbecues and is in the market for a fourth.

 
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