What’s the Deal with: Food Allergies?

It’s peanut butter cookie time!

My colleagues and I have a fun little arrangement: Whenever I get the urge to bake up a storm and test out new recipes, I  bring my creations to the office for a taste test–no matter how they turn out. It seems to work out pretty well. I get to indulge my passion for baking without ending up morbidly obese, while my co-workers get something sweet to eat. Everybody wins!

Except, of course, people who have food allergies. Luckily, no one I work with closely has any such allergies, but I’ve heard that some people who work in other parts of the office are sensitive to gluten, wheat and the like.

Which is why I hesitated when I decided to bake up a batch of peanut butter cookies, also from the Flour cookbook. You just never know. One minute you’re serving up delicious pastries, the next minute someone’s getting stabbed in the thigh with an EpiPen.

Mr. Peanut's gonna gitchoo. Via Good.is

Is it just me or does it seem like food allergies are worse now than ever? When I was a kid, I don’t remember not being able to bring peanut butter sandwiches to school, nor did I see any food labels that say “this product has been made in a facility that processes peanuts.”

According to the FDA, two percent of adults and five percent of children and infants have food allergies, and every year,  about 30,000 people go to the emergency room because of those allergies. About 150 actually die. Seems like a small number, but significant nontheless.

And a Mount Sinai School of Medicine study released in 2010 found that the number of children with peanut allergies have tripled since 1997 to 2008. No one seems to have a definitive answer as to why these allergies are on the rise, although one theory is that our germaphobic way of life has sissified our immune systems, making them super sensitive to otherwise harmless proteins floating around in our food and environment.

Another theory blames genetically modified foods as the root cause of food allergies (it’s from an organic consumer organization, so take it with a big grain of  salt), while another points to misdiagnosis as the main reason for the statistical jump.

The most recent study I found says that highly educated people are more likely to have children with peanut allergies, since, you know, we bookish, nerdy types are supposedly addicted to Purell and Wet Ones. (Not true, by the way. I think germs are a good thing and rarely use antibacterial anything unless I’m taking Megabus and can’t wash my hands with water and soap.)

The food allergy thing is getting so out of hand that it became fodder for my new favorite show, Portlandia:

Whatever the reason, our culture is being hyper-vigilant about allergies, which I suppose is a good thing if people can die because they smell peanuts or accidentally eat wheat. Could you imagine biting the dust because of a teeny shrimp? I feel bad for people who can’t eat certain things, especially for people who love food as much as I do.

I don’t know what I’d do if I could eat eat a lobster roll, an omelet, or a nice hunk of Époisses cheese. But until the day comes when a medical professional tells me I can’t eat peanut butter cookies, I’ll keep reaching for more. And even then there’s no guarantee I’ll listen to doctor’s orders.

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