Monday, August 23, 2010

I Wouldn’t Wish Allergies on Anyone

by Kelley Lindberg

Back in January of 2009, Joel Stein wrote an essay for the LA Times proclaiming that food allergies are made up by hysterical parents who crave attention. It caused a lot of controversy, obviously. (“Nut Allergies – A Yuppie Invention,” LA Times, Jan. 9, 2009. )

Understandably bothered by his misinformation, I responded by writing my own article on my blog. My article began with “Dear Joel, I’m glad no one you love has a severe food allergy. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” ("Countering Hysteria," Food Allergy Feast blog, Jan. 19, 2009)

You’ll never guess what happened. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Stein wrote an essay for Time magazine. Turns out, his one-year-old son has developed nut allergies. Read his new essay here: “A Nut Allergy Skeptic Learns the Hard Way,” Time, Aug. 14, 2010.

In this latest essay, he describes how many people wrote to him after his earlier column, saying they wished he would have a child with food allergies someday. What a hateful thing to wish. Why is it human nature to lash out violently, rather than try to educate and reach a mutual understanding? After all these thousands of years, we’ve got a pretty impressive track record showing that throwing bigger and bigger rocks doesn’t really have the effect we were looking for.

So Joel was throwing rocks, parents of allergic kids were throwing rocks right back at him, and no one made any progress, unless you count progress towards more reactionary and poisonous backlashes on both sides. Gee, I’m underwhelmed with surprise.

I didn’t wish for Mr. Stein to become intimately familiar with a parent’s fear. I DID wish for him to become more informed, more aware, and less inclined to propagate dangerous misinformation. Of course, his career is based on writing amusing, barbed commentary skewering anything he feels like. Being a big fan of the First Amendment, I don’t have a problem with that. My only problem is when writing those opinions might cause a child to be put in a life-threatening situation. We writers sometimes walk a blurry line between informing and harming, and it's important to approach that blurry line with a deep sense of responsibility.

Now, Mr. Stein has written this new essay admitting that his son has developed nut allergies, and that he’s having to eat some crow. That takes a big man to do that. It takes an even bigger man to do that in a national spotlight, like in Time magazine, for example. I’m sure there are plenty of small-minded people out there who are taking some sort of sick satisfaction out of this unfortunate turn of events in the Stein family’s lives. But the fact remains there’s a small child who’s affected here, and that child’s safety – like all of our food-allergic children’s safety – is all that truly matters.

So here’s my response to Mr. Stein’s latest essay:

Dear Joel,

I’m so sorry to hear that your son has developed food allergies. This will add a layer of worry to the already worry-filled job that we call parenting. But fortunately, there are many resources, both online and in your own community, that offer education, nut-free products, school action plans, recipes, and tips for making your child’s experiences with everything from playdates to school to birthday parties to dating (yes, that will be here before you know it!) safe and “normal.”

I’m sorry you’ve had to join the ranks of parents of allergic kids, Joel. But we welcome you to our ranks, too, because here is where you’ll find the information and strength to absorb this new aspect of life into your routines of daily living. We’re all in this together, and we are happy to help.

Kelley Lindberg
Mom of a peanut-allergic kid


Suz said...

Well said Kelley!

Ecologista said...

Yes well said, however as an adult with food allergies I do sometimes feel "left out" and as a new parent I do worry about the children that come into my home ending up like me.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

You're right, it isn't fun to feel left out. That's why education is so important -- the more people know, the more they care. Thanks for writing!