food allergies, little house on the prairie, nutrition, pseudoscience

Romanticizing the past

This blog post seems to be making its way around Facebook.  I hesitated to provide a link to it, as I really don’t want to drive any more traffic to her page, but then I figured that hey, my readership is small enough that there’s no way it’ll make a difference!  Plus, I should give credit where credit’s due.

The title of the blog piece is, “Why your grandparents don’t have food allergies…but you do.”  She makes seven assertions to support her…hypothesis (I use that term lightly).  She provides no scientific supporting data for her assertions.  Here are her reasons, and my refuting of each point:

1) They ate seasonal real food.

Food came from farms and small markets in the early 1900′s, and because food preservatives were not widely used yet, food was fresh. Because of the lack of processed food, their diets were nutrient dense allowing them to get the nutrition they needed from their food.
For babies, breast milk was valued and it was always in season.

Personally, my grandparents grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan. I wouldn’t exactly say that farm-fresh food was the norm.  In fact, malnutrition was rampant in the early 20th century.  (See how I provide links with real research to back up what I say?)  Let’s not forget that eating seasonally in the Northeast means hardly any green veggies from September until June.  Her assertion that food preservatives and food processing were not widely used is so wrong that it’s laughable.  I mean, did she ever read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?   She can download it for free, but somehow, I doubt that she’s interested.  Anyway, the problems with food preservatives and processing were so bad that the US Congress passed The Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, and revised it in 1938.  I urge you to check out the link- it’s really interesting stuff.

Regarding breast milk- sure, it’s always in season.  Except when the mother died in childbirth, as did 6 to 9 out of every 1000 women who gave birth at the beginning of the 20th century.  Similac was invented in 1925, a true life-saver. For comparison’s sake, the maternal mortality rate in 2007 was 12.7 per 100,000 live births.

2) They didn’t diet, and play restrictive games with their body and metabolism. They ate food when food was available.

Our grandparents did not fall victim to fad diets, food marketing, calorie counting, and other detrimental dieting habits that are popular today (in part because the marketing infrastructure didn’t exist yet). Because of this they had a healthy metabolism, and ate according to their body’s needs and cravings.

This one is beyond ridiculous.  Fad diets have been around for ages, as has dieting.  For example, check out these diet ads from the 1920’s:

And, my favorite:
Yup.  A tapeworm diet.  If that’s not a “detrimental dieting habit,” I don’t know what is.  And let’s not forget about amphetamine use for weight loss.  Benzedrine was invented in 1935, and was marketed for weight loss as Dexedrine starting in 1937.

3) They cooked food at home, using traditional preparation methods from scratch.

Buying processed food was not an option, and eating out was a rare luxury. Lucky for our grandparents these habits actually increased their health.

I’m not going to argue the point that most food was cooked at home and that eating out was a luxury. However, as far as making food from scratch:  I give you Wonder Bread.  Invented in 1921.  Why?  Because baking bread from scratch is a big pain in the butt.  It’s time consuming.  And then it gets stale in a day or two.  And in between caring for large families, doing laundry, etc, etc, making food from scratch was something to be avoided, not aspired to.

4) They didn’t eat GMO’s, food additives, stabilizers and thickeners.

Food was not yet treated with additives, antibiotics and hormones to help preserve shelf life and pad the pockets of food producers in the early 1900′s at the expense of the consumer’s health.

Again, I give you Wonder Bread.  And Spam (1937).  And I refer you back to the article I linked about the history of food preservation in the US.

5) They ate the whole animal that included mineral richbone broths and organ meats.

Animal bones were saved or bought to make broths and soups, and organ meats always had a special place at the dinner table. These foods were valued for their medicinal properties, and never went to waste.

Actually, if those organ meats were valued at all, it was because they were cheap and better cuts were too expensive. Meat consumption in the US has increased by 100% since 1920.  As a matter of fact, meat consumption stayed low and steady up until about the 1960s, when intensive cattle farming methods reduced the price.  I think this is another case of assigning a moral value to a choice that was made out of economic necessity.

6) They didn’t go to the doctor when they felt sick or take prescription medications. Doctor visits were saved for accidental injuries and life threatening illness.

When they got a fever, they waited it out. When they felt sick, they ate soups, broths and got lots of rest. They did not have their doctor or nurse on speed dial, and trusted the body’s natural healing process a whole lot more than we do today. Their food was medicine, whether they realized it or not.

Thunk. Oh, sorry. That was my head hitting my desk.  Anyway.  Lots of people would have liked to go to the doctor when they were sick in the olden days.  They didn’t go for the same reason they don’t go today- it’s too expensive.  Or the doctor was unavailable, due to geography or other reasons.  And let’s face it- when our grandparents were young it was the pre-antibiotic and pre-vaccine era.  A lot of the time there just wasn’t anything the doctor could do.

You know, one of my paternal grandfather’s most cherished possessions was a photograph of his sister Rose, taken when she was about 13 or so.  Why was this picture so important?  This is why:

It’s a bit hard to see in this picture, but this is Rose’s death certificate.  She died in 1925, when my grandfather was seven.  As you can see, she was 16 at the time of her death.  Occupation is listed as “schoolgirl” and her cause of death was tuberculosis of the lung.  Ironically, my mother also had a great-aunt named Rose.  She died as a young child in the 1918 flu epidemic.  
So, let’s stop romanticizing days of yore when people didn’t go to the doctor, ok?  Because thanks to medical advances, we no longer have 16 year old schoolgirls dying of TB.

7) They spent lots of time outside.

Our grandparents didn’t have the choice to stay inside and play on their phones, computers and gaming systems. They played on the original play-station:  bikes, swing-sets and good ol’ mother nature!
True. And?  Your point is?  

She does an excellent job of romanticizing the past, but as I’ve shown, it wasn’t all sunshine and farms and fresh food and frolicking in nature.  Seriously, it’s like she read the first of the Little House on the Prairie books (Little House in the Big Woods), and stopped there.  She should have finished the series.  Spoiler alert: the whole family almost dies of malaria in book 2, Little House on the Prairie.  Mary goes blind after contracting scarlet fever in By the Shores of Silver Lake.  The whole family almost starves to death in The Long Winter.  And in The First Four Years, Laura’s infant son dies.  Then Almanzo has a stroke after contracting diphtheria.

Oh, for those golden days of the past!  If only we could go back to them, right?

Even is all of her assertions were true, which they clearly are not, what does that have to do with allergies?  She says:

Ifyour nutrition is inadequate, the integrity of each cell, tissue and organ in your body will suffer, thus you may be MORE sensitive to certain foods.”

What? Why?  That has no basis in reality.  It’s just something science-y sounding that she threw in there.  Allergies do seem to be increasing in prevalence.  Maybe.  The research isn’t done yet.  And even if they are more common, no one knows why.  Certainly not this blogger, who is just trying to sell her services as a “nutritional therapist, “ whatever that is.  Rest assured, it’s not an actual degree or anything.

There is also no reason at all to think that food allergies did not exist in our grandparents’ time.  The key is this…our actual grandparents might not have had food allergies by the simple virtue of the fact that they lived to procreate.  Anaphylactic allergic reactions are deadly, and in our grandparents’ time there was not going to be much anyone could do to save someone once they were in full-blown anaphylaxis.

So, people did have food allergies then.  They just were much more likely to die young from them.

And dead men tell no tales.

3 thoughts on “Romanticizing the past”

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