blue sky

Home     Display     HandyHints

strawberry, flowers and peanuts
They seem to be on the increase, but why?

Some of our older generation will claim allergies to be a modern-day phobia that were never an issue in their day. Despite knowing this isn’t true, I have to admit that people seem to suffer more now than they ever did in the past, and I wonder why that is. Are we growing less resilient, softer in fact; or is it that we are being subjected to an excess of alien substances which our bodies fail to handle? During the Roman occupation of Britain, newly arrived soldiers had a similar problem. Having been brought up on grains and fruit, many suffered an allergic reaction to meat which was the only food their foragers managed to scrounge because the Brits had destroyed everything else. Presumably the majority got used to it, but I daresay the odd one who never did was stuck with an upset stomach for the remainder of his tour of duty until he could return home to resume his old diet. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy because first-time exposure to an alien element that results in a bad reaction can change a person’s tolerance not only to the ingredient in question, but also to other seemingly unrelated substances, sometimes forever.

Take the case of my father. He loved cooked crab-meat which he ate frequently without a problem; but after being stung by a jellyfish, just a trace of any shellfish would cause him to blow up like a balloon. Something had apparently changed in his digestive system or metabolism. I gather he was not unique in this respect, because I have heard of people having similar experiences requiring them to be cautious of what they eat or touch in future. Many more, however, who don’t have such a drastic reaction, still suffer when exposed to particular substances that their system rejects, on occasions most severely. The rest of us are lucky in having a constitution that copes well in most instances, and the times it doesn’t we shrug off the discomfort in the knowledge that it will probably be short-lived. I guess what I am saying is that everyone is allergic to something and past generations would have been no different.

I imagine even a Troglodyte blundering into a clump of poison ivy would have suffered in the same way as modern man; but he would simply have taken the consequences as just another downside of a cruel life and moved on. Later, in civilised times but before medicine was a real science, anyone afflicted by a mysterious illness might have visited the local crone for a charm or potion to fix the curse that had presumably been visited on them. I don’t doubt that occasionally the dubious cure worked, the herbs and elements employed in those times being the basis of today’s drugs and medicines; but I also imagine there would have been a pretty high failure rate. The one thing favouring a patient’s eventual recovery was probably less to do with evil-smelling concoctions than it was the life they were forced to lead. Disease was rife, sanitation non-existent, and good health was thought to be enhanced by washing as infrequently as possible and wearing the same clothes for six months. Food would have been relatively simple and generally the same for every meal, depending on availability. When it started to run short, they just ate less and still survived – well, most of them. There’d have been a few who wouldn’t make it to the next harvest, but the rest, by frequent exposure to the causes, had probably developed immunity to many ailments that would have seen us running to the doctor every five minutes. As for allergies – the word hadn’t been invented yet.

Essentially, the only difference between then and now, at least with respect to food, would seem to be quantity and quality. Even early in the twentieth century when lifestyles had improved considerably, along with the preparation and choice of meals that people ate, only the rich could afford refrigeration, so the ingredients used had to be fresh. As for preservatives, they were very basic – salt, vinegar, oils and sugar, natural substances that everyone was used to and able to tolerate. Boring though it might have been, locals tended to stick with the diet they had been brought up on. But as populations increased, there was a need not only to increase food production, but also to find better ways to store any surplus. The introduction of chemicals seemed to be the answer, perhaps at the expense of taste which was eventually offset by extra substances that were added to improve flavour and colour. Before long people were eating much more than just plain food, being forced to ingest all manner of supplementary ingredients, so many that they are more conveniently known by number than their actual name.

Next page

Click this Click for PDF file image to view or print complete article.

  Top of page

Money     Health     Focus     Popcorn     Recipes     eBooks     About     Contact

copyright © 2011-2015  All Rights Reserved