Vitalism Signs

By Rebecca Koch

As regular readers know, I have a lot of pet peeves. Actually, they’re much more than pets. My peeves are like cherished children, held close and suckled on the milk of incredulity at others’ (and even my own) behaviors. In other words, I often find myself royally cheesed-off. Speaking of cheese, you know what really bugs me? People’s eating habits.

I was raised by a father who was an astonishingly picky eater. Seriously—we’re not talking “hold the onions” sort of picky here. We’re talking about bafflingly quirky and contradictory pickiness. For instance, my father would not eat chicken, turkey or fish, but would eat liver and oysters. He would not eat squash or green beans, but he would eat rutabagas. His array of acceptable foods was so narrow, my mother always cooked two meals: one for herself, my brother and me, and another for my father. When I was about 17, I realized that many of the foods that I claimed I didn’t like were really “leftovers” from early childhood, and I had no memory of ever having actually tried them.

So, I made a conscious effort to start tasting nearly everything that came my way. And, even though I’m now paying a price in fat for not being picky (especially where quantities are concerned), I enjoy being an adventurous and appreciative eater. I still understand having likes and dislikes, however. Even after trying and eating them for years now, I really just don’t like eggs—or more specifically, egg yolks. I’ve discovered that I can handle scrambled egg whites just fine. My husband has suggested that perhaps I have a mild allergy to egg yolks (or maybe just their sulfurous smell … or the brimstone the smell might presage. You know, maybe I’m allergic to the possibility that I really am going to hell in a handbasket).

In all seriousness though, allergies are no laughing matter these days. It’s clear that, even though a lot of people mask their childlike food pickiness as allergies, actual life-threatening food allergies are on the rise. Here in the Atlanta area, two young people have recently died of food allergies following meals at their school cafeterias. Those tragedies got me thinking about why it might be that when I was a kid (back before the earth cooled) no one had food allergies. It just wasn’t an issue or even a consideration. So I took a look at the CDC website and found that, from 1997 to 2007, food allergies in U.S. children under 17 increased by 20 percent. Food allergy-related hospitalizations have more than tripled. Interestingly, children with food or digestive allergies are two to three times as likely to have asthma or other allergic conditions. 

No one really seems to know why that is, but—get this—they’re positing the “hygiene theory.” Simply put, the medical community is saying that we’re not being exposed to enough disease and filth in order to build healthy, responsive immune systems. Sound familiar? It should, because “they” (and vitalists) have been saying something like that since the ’70s when they noticed that firstborn children have a high rate of asthma while fourth (or later born children) only rarely have it. So, now there’s more evidence that we’re crippling our children by overprotecting them and their immune systems. 

The medical community still isn’t asking the other questions or spending the money they need to in order to combat their own success in ensuring that people don’t exercise their immune systems. They’ve been very successful abetting the pharmaceutical industry in communicating that drugs and vaccines should be used to thwart natural symptomatic responses such as fevers, pains, sneezing and coughing. They’ve been on what now could be seen as a concerted campaign of crippling our immune systems so that communicable diseases that were once relatively harmless (like chicken pox and measles) have started to have increasingly deadly consequences. Now, it looks like we’ve become so immunologically compromised that even a peanut can kill us.