Also known (to the more medically inclined) as Type I Hypersensitivity is a disorder of the immune system. I have some allergies myself – some known, others more mysterious. For example, I know that I have an adverse reaction to chrysanthemums after they’ve been sitting in the vase for a day or so – but this is fairly easy to manage. I also seem to be allergic to something airborne here in the countryside of South Cambs, or so I deduce given that my symptoms tend to be worse when its windy and non-existent when I visit major conurbations (oddly, there is no estate agent inspired show called ‘Escape to the City’ or ‘Escape from the country’). It’s not hayfever – that would be far too normal for yours truly- as I am afflicted at quite different times of year. I think fungi may be involved: their spores may be taking revenge for the sheer number of mushrooms I have consumed over the years.
Some allergies have gained greater public awareness than others and I think nuts may be in the gold medal position. This rather puzzles me as I believe the most serious culprit is the peanut, which isn’t a nut at all but a legume. Packets and tins of peas and pulses – close relatives of the peanut – are not marked with dire warnings to protect the sensitive, whereas a packet of largely unrelated hazelnuts warns me (in a rather unnecessary way) that it contains nuts. So too does a packet of walnuts, but it is being economical with the truth: a walnut, like the almond, brazil and pecan, is not a nut.
Those with an adverse reaction to gluten or cow’s milk can also expect to find warnings to protect them from inadvertently consuming their nemesis. However, I know people who cannot touch celery and coriander (OK, touching might be alright, but eating is definitely undesirable) and they are, as yet, are offered no such protection, having to rely instead on their own eternal vigilance. Such are the vagaries of life I suppose.
A few days ago, I was eating in a vegetarian restaurant and discovered a new, and rather alarming series of warnings on the menu. As well as tagging those dishes that were bland enough to satisfy vegans and others that may be afflicted by a rather loose definition of nuts, it showed those dishes that were “nightshade free”. Worryingly, given the famously deadly nature of nightshade (as I child, I used it to demonstrate the common fallacy that the natural was automatically good for you), only two dishes were actually nightshade-free – though worry not, dear reader, I survived despite not selecting either of these “safer” dishes for my supper.
Further research suggests that some poor unfortunates may be unable to eat from the family Solanaceae (of which nightshade is but one member, in the branch named for Atropos, the Fate who cuts short the thread of life) which denies them spuds, tomatoes, the aubergine and physalis: to name but a few. I think if I was unable to consume such a wide spectrum of staples (and the Chinese gooseberry), I might begin to wonder if I wasn’t cut out to be a vegetarian. Still, I have reason to believe that perseverance may be a virtue (though perhaps not one of the seven deadly virtues) – so good luck to them!