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Big Pharma Benefitting Off Food Allergies

Sometimes I sit and think about how I’m allergic to something natural, a plant, a legume, and it makes me see my food allergy in a different light. So often when I think of peanuts, my mind goes to ultra-processed forms like a jar of peanut butter or a PB candy, but I hardly ever consider the plant itself in its natural form.

For those of us with food allergies, it may be interesting for you to learn more about the natural ingredients you’re allergic to– almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, peaches, eggs, etc etc. It has been eye opening and caused a perspective shift for me as I’ve learned about peanuts and the peanut industry. I see everyday as people not-allergic view peanuts as harmless foods, but to me, my relationship with food and peanuts in particular is complicated and looks different, food can be threatening. To me, they’re a weapon– they’re poisonous!

Learning about your food allergy may not be something you’re wanting to partake in, and if that is the case, that’s totally understandable! Only recently did I see a peanut plant for the first time (on television/Netflix) and seeing it’s delicate flowers and the peanut farming community has shifted my perspective towards my deadly allergen that I’ve always viewed as an enemy. I learned about the benefits of using legumes as crop cover on organic farms, and the livelihood of peanut farmers, and it got me thinking about the cause of food allergies. As you may or may not know, the cause of food allergies is unknown, and I have to wonder if the rise in food allergies and the ‘food allergy epidemic’ we are living through is linked to something like pesticide use and toxic environmental practices. I am clearly no scientist, but not knowing the reason food allergies exist does leave me guessing, searching, and reaching for answers at times. Anyone else?

‘Rotten’ on Netflix

Maybe you’ve already seen it! Netflix released a docuseries called ‘Rotten‘ which focuses on the food supply chain, revealing some not-so-pleasant truths and exposing the hidden forces that often lie behind what we eat. Each episode focuses on a different food, like honey and garlic, but Episode 2 titled, “The Peanut Problem” takes a closer look at peanuts.

The description for the episode reads, “As food allergies skyrocket, scientists race to understand what’s changed in our bodies, while farmers and chefs contend with new challenges.” I have read mixed feedback online about the show in general, but I personally enjoyed some of their other episodes and learning about the food industry. I’ve always enjoyed documentaries and I love to learn. However, I actually began to get anxious and nauseated while watching, “The Peanut Problem” and I even feel this way after looking at photos of peanuts growing while looking for a photo to attach to this blog post! This negative response my body is having has me surprised– I didn’t think watching anything on television, or seeing an image of a peanut on a computer screen, could have this effect! Needless to say, I stopped watching the peanut episode only a few minutes in, so I can’t tell you my full thoughts on it.

I can tell you, however, that in the short amount of time I watched, I learned that peanut plants grows like ground-cover and have tiny yellow flowers. They look like the yellow buttercup flowers many of us probably enjoyed hunting for in the summertime during our childhood. To clarify, I don’t ever want to be near a peanut plant, but I did wonder about peanut “butter cups” and the origins of the popular candy bar, and if that was a connection they purposefully made. After stopping the episode, I’ve since read multiple books on peanuts, legumes, and common allergens, and have found reading about my allergen to go positively, where I feel comfortable learning about the history of the food and the purpose it serves in the world, in cultures, etc. I’m attaching an image of the peanut flowers that I actually think are really pretty below:

peanut ground cover - peanut plant - peanut allergy - invisibly allergic blog

Companies Benefitting Off Of Food Allergies

This takes me to my next point! Seeing peanuts in their natural form made me feel like the plant I’m so deathly allergic to, and have in the past put a lot of negative energy towards and blame on, has been innocently targeted by me over the years. I feel the same about other common food allergens. I so often get upset when I see people eating common allergens out and about, or when they’re used in food and at restaurants, but I am now working to shift my disruptive feelings off the peanut farmers and the occasional chef’s using peanuts, and put that energy more heavily towards the FDA, changing our healthcare system to serve the people who rely on it, and companies like Mylan (epi-pen) and kaléo Cares (avi-Q) who are benefiting off the growing number of food allergies.

While I am very thankful the epinephrine exists in a way where it’s easy to use, in 2012 alone, EpiPen sales were on track to bring in $640 million, and I’m not seeing any large amounts of money being donated meaningfully by them, or any meaningful changes happening to support the food allergy community that they’re GREATLY benefitting from. What about the company kaléo Cares that makes Avi-Q, and other pharmaceutical companies making $ off epinephrine sales? I am not fully in the know, but doing some quick online searches surrounding these companies and their growth and sales shows me that they are raking in the cash and I want to see more accountability in this space. Ultimately, there needs to be a separation between the life-saving drug I need and rely on, and the business making a profit off of it. I don’t see how food allergic individuals needs will ever be put first if they’re in the hands of the business profiting off of allergies to begin with.

It sounds funny to type and say out loud, but often my peanut allergy doesn’t even feel like I’m allergic to a food that is naturally grown. I feel like it’s me against a ton of processed foods, against public places, chef’s, and random people on the street who have no idea I have a severe allergy, and this has led me to have a disconnect between my food allergy and it actually being a natural food. I think this disconnect is common in the United States, and other countries. When I was reading the book, How To Be A Conscious Eater, it said that if you ask a child where a steak comes from they say, “the store”. There’s a real disconnect happening in our food supply and practices and our eating habits. I have to wonder if the public saw more of the behind-the-scenes of how our food is processed and handled- the animal abuse, the pesticide use, the farmers working for low wages or no wages, we wouldn’t want things to continue on the way they are. I believe we would demand change.

I feel the same way about if people could visually see cross-contact in action at a facility or even at the farming level. If someone saw their allergen was being grown and then milled and sorted at the same place as others items they buy at the grocery, they likely wouldn’t want to eat it because of the risk of contamination. Similarly, if you see your favorite ice cream being processed on shared equipment as your deadly allergen, you’d likely weigh the risks a little differently. But right now, there isn’t a window into those processes and scenarios. It’s not accessible to the public.

Like I said, the ‘Rotten’ documentary episode was the first time I’ve seen peanuts in their raw form, and with them being such an enemy of mine, I forgot their literal roots and their innocence in all this! It ultimately reminded me that food allergies are human-created, so we need to start looking at what we’ve done as a society that has caused the spike in allergies and what we can do to stop it. Without getting too political and talking on topics I’m not an expert on, I do believe there is a strong link between mass amounts of toxic pesticides and chemicals being put on our food, and not to mention chemicals allowed to be dumped into our water supply. This needs to be stopped and replaced by more natural, organic methods ASAP, because we’re already seeing, feeling, and living the impact it has on us. It’s the same with our society using too many antibiotics in our food and this leading to antibiotic resistance– sure, antibiotics have benefits when an animal is sick, but they also have negatives, and it seems those negatives are often overlooked. The book I mentioned above, How To Be A Conscious Eater, gets into detail about this side of the food industry in relation to meat, fish, and poultry.

So, Are Peanuts Toxic to Humans?

I have learned over the years that peanuts, in particular, can often require a lot of pesticides and fungicides to successfully grow due the toxic fungus (aspergillus and aflatoxin) that occurs on the shells and spreads into the soil and air. The same article I linked above for the revenue of epi-pen in 2012 statistic explains the pesticide use better than I ever could here on Invisibly Allergic:

I suggest if this is interesting to you, google, “are peanuts toxic to humans?” and “nuts and aspergillus and aflatoxin” to learn more on this topic from sources you trust! A lot of websites come up and it can be hard to know which to trust, but I try to look at the website and see if it’s coming from a biased place. There are a lot of podcasts, books, and resources that exist on it and it is something I’m only recently starting to learn about. It seems to be a larger issue outside of the US but is still interesting to learn about, I feel, here’s a lengthier article from Discover Magazine called, “The Peanut Plague “.

I’ll end this post by saying there is a documentary called Biggest Little Farm that was honestly tough for me to watch for a few reasons, but I was glad I stuck it out and finished it. It was hard for me to watch partially due to the specific farm being so expensive to begin and run, and partially due to the cycle of life being shown so openly and seeing animals being killed in the natural cycle of life. But overall, it was absolutely magical to see how an organic farm can support itself overtime and how nature has a way of balancing itself out . If you haven’t seen it, I’m not saying it’s the best film in the world, but I learned a ton about organic farming and what it takes to run an organic, sustainable farm. It was incredible to see barren land being transformed into rich soil, and how everything else on the farm was able to benefit once a strong ecosystem was established.

I’m curious how others feel on this subject. Has anyone else with a peanut allergy seen the ‘The Peanut Problem’ episode and have an adverse response? What do you think the is causing food allergies to rise after you’ve done research on the subject? How do you think we should hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for benefitting from the rise in food allergies and therefore, the need for life-saving epinephrine in an easy-to-use format?




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