Aside

Great Grandma vs. Mangoes

Food allergies have gained significantly more publicity in the past decade, it seems.  Food manufacturers have become more aware of food allergies in their labeling practices and since the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which requires ingredient labels to mention any top allergens present in the food, was passed the United States in 2006.

Food allergies are nothing new, however.  Before all of the publicity, legislature, and support for food allergic individuals became readily available and accessible, these people had to get by somehow.

My great-grandmother was born in 1906 and she had a severe mango allergy.  Her allergy did not cause her too much trouble as she was growing up in Iowa.  However, when she moved to Central America and had a mango tree in her front yard, she had to be more cautious.  Being more vigilant was no easy task in a time when not many people had heard of food allergies, and those that did know about them did not understand them very well.


My great-grandmother knew that if she touched the outside peel of a mango, a rash would appear on her hand.  One time, my grandmother left her purse, which she had been carrying after eating a mango at school, astray, and my great-grandmother picked it up to move it.  After touching the purse, though, her hand had the same rash.

She understood that touching the outside of a mango always initiated a reaction.  She wondered, though, if she could eat the inside of the mango if it did not have the peel on it.  One day, while home alone, she carefully removed the peel and tasted the inside of the mango.  Shortly after, the maid came home and found her passed out on the floor and called an ambulance.  (She was eventually okay.)

The great-grandmother’s attempt to eat a mango seems absurd to food allergic people today, but in that time in made perfect sense since she did not fully understand her allergy.  I wonder now how many people throughout history whose deaths or illnesses were credited to imbalances of the bodily humors or tendencies to become weak or ill actually had food allergies.

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3 thoughts on “Great Grandma vs. Mangoes

  1. I don’t think it was absurd of your grandma to test out the inside. For people who suffer an allergy to birch pollen, the skin of fruit such as apples can give them itchy mouths, although the inside of the fruit and even cooking the skins is completely fine. It’s not always clear as to what exactly causes allergies sometimes, but I think sometimes careful experimentation is a good idea. Preferably when someone else is with you!

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  2. Thanks for bringing this up! I often forget that by cooking some foods or removing the skin the food no longer causes a reaction. I have heard that some people with egg allergies can eat cooked eggs.

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  3. I wonder too how many deaths were not documented, even today I wonder if our stats on allergies are up to date. I know in Australia we aren’t too bad in recording stats such as this but worldwide – I wonder! Great article thanks!

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