Politics, hold the wheat germ
October 7, 2005 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Are significant food allergies evenly distributed across the political spectrum?

I meet many people who have significant food allergies and almost all are pretty far to the left of center, whatever center is nowadays. Common-sense declares that it should be fairly well distributed, but I'm not sure I've heard of too many people on the right with such aversions. I don't get too much company from the right, so I figure it could be just a coincidence of being in certain crowds.

So set me straight here. Take "significant" food allergies to be allergies that would prohibit a good percentage of a standard western diet such as wheat allergies, allergies to all nuts, gluten allergies, milk, soy, eggs, or combinations of those. And "prohibit" in the sense of not just causing mild discomfort but severe discomfort or danger. I'm mainly asking about Americans here, but if it crosses the oceans, so be it.
posted by ontic to Food & Drink (17 answers total)
 
Gluten/wheat intolerance (celiac disease) affects a non-insignificant portion of the world's population, across cultural and political bounds:

"Recent studies conducted by using more appropriate experimental designs and powerful screening tools demonstrated that CD in the United States is as frequent as in Europe in both risks groups and the general population. Similar results were obtained in Africa, South America, and Asia continents where CD was considered a rare disorder.

"Combined together, these studies revealed that CD is one of the most frequent genetically-based diseases of humankind occurring in 1 out of every 100 to 300 individuals in the general population worldwide."

(Source: Celiac Disease: The Past, the Present, the Future)
posted by Rothko at 10:43 PM on October 7, 2005


Also see "fallacy of biased sample". On the whole, what are the political leanings of the people you meet?
posted by Rothko at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2005


nih.gov says:
Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Certain ethnic and racial populations are more widely affected than others. As many as 75 percent of all African Americans and American Indians and 90 percent of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant. The condition is least common among persons of northern European descent.
But, by your stated standard, many people's lactose intolerance wouldn't count. For many, it causes only mild discomfort.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:32 PM on October 7, 2005


Yes, the fallacy of a biased sample may be in play. Perhaps your findings have more to do with the profile of people willing to publicly discuss their allergies. Those who have allergies AND advocate natural products, harbour suspicion of Big Food, feel comfortable discussing health matters, and hang around university campuses may tend to the left.
posted by acoutu at 12:09 AM on October 8, 2005


In addition to engaging in selection bias and relying upon anecdotal evidence, you are also making a transitive leap in logic where it is completely unwarranted. Simply because someone is shopping at the hippy-dippy natural market doesn't make them politically liberal, it may simply mean they have a gluten intollerance and that market is the only joint in town that sells gluten-free baked goods.

Certainly there is a correlation between being very liberal and eating gluten-free foods, as there is one between being allergic to gluten and eating gluten-free foods. However, as we all know from elementary school logic, merely because A -> C and B -> C, it does not nescessarily hold that A -> B.
posted by ChasFile at 1:23 AM on October 8, 2005


Given C, of course.
posted by ChasFile at 1:23 AM on October 8, 2005


Maybe having a food allergy LEADS to behavior that seems more liberal to you, or fits more into your idea of liberalism. A person who is conservative who learns that they have food allergies may begin to shop at the local health food store. And people who shop at places like that seem more liberal. AND, if one is spending time in a health food store, learning about nutrition more, doing research, they may begin to behavior in more activist ways. Maybe their cause will become organics, etc. I am allergic to MSG. It give me migraines (the bad, throw up, 4-day kind). I am a liberal. But one of the worst attacks I ever had was after a Lucky Charms jag! After that, I did a lot of research on sites about MSG labeling. I'm more of an activist about it now, and that makes me even more liberal than I was when I began. I have a cause. The cause is my own health.
posted by abbyladybug at 5:04 AM on October 8, 2005


The hardest core Fox viewer and liberal hater I know happens to have celiac's.
posted by mathowie at 7:07 AM on October 8, 2005


Some food allergies are more common among some ethnicities than others. I know that lactose intolerance is more common among people with high amounts of melanin in their skin. In fact, most of the world's people are more-or-less lactose intolerant.

In America, many darker-skinned people vote Democrat, so in this respect, I would say that, yes, Democrats in America are probably somewhat more likely to be lactose intolerant.

As far as other food allergies go, I couldn't begin to tell you.
posted by afroblanca at 8:16 AM on October 8, 2005


Bear in mind too that "liberal politics" aren't a package deal. You can be liberal on food-related issues — pro-labeling, pro-organic, anti-factory-farming, etc — and still conservative when it comes to guns, drugs, sex, war and the economy.

I can see how allergies could turn someone into a food activist, as abbyladybug describes. It's less likely that allergies would turn someone into a gay rights activist or an anti-war activist.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:47 AM on October 8, 2005


I don't know enough conservatives or allergy sufferers to offer any empirical support.

I've read references to people who claim food allergies but have no physiological basis. Steingarten and then more recently??? Steingarten suggests that people delude themselves into believing in these allergies. Obviously, these theories are insulting. Considering how little research I'm familiar with on the subject I guess I shouldn't believe them.

One possible reason for this may be related to politics. Liberals tend to think that the world needs to change and that society needs to protect its constituents from danger whereas conservatives tend to think that things are okay and people are fine on their own. In other words, liberals are predisposed to find danger. "Who knows what the pharmaco-agricultural industrial complex put in that cookie? It could kill me." Something on the order of a persecution complex. In this case, allergies are crucial to reinforcing the identity of the sufferer.

Of course, the pharmaco-agricultural industrial complex is evil and dangerous even if some liberals are deluding themselves about allergies.

Another possible explanation may be an American character trait - or merely an American stereotype. This one isn't related to politics and so it doesn't really address your question. I once read that Europeans are proud of how hard they worked to accomplish a given task whereas Americans are proud of getting it done with least amount of effort as if it were more impressive because they weren't even trying. In this light, diets aren't cool because they're hard work. All of the sudden people don't like fried foods or mayonaise or bagels or whatever it is they think is bad for them. Whether they pretend not to like them or pretend they have an allergy, it's a delusion in either case.

Either one of these theories could be tied into general snobbery. An individual's taste is so discriminating that his physiology is in tune with it. Again, this doesn't necessarily seem tied to politics.
posted by stuart_s at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2005


I once read that Europeans are proud of how hard they worked to accomplish a given task whereas Americans are proud of getting it done with least amount of effort as if it were more impressive because they weren't even trying.

Although I don't know for certain, I feel fairly confident that you have reversed "Europeans" and "Americans" in that statement.
posted by dersins at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2005


Response by poster: Thanks for the input so far. I don't think it's an error in logic to wonder whether the biased sample one admits to having might actually be representative (most people I meet in the south have southern accents -- is the incidence of people with southern accents actually less elsewhere?), and I never assumed that everyone in Whole Foods was on the left.

But given the facts Rothko and Zed_Lopez dug up, I guess the only question is whether significant food allergies tend to have an influence on one's politics via social factors. Matt's case suggests it certainly isn't guaranteed but I am still curious as to whether there is a trend, perhaps explained by speculation like stuart_s's or anecdotes like abbyladybug's.
posted by ontic at 10:27 AM on October 8, 2005


I think it's because we liberals are a bunch of whiners and complain to everyone about our food allergies, whereas chip-on-the-shoulder rugged individualist right-wingers believe that admitting such would be taken as a sign of weakness. :)
posted by luriete at 1:47 PM on October 8, 2005


Well, if you look at "liberals" in terms of being someone who comes from a long line of well-educated people (something many liberals here like to claim) or as someone who is from the East Coast/West Coast and not Middle America, etc., and "conservative" as a Red State-er Wal Mart-shopper, the liberal is more likely to come from the insular upper classes that marry within their own small group, whereas the conservative would have a larger group of potential partners, thus lessening the chances of marrying someone whose DNA is close to their own and reducing incidence of genetic disease.

It's a stereotype, but that's kind of intrinsic to the nature of the question.

I do think the fact that liberals are more vocal is the biggest part, though. It's the difference between "Oh, I can't have that" mentioned when it becomes relevant and "This product is evil, it caused..." some sort of allergic reaction.

Then again, the one person I know with the most allergies in the world is a conservative evangelical Christian. But she's also rich, so maybe it is class that's the issue.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:39 PM on October 8, 2005


Center/Right Celiac here. In contrast to the "celiac's makes you hang out in Whole Foods which makes you a hippy", I can offer that celiac's has made me cheer on the development of GM food so that someday scientists can bio-engineer wheat that doesn't have gliadin (the specific protein that makes you sick) in its gluten. Then they can market that wheat to me in the form of yummy yummy bread.

(Unlabeled GM food is still a bad thing, though.)
posted by Asparagirl at 4:23 PM on October 8, 2005



I never thought of this as a political survey, but I've met quite a few new-age-ey, socially concious people (and others) who identify themselves as "allergic" to various things, without any evidence. They've never been for allergy testing, and they don't have the usual allergy symptoms (hives, hayfever, asthma). I suspect they're really saying, "I don't like this food/smell/situation".

I don't see this as correllating with Liberalism; instead, I think the drug companies have done a great job of informing people about the prevalence of various allergies in order to sell more stuff.
posted by sneebler at 7:35 AM on October 9, 2005


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