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Another Person's PoisonA History of Food Allergy$
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Matthew Smith

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780231164849

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231164849.001.0001

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Food Allergy Before Allergy

Food Allergy Before Allergy

(p.17) One Food Allergy Before Allergy
Another Person's Poison

Matthew Smith

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines how physicians in previous centuries came to understand and explain the bizarre symptoms that some people experienced after eating particular foods. Rather than attempting to prove that reports of bizarre food reactions were what we would now call food allergy, it shows how such responses were understood prior to the emergence of allergy as a medical and cultural phenomenon. How did physicians interpret strange responses to food before 1906? Were they common explanations for otherwise unexplained symptoms? If they were not a regular feature of medical practice, does this mean that reactions to food were unheard of—a conclusion that might support some current theories about the epidemiology of food allergy—or does it mean instead that compared with the vast amount of endemic infectious disease and nasty pathogens commonly found in poorly preserved food, they were believed to be clinically unimportant? Either way, what bearing does the history of such reactions, the prehistory of food allergy, have on the understandings of food allergy that emerged after von Pirquet coined his term?

Keywords:   food allergy, allergies, food reactions, physicians, von Pirquet

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