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A pre-peanut history of food allergy

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Since 1990, food allergy has become synonymous with anaphylactic reactions associated with shellfish, milk, and, especially, peanut allergy. Rates of food allergy have mushroomed, contributing to changes in how food is produced, marketed, and consumed. Concerns about peanut allergy have changed what schoolchildren can have for lunch, affected how foods are processed and labelled, and led to the banning of peanut products in numerous public spaces. Food allergy is not new, but the seriousness with which it is treated is. For much of the twentieth century food allergy was a perplexing, dubious, and controversial concept that both divided and threatened allergists. I suggest this was due to: 1) the theoretical, diagnostic, and therapeutic challenges raised by food allergy; 2) the claims food allergists made about the scope and extent of their subject; and 3) the threat food allergy and food allergists posed to the scientific legitimacy of allergy.

This talk is part of the History of Medicine Seminars series.

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