I was on Twitter the other night…taking a look at what the allergy community was up to when the very talented Alex Gazzola tweeted to draw attention to comments made in during Rick Steins’ Far Eastern Odyssey show aired on the BBC. Its not often that a cookery programme makes my blood boil. There was a short section when Mr Stein was talking to Tom Kime about street food. For reasons known only to Rick Stein he asked Tom Kime if he thought allergies exited in developing countries. Tom Kime’s answer was astonishing in its ignorance, but not exactly an unknown attitude to allergy sufferers. No he said…no allergies in the 3rd world, allergies are a developed nations issue as ‘we choose to be faddy’.
Where to begin with this?
Allergies are not a fad, not a passing gimmick to be mocked and dismissed. Allergies are a life-long condition that can be fatal for some people. By broadcasting this piece the BBC, and Rick Stein, are supporting the views that allergies are not to be taken seriously. A passing fad akin to a love of retro desserts. This attitude isn’t just insulting to sufferers but downright dangerous to those with serious allergies. Most of us who suffer, or have allergic children, have had to deal with the awful consequences of others not taking our allergies seriously. We become ill, sometimes very ill because people think ‘a little bit can’t hurt’. Often they aren’t around to deal with the reaction, to see the pain that can last for hours or days. The BBC has a duty of care, of being responsible, of not propagating the myth that allergies are not a ‘proper’ condition.
The comments aren’t only insulting but they are ignorant. In the proper sense of the world – lacking knowledge. A great deal of research is being carried out about allergies and one of the key areas being examined is the role of bacteria. Many people with allergies are low on gut bacteria; one of the theories is that as economies develop and people move away from land based activities that they are less exposed to the wide variety of bacteria which our systems need to work properly. Hence the prevalence of allergic reactions in more developed countries. As economies change, so does the health of the inhabitants, with allergies rising as other conditions fade.
Another consideration is, of course, access to medical care and a comprehensive medical system that tracks health issues. I can’t help but believe that there are allergies in developing nations, but perhaps not the infrastructure to report and track allergic reactions. For a more informed view about allergies in developing countries read Alex Gazzola’s fine article posted on Foods Matter -
-where he discusses the rising issue of allergies in India. A much more knowledgeable source than Tom Kime!
One small consolation is that they did acknowledge that Vietnamese food was largely free of wheat and dairy. Well…that would reduce allergic reactions – wouldn’t it?
Shame on you Mr Stein, and on the BBC.
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