Thursday, July 29, 2010

Joel Stein's Mea Culpa

A few of you may remember a little Op-Ed my friend, Joel Stein wrote for The LA Times. It was called, "Nut Allergies- A Yuppie Invention". It made fun of the hysteria surrounding nut allergies with lines like, "Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special." He also questioned the rise in food allergies and thought that it is a yuppie created phenomenon. Naturally, many in the allergy community were shocked and appalled. He got a lot of hate mail. There were rebuttals all over the blogosphere. And a doctor named Robert Wood wrote an opposing Op-Ed called, "Food Allergies Are Nothing to Laugh About." I even wrote my own blog post about the whole situation, after I had told him personally about how I was disappointed with his column. He made me promise to not kill him or otherwise cause him bodily harm the next time we ran into one another. I kept my promise.

Last month, Joel contacted my husband and asked if I would be interested in being interviewed for an article that he was doing for Time. It seems, that Joel's son who is just 15 months old has been diagnosed with having nut allergies. Let me be clear, I NEVER would have wished this on them. Although there were many that did. Personally, I like to spread positive energy around the universe and I would be happy if the food allergy well dried up and everyone could have the freedom to eat ANYTHING that they want.

Joel offered to take me out so that he could "eat crow" and we could discuss this whole situation. We met at Joan's, which is one of my favorite LA restaurants. (BTW, totally unrelated, but I saw Michael Voltaggio, Top Chef winner, there. Not a bad sign when you are eating at any dining establishment!) We sat for close to 2 hours, as he told me what had happened the night that they found out that Laszlo is allergic to nuts. And I talked about Ella, gave him my theories about all things related to allergies and we gossiped about mutual friends. He has come full circle on the way he looks at food allergies. Tomorrow, his mea culpa of sorts will appear in Time, called "Aw, Nuts!" It is an entertaining article. Check it out if you get a chance.

I hope that everyone will back off on sending Joel and his family bad vibes. They are good people, truly.


Anonymous said...

I did read this article. He has a good way of adding humor to what he writes. Scary though, how your own words come back to bite you.

I also read the aricle he wrotes in the La Times. One thing that stands out for me, is people that complain about others and how it may be that someone gets special treatment and because of them, my kid can't have the pbj sandwich at lunch. I always think to myself, people should not be so quick to criticize because they never know when they may need those special accomodations in their own life.

His son is young and hopefully he will outgrow this as I wish this for all food allergic people.

Next week we are going to a new allergist and hoping for some good results.


Krista said...

After my sister read the article she emailed me stating that we should comment on the article with the following, "While we believe that children can and do have allergies to foods, we believe his kid is suffering from the mass studipity caused by his father and others like him." Does he regret his words? Does he understand the damage he inflicted on innocent children? "Mea culpa" seems too "oh my bad, sorry I bumped into you" He needs to come out and say, "I AM SO SORRY, I AM SUCH AN IDIOT, I HAD NO IDEA!" I feel for his son, as food allergies ARE REAL AND DEADLY, but as for Joel...Karma is a total b***h!

Heidi Miller said...


Thank you so much for leaving your comment. I am so happy that you found my blog. We are fighting a dual war, 1) To combat the food allergy and 2) Against ignorance and all of those creeps that think that we are making it all up. Joel did not say it in his article, but when he interviewed me I told him that I feel like we are fighting an uphill battle and his LA Times article really gave fuel to the fire of those who are not looking out for the best interest of our children. He has a lot of power to affect public opinion (he doesn't think that he does) and this is a scary world. In the past week I have gotten a few responses from people who represent the worst that humanity has to offer. We HAVE to protect our children. Locking them up and home schooling them is not the answer. We need to get to the bottom of why this is all happening and fix it.

People need to stop questioning whether or not food allergies are real. The statistics state that these types of allergies are on the rise and at dramatic rates. Why do people not question someone who says that they have to control their diet due to heart disease? Or someone who is diabetic? It makes no sense.

On a personal note, I will tell you that Joel is a changed man over this situation. He is a comedian and a lot of his writing is based in humor. I think that the Time article does not capture the scope of his humility. He REALLY feels like he made a mistake. And even though I am really sad about his son's situation, I think that it has taught Joel a big life lesson. He is still cynical about a lot of things relating to the science of food allergies... like holistic type "doctors". But I think that overall, he is on board with the fact that it is real.

There is nothing more real than holding a child as they wheeze, covered in hives and fight to live. It is a nightmare that too many of us are suffering. I am sorry that you have been touched by this epidemic.

Please keep reading!



Heidi Miller said...
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Heidi Miller said...
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NotNutty said...

I feel so sorry for his child! What a harsh reality he has to live with...I'm nut allergic myself.

The article did make me chuckle. I think he still has some learning to do, but we all have to learn lessons from it to really understand.

I did have to laugh when he said he wasn't going nut free in the fiance laughed and said he isn't going nut free...yet!

Sadly food allergies have one Heck of a learning curve! I wish him well on his new life.

I do think it's interesting (funny) to think that when he advocates for his son, that someone will say "didn't you write the article about bogus allergies?"

He did so much damage! But, who knows? Maybe he will be a great advocate!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I still think he's a creep.

Jane Anne said...

I enjoyed reading your post on this- it's extra helpful to know what you said in the comments- that this situation has changed him, humbled him and made him remorseful. I am sorry he has to go on this journey with his son. It's tough. I hope that something good can come from it... maybe even more than just his "Aw Nuts!" column.

His awakening~
"Sitting up at 3 in the morning (after a visit to the emergency room), I found myself totally believing in the nut-allergy epidemic." from "Aw Nuts!" in the Aug 9 Time Issue

Ah, Joel, if you read this blog, I am sorry. I am thankful your son is okay.

kelly said...

i posted my own thoughts on this at my blog I have to tell you that I completely agree with you on not wishing any ill will on joel. even though i was so hurt by his column a year ago, i feel terrible that his child, another innocent child will have to endure a life living with food allergies. thanks so much for your post. :)

Heidi Miller said...


Thank you so much for your comment. Good can always come out of a bad situation and for me, just getting to connect with all of you has been wonderful.

Your post and your site are fabulous! I will post a link on my blog.

Thanks for finding me and reading!



PS: I totally agree with everything you said in your post. When I read the LA Times article, I was beyond disappointed. Thankfully, Joel no longer feel this way.

Anonymous said...

Joel Stein's child is just a baby, really. And except for accidents, keeping peanuts from toddlers is "easy." Mr. Stein has no idea what angst his family will suffer in future years if the nut allergy does not go away. I feel terrible for this family, regardless of Mr. Stein's original comments. Birthday parties, family parties (family often don't think allergies are real either), holidays, restaurants, if they dare, nursery, pre-school, grammar school, middle school, all of which have snack time, birthday party time, lunch, theme days, field days, baseball games, movie theaters, plane all know what I am talking about. It only gets harder, much like raising children, in general, gets harder with each year. And parents must always advocate for their children. And I don't for one minute believe his home will remain peanut free. In fact, if he kisses his child after eating something unsafe from outside the house, he could set off a reaction. I think this young father will grow up fast, and probably become an outspoken advocate for families with allergens - just let him have a "few" arguments with people who don't want to accommodate his child by going nut free at certain times. He might actually be rendered speechless - for a while.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous... the earliest years were the easiest years, by far. I feel for his son who will have to not only overcome the inherent obsticales associated with food allergies but also the ones produced, in abundance, by the careless and ignorant ranting over this topic by his own father.

The feeling of utter helplessness and fear for what could happen is something that stays with a parent who has witnessed their child at the brink of death. Compound that with the fact that it can happen through carelessness and ignorance and you have "the perfect storm" for the emotional upheaval that is produced from such a diagnosis.

I did not read his latest article, as I find what he has to say (since I read his article last Jan) is useless to me personally. I do not wish to introduce further stress into my life by lamenting over the abundance of idiocy of some.

I will say, however, that I am truly sorry for what his child will have to endure, and despite the mistakes of his father, he should not have to suffer the reprocussions of his actions. If his son is lucky, he will outgrow his condition. I remember that glimmer of hope...

Gina Clowes said...

Thanks for sharing this. I dont think any of us liked the original article but the references to karma are not very kind. If allergies were all about karma then all of us must be suffering our karmic debt.

In any case, I hope Joel will continue to learn about food allergies and hopefully share his experiences.

Take care,

Krista said...

I know for me, the references to karma have only been made because it is such a coincidental event. I use "Karma" as more of a sensationalized pop culture reference rather then blame. I think the real event that was not very kind and continues to be unkind is Joel's relentless proclamations of food allergies being untrue (in his first article) or not serious enough for peanut free tables or peanut free homes (current article). These are truly the most unkind and dangerous words that are being uttered. The moms/dads reading this blog are coming from a place of true disappointment and backlash from Mr. Stein’s first article. Joel continues to enabling bad food allergy behavior and I am not a fan.

Heidi Miller said...


Your feelings are completely understandable and valid. We have enough to deal with just keeping our kids safe. The last thing we need is ignorance and bigotry. And there are a lot of ignorant bigots out there. I say this, not about Joel, but about the monster that he was feeding when he wrote the LA Times article.

I started this blog after reading some pretty outrageous comments on a news website, after a story about a kid with food allergies. The anger I felt was a powerful motivator. And channeling that energy into a positive was very cathartic for me.

Networking with other people in our situation has been a life saver. If we stick together we will be able to move mountains. I am sorry that you have had to experience the food allergy ordeal. But hopefully blogs like this will help you along the way!

Your comments are much appreciated!



Anonymous said...

I did not read either of Mr. Stein's articles, however from the comments written here I get the just of the articles. I don't believe for even a minute that his home won't become a nut free home.

It is articles like his that just reinforce for me what my job is and that is to continue to talk. Every time someone makes a casual comment about allergies, is an opening for me to educate and influence their view point.

It is my hope that by the time my daughter goes to university (she is 10 years old) and is in a lecture hall with 200 students all she will have to say to the person next to her is "I am food allergic, my auto-injector is in the front pouch of my computer bag", and that person next to her will know what to do in the event of an emergency. As early as 30 years ago there wasn't a lot of understanding or accommodations for the physically handicapped, now we all know and understand the challenges and try to help where we can.

Empathy and accommodations come from understanding, which begins with education. Let's keep talking and changing the world, even if it has to be one person at a time.

Jen said...

I am glad I found your blog and I enjoy reading this particular post-someone who actually knows Joel Stein. I am one of these "allergic parents" her called in his LA article and I was one who wrote angry comments. When I first heard of how his own word came back to bite him, I cannot help but saying "yeah! I told you so!" But as soon as that "excitement" faded, I grew concerns to the child. After all, enemy of not, we are all battling the same disease, the unsolved food allergy mystery. Regardless Mr. Stein knows it or not, he is a public figure and his word DOES make an impact. I do not need the "apology letter" published like many angry readers, but I truly hope he will now use the knowledge to protect his son, and more importantly, use his celebrity status to educate people, to be an advocate for food allergy.

Kendra said...

@Anonymous, AUG 13 7:42

It is my hope that when your daughter goes to college in 8 years, and my daughter goes to college in 13 years, that life-threatening food allergies will be a thing of the past. Dr. Sicherer gave a 5-10 year estimate that there will be a proven treatment to build tolerance (as compared to a cure) and NONE of us will have to live in our current state of constant fear, including Mr. Stein (for whom I still bear much ill will) and his innocent child (for whom I bear none).

Sandy said...

Unfortunately not all children grow out of food allergies -- mine got more intense with age. Even as an adult, I have to deal with people who (as adults) believe that food allergies aren't that serious.

My (now) husband thought it was all in my mind - until the night I went into anaphylactic shock after drinking water from a pitcher that had shared a refrigerator with his leftover seafood in a foam take out box. (I said he could eat it as long as he kept his distance and he did).

I always expect my throat to close as a reaction; the severe abdominal pains didn't tip me off that I really should have used my EpiPen.

I was lucky -- after vomiting and fainting, it was out of my body and I felt fine, but not without scaring the life out of him, myself and the police (as he had called 911 in a panic).

I'm vigilant about what I eat but I can't watch every restaurant worker... I never know when cross contamination will happen. I can't be in a room that smells like seafood (let alone consume it); of course, now I recognize the abdominal pains as a sign to get fresh air.

And I would be considered "less sensitive" than younger patients like Laszlo because I can eat candy that was "processed in a facility that uses nuts" although I can't eat nuts directly.

I hope Mr. Stein's son's allergies stop at the nuts -- I've got 4 of the top ones (peanuts, tree nuts, seafood and shellfish), and it's not easy -- for me or my family members. At least for his son, the issue is much more mainstream than it was when I was the only kid in school with a peanut butter allergy.

Susan said...

Wow - I was totally shocked to hear about this today.

I responded to his column a year ago by writing that I hoped he "NEVER had to go through raising a child with food allergies".

This is something I'd never wish on my worst enemy. I am saddened by this development, but hopeful that Joel can use his 'celebrity' to spread awareness to help people understand this is not some joke. I long for the day when this is not an issue for our children!

Elizabeth Goldenberg, Onespot Allergy said...

This is what I wrote about Joel Stein's situation: "Joel Stein May Be The Best Friend The Food Allergic Community Never Had

Would you believe that one of my readers unfriended me on Facebook, unfanned by Facebook business page, stopped following me on Twitter, blocked me from following her, removed my petition in support of banning peanuts from airlines from her website AND removed all reference to my EpiPen belts and other allergy safety products from her website? The emotion behind her actions startled me (I think she inferred incorrectly that the comments I didn't like were from her site) but to remove references to a petition and products that help our community startled me more.

I've been in touch with Joel by e-mail, and I wish him and his son all the best. I'm happy to report that I've now seen about five welcoming and balanced articles about his situation.

Heidi Miller said...


Hard to imagine that people are angry with you for NOT attacking him. Haven't we all have enough to deal with without attacking one another? People make mistakes and they need to be forgiven. Joel has the potential of being a great advocate for us! (And I am working on him!)

Thanks for your comment! Hopefully this hysteria will die down soon.



Anonymous said...

I really feel for Joels child, but you are far more forgiving than I will ever be. His article was very damaging to children. He should become a spokesperson to find a cure for allergies!! People with public influence really need to think twice about what they say in the mass media when it comes to kids. I felt bad for parents of children with autism when Rush Limbaugh went on his cruel rant about them. I have a child with nut allergies and my hope is that there will be a cure or reliable treatment soon. Never wanted extra attention and would take my sons allergies any day so that he does not have to live with them.

Cheryl D. said...

I just found this blog post through Google. My daughter has a tree nut allergy (severe with cashew). When Joel Stein's op-ed piece ran, I was livid! I immediately wrote a sarcastic letter to him to to the LA Times thanking him for his informative article. I knew the LA Times would never publish anything dripping with so much sarcasm. Only they did! Yay! I never wished Joel go through this experience. However, I thought his ignorance at the time was appalling and incredibly disrespectful to parents who had to deal with this on a daily basis.

While it's terrible that his son is allergic to tree nuts, I hope Joel has learned to be less flippant in his writing about topics he doesn't have firsthand knowledge of.