Friday, August 13, 2010

Joel Stein's Time Article

This is not my first post about the Time Magazine article but I wanted to let you know that Joel's mea culpa regarding food allergies can now be read online, in its entirety.

Joel and I are friends and as it sometimes happens with friends, we once had a difference of opinion. A big one. He originally wrote a very controversial Op-Ed for the LA Times where he stated that food allergies is a yuppie phenomenon. He rubbed thousands of us the wrong way when he said, "Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special." I do not think that I am alone here when I say that he was incorrect on both counts.

My daughter's severe allergies to several foods makes us feel a little too special. I would much rather take a heavy dose of "normal", thank you very much. Joel did an incredible amount of damage to those of us who struggle with allergies, every day. He fed into the beast of ignorance; giving fuel to the fire of those who think that we are just making this whole thing up. If you have ever rushed a child to the ER, as they are covered in hives and gasping for air, you know just how real this thing is. It is a living nightmare. And because people who are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts tend to react to them in a much more severe way, read anaphylaxis, it is a dangerous situation. As parents the most imprtant thing we have in our arsenal is ability to spread awareness, through education and communication. This is an epidemic that is affecting more and more families each day. We are tired of a debating whether or not allergies are real or if they are on the rise. We simply want to get down to the business of finding out why this is happening. And if we cannot stop it, we need to work on a way to cope the best way that we can.

This is what I had to say about the whole thing on my blog, at the time of Joel's original piece...

Back then, Joel and I exchanged several e-mails about our differing opinions. As I have said before, we are friends. And it was all handled in a very friendly way. Nothing I said could persuade him. I happen to come from a family of political opposition. Some of us are staunchly Democrats and some of us are proud Republicans. Even though I have developed a fine debate technique, I have learned that sometimes people will just think what they are going to think. You can love them for every other part of their personality and respect them, but often, they cannot be swayed. I can still love them for who they are, even when they are being thick headed and irrational. Joel and I ended our dialog by him making me promise to not kill him the next time we saw one another socially. I kept my promise.

And then a few months ago Joel found out that his son, who was barely a year at the time, is severely allergic to nuts. He had the typical experience... trip to the ER, allergy testing, panic and in his case, regret. His eyes were opened in a whole new way. Many people had wished some sort of karmic pay-back to Joel, because of his LA Times piece. I was not one of them. The last thing the world needs is another child with food allergies. And I am so sorry that little Laszlo now has to endure this reality. Joel decided to write another article, this one for Time Magazine; a mea culpa of sorts. He interviewed me for the column. He wanted to talk over the whole thing with me, while still processing his child's allergic reaction. We sat for two hours over lunch. We discussed how we handle my daughter's allergies in our home, the testing, the doctors, the lifestyle. We theorized why this is all happening. We had non-related friendly conversation. It was a lovely lunch. At the end of it I really got the feeling that Joel has been brought to his knees over this situation and that he does, indeed, feel remorseful. He is known for playing a devil's advocate and often takes on "the other guy's" opinion. But I think that he realized he crossed a line with his LA Times article. He owed a big apology to allergy sufferers. He needed to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness.

The Time article arrived on news stands two weeks ago. Because Joel is a comedian, much of what he wrote came across as being insincere. Several people have commented to me that they do not think he is taking the whole thing seriously. I do not live inside of his head, but as his friend I can tell you that he is. He is not a monster. He is just afraid that if he loses his humor, he will lose his "voice". So he went for the joke, rather than laying himself on a sacrificial table. Overall, I think the article was effective. He told his story and got some chuckles. But many have not yet forgiven him. They were hoping for more.

Since the piece hit, I have gotten mass amounts of traffic on this blog. And I have appreciated many of the comments that I have gotten from readers. I will say that there was one particular person who wrote some pretty horrific things, a true "nut job", who accused me of trying to take away his civil liberties. He is exactly the sort of freak that ate up Joel's original article with a spoon. He called me and my family many names and suggested that I get out of America since I "hate freedom so much." His words were actually quite toxic, scary even. He forced me to establish a filter for my comment section, that was not previously in place. There is a lot of his type of garbage floating around the internet and since this is my blog I decided that this is not the place for his filth. It was a minor set back but it reminded me of how terrifying this world can be sometimes. Our children need us to protect them and having people like this, out and about, makes it pretty hard for me to sleep at night.

When I began this blog, in 2008, I wanted to do it as a positive person who sees the cup as being "half full". Yes, our situation is daunting. But not impossible. We need to work together if we are ever going to see a change. It has been a very cathartic process. It has helped me to dispense information and to get feedback on many issues. Sometimes I vent. Sometimes I cook. But through it all, it has helped me and my family as we work our way through the madness.

If you have just discovered Freedomtoeat: Living WELL with Food Allergies, I appreciate you taking the time to look us up. Hopefully you will stay tuned and keep reading.

Sending out lots of loving thoughts to all of you who have been hit by food allergies. You are not alone.


JennSD said...

Beautifully said, Heidi. The best way to enjoy our liberty to speak and think freely is to give our opposites a fair chance to add their ideas to the marketplace and trust that the truth will surface. You are a shining example of kindness and principle in a muddled world of prejudging. Thank you.

Heidi Miller said...

Thank you, Jenn. That really means a lot to me! Truly.

Have a great weekend!


Rachel said...

As an adult with life-threatening food allergies, I really appreciated Mr. Stein's retraction.

But here's the thing:

Even if it was couched in BS and misinformation, there was a small (very small) kernel of truth in what he originally wrote. There is a *lot* of food allergy paranoia, and the alt-med community in particular has pounced on food allergies as the hot disorder du-jour, falsely diagnosing them left and right.

And that needs to be called out--not just because it inconveniences people without food allergies, but because it very directly impacts those of us who have actual life-threatening food allergies, and for whom credibility regarding those allergies is vital to, y'know, staying alive.

My concern is that Mr. Stein has, in his retraction, gone from one extreme to another--from blanket condemnation to blanket credulity. And of those two, the latter is every bit as dangerous as the former--especially when you've got the platform to influence a crowd.

KaraY said...

just wanted to say I found your blog after Kids with Food Allergies posted Mr. Stein's article. Thank you. I appreciate knowing there are others out there dealing with the same nightmare we face every day.
I have to say, I am glad he now understands, but I'm sorry it had to be through a child.

Tabitha said...


I don't often read blogs but I am very glad I found yours. This is very well written and thought out.

I must admit that I am one of the people who wrote a very umm shall we say impassioned response in the wake of the LA Times piece. I remember writing that I hope he would never fully understood what a heavy burden it is on one's heart to have a child with LTFA. I must also admit there is a part of me that wants to throw his own words back at him. He has now joined a group no one ever wanted to be part of.

I appreciate Mr Stien's new tone on this issue but I am immensely sorry at the high cost of his new insight.

Michelle said...

As someone who grew up with a parent who still has a potentially deadly allergy to sesame, I don't think Joel went too far (yes, I know there are people being told not to eat all sorts of things that to which they do not really have allergies, but trust me, real allergies are serious).
Back when we were kids people in restuarants would not take my mom seriously when she asked if an item contained sesame or was prepared with sesame oil. I recall waitresses rolling their eyes, not being willing to accomodate her at all, and once even serving a hamburger on a sesame bun and telling her to pick them off. Have you ever tried to pick off EVERY SINGLE sesame on a hamburger bun?? Just ONE would be enough for a rush to the ER (yes, I know this for fact).
At least these days when we say we are asking due to an allergy people get it. Even if some people omit things from their diets because they think they maybe might possibly have an allergy instead of because they really do have an allergy, it still helps raise awareness so there is less of a chance that someone with a severe allergy will be inadvertently exposed. And Joel did mention his child's allergist referring to the less scientific approach.

Michelle said...

Having grown up with a parent who has a potentially lethal sesame allergy, I don't think Joel went too far.

Back when we were kids, when we our family asked if foods contained sesame or were prepared with sesame oil, even after explaining that we were asking due to a severe allergy, we were given rolled eyes and a general unwillingness to be accomodating. Once my mom was told she could pick the sesame seeds off of a hamburger bun. Have you ever tried to pick EVERY SINGLE sesame seed off of a hamburger bun??? Even putting ONE in her mouth would have meant a rush to the ER.

At least now if you tell people you are asking due to an allergy people get it. Even if there are some people who avoid foods based on non science (Joel mentioned his child's allergist refering to this), the awareness level has been raised so that people with serious allergies are less likely to be inadvertently exposed.

gale said...

I read the new (and old) article. Funny enough my dd WAS born and raised on a working livestock farm. We are full time farmers-this is not a hobby farm-and when our kids were little we were custom feeding up to 200 head of cattle and raising hundreds of baby pigs every year. Yet she is still allergic to peanuts and many tree nuts. So that argument doesn't hold water for me.

Michelle said...

OK, I'm going to play devil's advocate a bit here. I first read something about Joel's orginial editorial while sitting in my allergist's office after my allergy injections (I am so glad my allergies are respiratory and can be treated with injections).
I grew up with a parent with a severe food allergy, so I know the reaction is real, but I still always thought it was an oddity. At that time it was. Now it isn't.
To be honest, if I didn't know the reaction was real, I say it was crazy because it sounds crazy. I wish it was just craziness that was making so many people have food allergies, because none of the theories can explain it for me, which means I have no explaination (really, isn't this crazy?), but I know the reactions are real.
I even had a hard time accepting the degree to which I had developed respiratory allergies as an adult. I knew I kept getting sick, but the idea that little allergies were the root cause was crazy. Except the allergies weren't so little and were having a major impact on my health. I didn't fully believe it and realize how bad it was until I started taking the allergy meds.
I rave about the difference my allergy injections have made in my life every chance I get, but I keep telling my allergist that there is something crazy about the increased rates of severe allergies.
I think my first thought upon reading about Joel's editorial was that if I hadn't seen a reaction first hand I would have been in full agreement, because the idea that eating a normal food can kill someone sounds crazy.