Allergies and the Culture of Clean

“Countries that advise avoidance of peanuts early in life have seen the biggest increase in peanut allergies.” (Babble)

I can’t tell you how glad I am that we have a dirty house and totally didn’t manage the ‘no peanut butter before age 2’ rule – it seems we might be helping our daughter, not hurting her.

But isn’t it annoying that our Westernized medicinal world seems to get rid of one thing – polio, for example; big ugly glasses (replaced by contacts), another – but then the scales dip us into allergies and cancers and depression and childhood obesity and untreatable bacteria, byproducts of our attempt to whack out disease?

We try to help, and there are unintended consequences.

Or, rather, we try to scrub out problems, exhaustively; and our houses become chemicalized prisons, breeding new problems.

There’s this food bar they’re passing out in poor countries, like Niger, called plumpynut, that has enough nutrients to help save children dying from starvation. It has peanuts.

What about peanut allergies?

“We just don’t see it,” Shepherd says. “In developing countries food allergy is not nearly the problem that it is in industrialized countries.”

Hmmmm… mind you, I know that when a child has allergies, it’s hard and painful. I’m not saying all allergies are the cause of rigorous parenting or anything like that. Only that our culture as a whole may try as it might to rid the world of every last ounce of pain and suffering (here only – we could eliminate a lot of it in other countries fairly easily, if we had the political will to do so), only to find that we don’t have that power.

We might take a look at homoepathy and Eastern medicine and other attitudes to handling death and disease, where the concept is not so much eradication of an enemy as working holistically with the body and mind… I mean, some people are using these concepts, but our culture as a whole still operates on a bomb’s away attitude toward everything.

I’m thinking of my grandmother, tupperware queen, who spends her days scrubbing and washing and wiping and swabbing. She has a spotless house. No plants, no animals – nothing that would introduce any kind of dirt. It’s clean. It’s lifeless.

She passed her anxieties about dirt elimination to my mother – somehow, I didn’t carry the gene, but I did have enough anxiety about my mother’s anxiety to the extent that the day I discovered my father had died, and my mother was flying in to support me, I spent the night weeping but working with a knife trying to pry loose the gunk that lined the edges of the kitchen sink in anticipation of her critical eye.

I had allergies as a kid. I had to go every week to the doctor to get shots and blood drawn for years. My whole collection of stuffed animals had to be burned because of my reaction to the tiny bits of mold they were carrying.

I have lost my train of thought. The whole point was that I’m not living up to anyone’s standard of domestic cleanliness – and I’m comfortable with that, finally.

That, and I love the name plumpynut. 


2 Responses to Allergies and the Culture of Clean

  1. Emily says:


  2. Sarah Polk says:

    I think this is a fantastic post!! I clean houses for a living but my own home is less than spotless. Partly because I rarely have the time to DEEP clean my own home (picking up after my crazy family and keeping a general degree of cleanliness is all I usually manage) and both my kids have had peanut butter (how can you not enjoy watching your child try to swallow a spoonful of peanut butter!), honey, eggs and probably everything else not recommended for certain ages, before they reached those ages!! Way to go on finding the priorities that work for you!

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