By Henry Ehrlich
We are continually reminded by figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that food allergies among children have risen by 50% since 1997, which means that most of the kids born at the beginning of that period are now “of age.”
I thought of this a few weeks ago when poet and author Sandra Beasley* recounted the experience in the Washington Post of drinking what she thought was a refreshing cocktail, only to deduce after experiencing a “familiar itch” in her throat that traces of milk remained in the cocktail shaker from God knows what? A “Happy Homemaker” made with “mini marshmallows, vodka, and hot chocolate mix” as well as milk? Or maybe a “Tom & Jerry”, a “Coconut Snickerdoodletini”, or a “Hot Fudge Bourbon Milkshake.” (Full disclosure, the article mentioned a documented instance of anaphylaxis from gold tequila based on a post on this website.)
I know there has been a surge of interest in so-called craft cocktails over the past decade, which, as Sandra warns, portends a new wave of caution as more and more food allergic kids turn 21. She writes, “Milk derivatives are used to bind margarita mix. A fancy Manhattan might use a black-walnut bitter. A popular Brazilian cocktail combines cachaça with cashew juice. A classic Tom Collins is made with cucumber. And every time I order sangria, I have to ask what fruits were added to the pitcher of wine.”
Underscoring the point, within a few days, the New York Times published an article about pre-mixed cocktails for discerning drinkers, as opposed to the cheap cocktail mixes of the past. “’Every other category in spirits has had a renaissance and is going into a higher, premium end,’ said Jason Neu, an owner of the Milwaukee company Black Fawn Distilling, which will produce a bottled brandy old-fashioned called Soul Boxer this year. ‘But if you go into the bottled cocktail section of any liquor store, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.’”
I like the occasional mixed drink but in my opinion, the most of them are really alcohol delivery systems. They make it easier for people who don’t like the taste of liquor to drink more. High end or not, the motto ought to be, “read the labels while you can still see straight.” And teach the designated driver to use epinephrine.
On a distantly related note, with marijuana legalization sweeping the nation, The Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology just published an article called, Cannabis sativa: the unconventional “weed” allergen. Like most articles in the allergy journals, this one is very dry. You could read the whole thing with just the barest hint that some people use weed for fun, not as medicine. Cross-reactivity (“Without previous food allergies, the patient went on to develop urticaria to peach peel, food pollen syndrome to several foods (apple, almonds, eggplant, and chestnut), and anaphylaxis to tomato, pepper…Immunoblotting identified a 9-kDa lipid transfer protein (LTP), speculated as the reason for cross-reactivity and development of his food allergies.”); occupational exposure (“Occupational asthma was described in a bird breeder who developed rhinorrhea, chest tightness, dyspnea, cough, and wheezing with hemp seed exposure.”; “Two patients who did not use Cannabis noted nasal and respiratory symptoms to hashish and marijuana after several years of work in a forensic laboratory.”)
Looking ahead, the authors warn, “The evolving legal status of C sativa, its highly prevalent use throughout the world, and the varied forms in which it is used could translate into its growing role as a clinically relevant allergen that might be encountered.”
When I was discussing this piece with a food-allergy mom, she asked, “what about latex allergy?” Some subjects are better left to the parents and family doctors.
For more on Sandra Beasley, click here.
Photograph from cocktailworkshop.org
Susan Weissman says
Timely article. Especially nice finish.
– “a (that) food allergy mom”
Susan and Henry: and just what were you two discussing? Okay, good article. I’m making my teenage son read this! To be honest, alcohol simply seems like a landmind. Ever sit at the bar and watch the bartender.
drinks are flying and cross contact seems like an uncontrollable beast!
I think I need to simple dazzle with my personality vs booze. Oh wait, can I be more interesting than While Russian? Hum, I don’t know!
Nicole Jordan says
Hello, I read your other article on “caffeine” allergy. I had a question for you… If people can have an allergy to weed, and chocolate, why can’t they have an allergic reaction to caffeine? I mean, weed is a stimulant too, but there are people who are allergic to that.. So what makes those two things different from caffeine, is my question. I am a barista, so I don’t believe in a caffeine allergy, but was asked this question.. Would like some clarification from someone who would know!!
Thanks for writing and for being a close reader of this website.
The difference is that caffeine is an active ingredient in a thing we call coffee, or tea, or some other botanical product. It is an alkaloid, a category that also includes morphine and cocaine, which are also derived from botanicals. They affect the nervous system, not the immune system. You may be allergic to something in the coffee bean, but the jitters from caffeine doesn’t constitute an allergic reaction. Likewise, the cocoa bean, although you might be allergic to milk in a candy bar. I’ve never heard of anyone having an allergic reaction to a shot of morphine, but I can imagine that smoking opium might make some people wheeze or sneeze. Weed, as discussed in this article, is also a botanical, which has components that you can be allergic to, such as lipid transfer proteins, but THC, the intoxicating active ingredient, is probably not one of them.
Allergic Butterfly says
Not only does alcohol provide a potential for allergens in the mix, it harms judgement. You could be fine drinking, but get so drunk that you aren’t careful eating. I would be worried about getting emergency medical treatment from a group of drunk friends, too.