Modesty. Both men and women used to dress more modestly. Men frequently wore undershirts, long-sleeved shirts, vests, and suit coats. Women wore dresses, but their dresses were longer and they tended to have longer sleeves and higher necklines. The body isn’t meant to be as cold as we keep it today. When the body is cold, it can’t fight off infections as well, which means that the immune system is kept extra busy and doesn’t have time to formulate a strong defense against food allergies.


Diet. All of our grandparents ate perfect diets. None of them cooked with lard or created freakish meals in which they turned salmon into some sort of salmon-shaped/gelatin-looking mashed up stuff. People in the past didn’t care about weight loss or thinness. There was no diet industry. If they had eaten lard, created freakish fake fish meals, or dieted, then they would have had food allergies, too.


Physical Activity/Work Ethic. If your grandparents were children before the 1916 Keating-Owen Act or the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, then they were lucky enough to live in a time where children were taught to work hard from an early age. Sedentary living creates a breeding ground for food allergies, but children working alongside their mothers in factories had many benefits. First, being around their parents during the workday allowed them to be watched carefully. They weren’t at home being exposed to all kinds of toxic chemicals and environments. Second, they learned that the best life is a hard worked life. Third, and finally, they learned that little injuries like missing fingers and limbs or third-degree burns didn’t really require a trip to the doctor, and so they avoided getting over-medicated for smaller things, too. This protected their bodies from unnecessary chemical poisoning which leads to allergies.


Check it out! These kids used to work in my old apartment building in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Photo credit:

Check it out! These kids used to work in my old apartment building in Somersworth, New Hampshire.
Photo credit:

Non-medicated Labor and Delivery. I own a really great obstetrics textbook from 1901 that goes into great detail about how to deliver babies at home or in the hospital. Fortunately, it also gives advice about which twin to sacrifice if there is difficulty during labor (answer: you always sacrifice the first one), how to saw through a woman’s pubic bone if the baby is stuck, and how much fish a woman can eat immediately after birth. These births, while intense, were not bogged down with medication and unnecessary intervention, all of which lead to weaker immune systems, smaller babies, weaker mother-child bonds, and more food allergies.


Religion. Everyone knows that previous generations were more religious, and therefore they prayed more. A perfect combination of faith and prayer leads to fewer food allergies. I don’t even need to explain that one.


More Exposure to Animals. Farms were way more common in the past. Science says that exposure to animals prevents people from developing allergies to those animals’ food products. So, because our grandparents were more likely to spend time with cows, they were less likely to suffer from lactose intolerance. The same goes with other things, too–not just animals. More exposure to wheat? Less gluten sensitivity.


If you think this is all a bunch of bull crap, perhaps you, too, have been rolling your eyes at this article that has been going around lately. You know the one: no scientific evidence, lots of things presented as “facts” that simply aren’t factual (like the idea that people in the past didn’t diet), tons of correlation and causation confusion, and a weird wrap-up at the end that doesn’t actually connect any of what was said to food allergies. Many of my friends with pretty severe food allergies and sensitivities are extremely responsible about their diets, living life in a very similar way to the way these idealized grandparents are described. They still have food allergies, though!


Here’s the thing: food allergies are real. They might be increasing over time. This possible increase could be related to any number of things, including some of the things that the authors of that article point out. But listing a bunch of observations of generational differences (that may or may not be accurate), pining for the good old days of “real food” (and a shorter life expectancy, but whatever), and then sloppily saying at the end that “this is why you have food allergies” doesn’t make for a quality or well done article that is worth sharing.