I can’t eat that: The sociology behind the rise in food allergies and intolerances

31 Jan 2019

This article focuses on the social and cultural aspects of the unprecedented and unparalleled proliferation of food-related allergies and intolerances. It thus aims to contribute to filling the theoretical lacunae in the current sociological approach to this fairly recent phenomenon. The article’s framework is divided into four segments. First, the rise in food allergies is placed within the field of the social history and medicalization of allergies, and seeks to understand the phenomenon in the context of the industrialized modern world. The following section discusses how and why lay experts are increasingly dominating the food allergy-related discourse. Drawing on recent empirical data, it is further shown how food allergies rise along with a population’s affluence and education. Third, the idiosyncrasies of food allergies and intolerances are addressed with respect to food consumption and its changing social implications. It is argued that individualization places less pressure on individuals to conform to broader social norms of food refusal, which offers the sufferers with a newly acquired sense of control over a random, scientified, and confounding food availability and provides a medium to covertly convey their educational and socioeconomic background. Lastly, the health belief model is applied in order to suggest a further potential explanation for the current increase in self-reported food allergies and intolerances.