Allergies, locavores, honey, oh my!

Whoa, Nelly!

I may have just made an extraordinary, completely unscientific but completely logical discovery, and it pertains to the fact that for the past twelve-thirteen years or so, I have suffered from that dreaded vicious disease known as hay fever, or more scientifically, seasonal allergies.

I suffered particularly bad allergies in St. Louis, where I spent most of my young adult life. I remember playing soccer my senior year and not being able to wear my contacts because my eyes were so fogged up that, literally, eye-boogers were coming out of them. My opthamologist called it “discharge”. I called it “goop”. Either way, it was gross. When I came to Chicago for college, my allergies got better; a phenomenon that many people chalked up to the “humidity”, and the fact that Chicago had less of it than St. Louis. So the theory goes, as the humidity increases, so does your susceptibility to allergies. I’m not sure why this is true, or if it is at all. But when I went to Oregon last fall, my allergies got better yet, and I almost stopped taking my daily over-the-counter medicine because I was doing so well. Once again, people said “it’s not as humid here! That’s why you’re feeling better!”

But then I came back to Chicago, and my allergies stayed roughly the same. Of course, in the winter nothing blooms at all, so there’s nothing (literally) to be allergic to. But when spring came, I made a conscious and weekly effort to go to the Green City Market to get local, fresh, organic produce on a consistent basis. My allergies got slightly worse in the spring, but that was to be expected, of course. But now let me present three major points that have transpired in the last week-and-a-half to two weeks that will hopefully blow your mind:

1) In the last two weeks (and JUST in the last two weeks) my allergies have gotten A TON worse, to the point where even my daily meds don’t prevent me from sneezing all over people (or food, I work in the restaurant industry, and God knows that’s dangerous);

2) I went to St. Louis for a few days to visit my family, and during that time I ate almost exclusively at restaurants and cafes;

3) since I have come back, I have been eating almost exclusively out, because I didn’t have time to go to the Green City Market, where I typically buy all my food.

Now, what makes these three points relevant, you may ask? Well, let’s think: my allergies suddenly and unexpectedly came back (to the point where even my daily medicine barely makes a dent in my sneezy-and-runny-nose-symptoms), and I stopped buying food on a regular basis at the farmer’s market. I started eating out all the time (from restaurants that almost certainly source food from the cheapest vendors – out-of-state or worse, out-of-country produce, even if it is organic), instead of cooking for myself from produce sourced at the local market.

So naturally, I leap to conclusions and assume that a) my allergies got worse because I stopped buying and eating local produce and that b) this thinking could also be applied to my time in Oregon, when I ate little that was not sourced from within 50-100 miles of my residence, and c) that this could be a general rule that eating food from local sources decreases your susceptibility to seasonal allergies. When I lived in France, my surrogate mother-in-visitation informed me that eating a tablespoon of local honey per day would help relieve my allergies because the pollen from the bees would be absorbed into my body better and decrease my anti-histamines’ anger towards these foreign pollens.

Here’s my (non-scientific) argument in favor of this conclusion: allergies are a thing of the relatively recent past. They first became documented in the early 20th century: just a few years after agricultural revolution in the form of nitrogen-based fertilizer was taking place. Before this time, to the best of our knowledge, allergies didn’t exist. And why should they? From an evolutionary standpoint, allergies make no sense – there is absolutely NO naturally selective reason why our body should have inflammatory immune reactions to the very air we breathe and food we eat (except for foods that are harmful to us naturally, and we call those poisons – no inflammatory immune reactions required). So, why did allergies suddenly become a thing? A: Because humans stopped absorbing pollens and other plant-based-chemicals present in our natural (and local) environment through our food – we started eating foods grown thousands of miles away, fed not off of the natural minerals of the ground but off of nitrogen based fertilizer, and suddenly our immune systems can recognize pollens from Mexico, Guatemala, or California as natural and fine, but can’t recognize pollens from central Illinois as natural and fine. So we begin to have allergic reactions.

This conclusion is backed up by absolutely zero scientific evidence except for my own personal observations and logical assumptions (and is that really scientific evidence??), and to the best of my knowledge the effects of eating a local diet on allergies and allergic reactions has never been studied. But if you (as so many of us do) suffer from the dreaded hay fever and nature-related allergies, I dare you: try eating local for two weeks. Eat nothing (aside from some basic staples, such as flour, sugar, or spices) that was grown outside of 100 miles of where you live. I dare you, because I think you’ll find that even in those two weeks your allergies get less severe, that you can skip a day of your meds without fear of sneezing on your friends or co-workers, and because most importantly, the food will simply taste better.

Also, all things green and growing will love you for doing so. But that’s a side note.