There have been so many things that have changed dramatically since the boomer years of the 1950s through the ’70s, and Mister Boomer has explored dozens of them. Yet in the annals of wonder, there is the case of the current occurrence of peanut allergies. Food-based allergies diagnosed in children was not common in the boomer years; generally speaking and by comparison, less than one percent of the population was thought to have food allergies in 1960. While it is true that methodology and scientific knowledge has grown exponentially in the past six decades, it is also true that the rate of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy continues to rise, and has doubled just in the decade between the mid-90s to mid-00s. Certainly one has to wonder what has changed that might cause this circumstance.
The diagnosing of allergies was not new in the boomer years. The existence of allergies was known as far back as ancient Egypt, and Western doctors and scientists have been testing people for many types of allergies since the mid-1800s. Then, as now, the main reasons allergies seem to appear in any given location and time relate to environment, diet and food handling, water quality, hygiene and genetics.
Hay fever among children rose dramatically in the latter part of the 19th and first half of the 20th century in Europe and the United States to the point where it was was called an epidemic. While there may have been many factors that affected this change in hay fever allergies among the population, one conclusion reached at that time was simply that people moved to areas that had more grass and ragweed. Likewise in the boomer years, the migration to the suburbs meant more possible exposure to these airborne allergens.
Peanut allergies, however, are not acquired by airborne particles. The story has not yet been definitively written as to the cause of the rise in peanut allergies. There are several theories being tested, and even some conclusions are being drawn. For example, prevailing thought now is that desensitization programs have been shown to be effective, and a new peanut allergy drug is being tested. However, since Mister Boomer is more interested in reliving nostalgia than wading into the nooks and crannies of scientific data, he’ll leave that discussion for the medically and scientifically minded.
To a boomer, the prevalence of the peanut allergy is puzzling, indeed, considering how often boomers ate peanuts. Many boomers will tell you that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a huge part of their childhood diets. Candy bars made with peanuts were among the most popular, and roasted peanuts in the shell, or peeled, roasted and packaged, were readily available at all types of markets and in vending machines at bus stations, rest stops, train depots and gas stations.
Mister Boomer likes peanuts. He ate peanuts in many forms, from the carmel-covered peanuts in a box of Cracker Jacks to cracking open the shells of roasted peanuts when watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on TV. Halloween brought lots of opportunities for the enjoyment of peanuts. Mars used to advertise that the Snickers candy bar was “packed with peanuts,” and was among Mister B’s favorites; PayDay bars consisted of a roll of nougat covered in peanuts; Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups was a coveted score, and, of course, the black or orange wax paper-wrapped peanut butter kisses were a staple in the hunt for Halloween candy.
In the everyday realm there was always a jar of peanut butter in the Mister Boomer household. His sister ate more peanut butter than the two Boomer brothers combined. She liked it on celery sticks (not “ants on a log,” since she did not put raisins on hers), and sometimes she put it on her fried bologna. She ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time, to the point where all the glassware in the house came from jelly jars. The peanut butter brands most often found in the Mister B household were Jif or Skippy, and occasionally Peter Pan or Smuckers. Store name brands of peanut butter were avoided if at all possible, since the quality could not compare with the brand names.
When Mister Boomer entered the third grade, he began making his own lunch. Prior to that point, his mother packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread for him on the days when the lunchmeat ran out. Once he packed his own lunch, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a last resort. Mister B liked peanuts and peanut candy more than a PB&J.
Today most schools have prohibited students from bringing in peanuts in any form as a precaution for the youngsters with allergies. Most airlines used to give out bags of peanuts in flight. Now, if there is a snack at all, it is usually pretzels. Times have changed. Will the trend reverse any time soon?
How about you, boomers? What role did peanuts and peanut butter play in your boomer years diet? Do you have grandchildren now who are allergic to peanuts?