(An Assignment for the course Comedo Ergo Sum at the University of Vienna, Science, Technology and Society)
Both labeling regimes and discerning consumers have a difficult time fitting new foods into categories. Genetically modified and functional food products change how conceptions of ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ are applied to foods. Regulation experts Lezuan and Schneider say this instability, “throws consumers into a condition of restlessness” (2012) or the ‘paradox of choice.’ Donna Haraway narrates this confusion:
“I cannot go to an agility meet to run with my dog without tripping over brochures and booths for natural foods, scientifically formulated foods, immune-function-enhancing foods, homemade-ingredients foods, foods for doggy vegans, raw organic foods that would not please vegans at all, freeze-dried-carrot fortified foods, food-delivery devices to help out dogs who are alone too much, and on and on. Indeed, diets are like drugs in this nutritional ecology, and creating demand for “treatment” is crucial to market success” (2012, p. 97).
Like drugs, diets are a major industry with heavy marketing that plays on our insecurities and invents new health problems we didn’t know we had. As caretakers, providing meals is a labor intensive, regular and meaningful form of care. How does uncertainty about new foods and the idea of the restless consumer play a role in the rise of diet-based alternative diagnostics and therapy for syndromes with multiple unclear causation such as ADHD, Autism, ODD and Eczema?
Elimination Diets are an extreme reaction to the paradox of choice. Elimination diets begin with a very basic diet for 2-5 weeks. They are considered effective when symptoms abate. The actual diets vary based on the symptoms and intuition of the person – but some of the basic foods are chicken and lamb, potatoes and rice and pears, an elimination diet for dogs with non-seasonal pruritic dermatitis is based on amino acids and potatoes (Kawarai, et al., 2010). After symptoms clear, foods are gradually reintroduced to identify reactions. In direct contrast to the convenience, variety and novelty of modern food choices, elimination diets entail a return to basics, careful planning, documentation, and discipline. There are two basic kinds of elimination diets, diagnostic diets aimed at finding reactions to specific foods, and therapeutic diets aimed at relieving symptoms long term. While the first is growing in acceptance to uncover adverse reactions that do not involve an immune response (such as lactose intolerance), the use of elimination diets is more controversial for metabolic, toxic, and psychological reactions to food or food additives. On one hand, elimination diets involve a scientific method, controlled introduction of stimuli and observation, on the other hand they are largely unsupported by common medical practice. Researchers Nanda Rommelse and Jan Buitelaar (2013) describe the controversy over long-term elimination diets in the treatment of ADHD as whether the diet itself or the structuring nature of the diet are responsible for behavioral improvements. The scientific research is unsettling, research shows a link to food additives, but also to neonatal care, to genetics and family relationships. Even when drugs are available and preferred by the medical system, parents, health care practitioners and politicians are concerned about the “overprescription of medication, particularly psychostimulants, and about potential long term side-effects” (Rommelse & Buitelaar, 2013, p. 201).
In Autism, ‘biomedicine’ is a term for alternative therapies that progress from an elimination diet, such as the gluten free/casein free diet or Select Carbohydrates Diet, to nutritional supplementation, to chelation treatments to remove heavy metals. Silverman (2012) explores the line between rationality and irrationality in Parents devotion to their children through this process. “Parents describe the work of caring for affected children, including the use of resources, training in medical techniques, and hours of effort, as an act of love, in favor of a description of this work as attentive, knowledgeable labor.” (Silverman, 2012, p. 357). It is this personalization and strategic coping with multicausal syndromes that challenges the clinical trial system.
When my daughter was diagnosed with severe eczema at four months, it was at once a relief to have an diagnosis, and a challenge to not have a solution. We were given a steroid-based cream that would resolve the symptoms, but told not to use it because of the long-term side effects. As a baby, my daughter was already on a limited diet and we slowed down the introduction of new foods. I myself did an elimination diet because allergens in the breast milk might be responsible. Gradually we realized one of the triggers was the high PH of the natural laundry detergent we used for her diapers, another was hot humid weather, she had allergies to milk and eggs, but even as it got better, the eczema was still there. We saw a specialist who explained that predisposition to allergies, eczema and asthma are all genetically linked and that a lack of sleep would also make it worse, we spoke with a homeopathic specialist who asked questions about whether it was weeping or seeping (weeping) and recommended a remedy distilled from scraped boils. After all that effort, the symptoms really improved and we continued the regime. It is really quite easy to become irrational. When she was 16 months old we moved to Austria. Austria forbids GMOs and beans and peanuts are rare. Baby food is pure and healthy. We could relax. A few months after we moved to Austria the eczema disappeared, making only a brief reappearance on a trip back to the US.
Hugh Gusterson, author of Decoding the Debate on “Frankenfood,” warns us not to lump all Genetic Modified food together, to try and differentiate between different types and methods of genetic modification. Gusterson also indicated in 2006 that the US is undergoing a collective experiment in terms of Genetically Modified Foods. The experiment is double-blind, in that in the US, neither consumers nor their doctors know what genetic modifications have occurred to their food stuffs. Anecdotal evidence that allergies are on the rise could not be confirmed because of the differences in definitions of allergy and reactions, different methods of diagnosis, bias toward sufferers in participation in studies, and the timing and frequency of evaluations (Sicherer, 2011 p. 597). Tracking the rise of eczema in dogs has also been difficult (Griffin & DeBoer, 2001). Allergies have specific and acute reactions, but difficulties tracing them highlight how complex GMO population studies would be. American consumers are participating in the experiment, but is anyone collecting the data? Unexplained syndromes can easily unsettle this tacit participation. The elimination diet results when Caretakers choose not to subject their loved ones to the experiment.
Griffin, C., DeBoer, D. (2001) The ACVD task force on canine atopic dermatitis (XIV): clinical manifestations of canine atopic dermatitis, Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 81(3), 255-269. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0165-2427(01)00346-4.
Haraway, D. (2012) Value-added dogs and lively capital in Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets (Experimental futures) Ed. Rajan, Kaushik Sunder.(pp. 93-120). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.
Gusterson, H. (2005). Decoding the Debate on “Frankenfood”. In B. Hartmann, B. Subramaniam & C. Zerner, Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties (pp. 109-133). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Kawarai, S., Ishihara, J., Masuda, K., Yasuda, N., Ohmori, K., Sakaguchi, M., . . . Tsujimoto, H. (2010). Clinical efficacy of a novel elimination diet composed of a mixture of amino acids and potatoes in dogs with non-seasonal pruritic dermatitis. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 72(11), 1413-21.
Lezuan, J., & Schneider, T. (2012). Endless Qualifications, Restless Consumption: The Governance of Novel Foods in Europe. Science as Culture, 21(3), 365-391.
Silverman, C. (2012) Desperate and rational. in Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets (Experimental futures) Ed. Rajan, Kaushik Sunder.(pp. 354- 384). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.