I have two beautiful little bottles in my ever-expanding collection of stuff I like to drag home, even though I have absolutely no room or use for them. One is emerald green, the other that beautiful cobalt blue like the deepest blue of the sea.
Both came from Skagway, Alaska, a 32-hour drive north and west of Whistler through some of the prettiest country our province offers. Both bottles also sport thin, parallel ribs on the outside like bulky corduroy, only made out of glass.
That glass ribbing kept many a prospector, packer and prostitute in the Klondike from harm's way, even death's door. Especially given their dark little cabins and shanties and claims gouged deep into the cold rock, where the kerosene-lamp and candle light, if it existed at all, was low.
Some of these old bottles from the 1890s also have words embossed into the glass: "NOT TO BE TAKEN" or, more to the point, "POISON" is shouted all caps. But those in the Klondike who couldn't read or write, and there were lots, learned to rely on feeling the failsafe ribbing to know something in a bottle was harmful. Important when it sat on a rickety shelf alongside things like vanilla extract, treasured sauce from home, or a top-up of tipple.
These days lots of us could do with something like that ribbing on our bottles and food packaging as warnings, for food allergies and intolerance are at an all-time high.
My mom has been a brilliant cook and hostess for something like five decades now. "OMG!" she said not long ago, sounding exactly like a tweet does in our mind's ear, even though she wouldn't know one from a tweetie bird. "I don't know what to cook anymore! This one can't eat wheat. That one can't eat dairy..." The list goes on, reflecting anecdotally our new dining reality, as well as actual science.
According to a 2010 study — the first of its kind in Canada — on the prevalence of allergies done by the McGill University Health Centre, one in 13 Canadians has a serious food allergy.
About 7.5 per cent of children and adults have at least one food allergy. Eggs, prawns, peanuts, the aforementioned wheat and dairy — they all add up to some serious eating situations for folks.
I have one friend who has to wear a MedicAlert bracelet for seafood and peanuts. If she eats either she'll go into anaphylactic shock, meaning she could die. In fact, food allergies are the largest trigger of anaphylaxis, says AllerGen, the allergy network supported by Industry Canada, which was also part of the McGill study and advocates for a national registry for anaphylaxis to better inform regulatory decisions.