Earlier this week I sat at a table with 8 Kindergarteners and their respective mothers/grandmothers. It might have been a mother/child brunch. It could have been some kind of cool club. Instead, it was a meeting for kids with food allergies who are getting ready to transition into a new school for first grade. The school nurse had each child introduce themselves and share their food allergies. We heard things like, "Seafood, shrimp and peanuts" and "Peanuts, nuts, and peanut butter." Bug’s answer was, "Peanuts, and all nuts… except for coconuts." All but one of the kids is allergic to peanuts.
I came home and logged onto Twitter where I found the following message, "Just got a call from school—a kid was suspended 4 trying to touch my daughter’s face w/ peanut butter when he knows she is deathly allergic ." It was immediately followed by a non-related tweet about some high school cheerleaders who hazed a girl with a peanut allergy by covering her in peanut butter. And just earlier this week, I commented on an episode of Smash where one character slips peanuts to a peanut allergic star to get her off the production.
My son has had food allergies his entire life. Thankfully, he has outgrown allergies to dairy, eggs, and soy. In fact, we were able to dye Easter Eggs for the first time this year. But the peanut and tree nut allergies impact his life. He sits at a special table in the cafeteria in school. He typically can’t eat the cake served at a birthday party – we always offer to bring cupcakes just for him. Halloween holds a special kind of horror for me, and a disappointment for him, as we pull out more than half his candy for nuts or potential nut contamination. He can’t order freely from the menu in a restaurant, and he often can’t enjoy the complimentary bread/chips/whatever that comes out before the meal. There are restaurants he can’t even go to because they have loose peanuts everywhere. We buy tickets to the peanut free baseball games. As fortunate as we are that peanut allergies in particular have a lot of awareness, part of that reason is because peanut oil gets on everything and isn’t as easy to wipe off. It’s scary stuff.
We had one person at our meeting today celebrating that she could finally pack a peanut butter and jelly lunch for her child to bring to school because he’s only allergic to tree nuts. She might as well have said that she was thrilled that she could send him into school with a gun. It’s unlikely that he’ll shoot anyone with it, but if he does, they could die.
It’s not practical at this point to ban peanuts (or other high-allergy foods) from schools or anywhere else. And I know that my child needs to learn to manage his allergy. In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I’d like to make a few wishes, though. I wish that we’d get better about teaching our (non-allergic) kids about food allergies and just how serious they are. I wish that adults would get a grip and stop insisting that their kids have a "right" to a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for every meal when it means risking another child’s life. And I wish that Hollywood would take food allergies seriously (with serious repercussions) and avoid using them in trite plotlines. Lastly, I wish that we could get consistent and clear labeling for food and health and beauty products so we could all make educated decisions.
We’re talking about the lives of the people we love.