Peanut Free Controversy
There was a post recently on BlogHer about the concept of peanut-free spaces such as schools declaring themselves peanut-free and asking kids not to bring peanuts into the school in order to protect those with allergies. There were those who either had a child with a peanut allergy or had a peanut allergy themselves, and they were grateful to spaces that ban peanuts. There were those who said that peanut butter was all they would eat and that these rules unfairly impacted them.
And there were those who voiced a much more rational reason NOT to ban peanuts, which is that doing so creates a false sense of security. That schools can’t perfectly police children’s lunches, but the policy may make some people lower their guard. The reality is that vigilance is always needed in the face of a life-threatening allergy, even when rules are put into place.
And then there were the vast majority of us in the middle who said that while we don’t have a peanut allergy in our family, if that’s the rule in the school, that’s the rule we’ll follow. Since it is a matter of life-or-death for another person, and for us, it’s just lunch. Really, it’s just lunch. We can eat all the peanut butter we want with breakfast or dinner.
Image: Martin L via Flickr
No one wants to be told what they can or can’t eat; as a picky eater, believe me, I understand that. But the same people* who say that they don’t want anyone else’s peanut allergy impacting their lunch choices are the very same people who support a smoking ban in public spaces, pointing out how another person’s choices affect their health. In other words, don’t smoke around me because you could make me sick, but I can eat peanuts around you, even if it makes you sick.
The fact is that we have no problem inconveniencing smokers (for good reason) from smoking inside even during a frigid winter day. A person could make an argument that second-hand smoke harms everyone as opposed to peanuts that harm only those who are severely allergic, but the end result whether only a few people are affected or all people are affected is… death. Maybe that’s why I’m not bothered by the idea of not eating peanuts if I’m asked not to eat peanuts. I mean… death is pretty damn serious. And because we’re talking about serious consequences — you know, like death — I don’t really get why people get up in arms over the idea of being told not to eat peanuts in certain places.
And I write this as a picky, peanut butter loving eater who is the parent of picky, peanut butter loving eaters. I get how much a person can love a peanut butter and jam sandwich and how difficult it can be to find vegetarian protein sources for a picky eater. But I still think that possible death trumps my love of peanut butter. No matter how much I love peanut butter.
I think what stuns me is the anger people bring to the conversation of making peanut-free spaces.
If the smoking analogy doesn’t do it for you, look at it this way: no one gets up in arms about wearing a seat belt. At least I’ve never seen a blogger get slammed for asking people to wear a seat belt in order to protect themselves and protect others on the road in the event of a car crash. There are certainly people who don’t wear seat belts, but I’ve yet to find a non-seat belt wearer who tried to convince others that it was a fantastic idea. Most people I know who don’t wear seat belts are sheepish about the fact.
We wear seat belts because it makes sense. Because while it’s an inconvenience, we know the alternative is so damn awful that it’s worth taking the time to strap an uncomfortable seat belt around our body for the duration of the ride in order to not risk going through the windshield. Sure, we do this for ourselves, but we also do it for everyone else on the road, lest our body becomes projectile.
It’s a small safety precaution we can take to lessen the risk of inadvertently killing another person.
I imagine that navigating the world with a peanut allergy (or any other life-threatening allergy, since peanuts are not the only food that causes anaphylaxis) is akin to driving on the highway where everyone is swerving about, driving recklessly, and you can see through their windows that not one person is wearing a seat belt. They are oblivious to the fact that you are hunched over your steering wheel, seat belt firmly in place, nervously watching them text-and-drive or eat a messy hamburger while going 70 miles per hour. You are decent at avoiding their cars, but what you can’t do is help someone crashing into you OR two people crashing into one another and their flying bodies landing on your car hood, causing a catastrophic accident.
I think of all the times I’ve obliviously waved around my peanut butter and jam sandwich while I talk to a friend, not considering how that sandwich is potentially affecting anyone else around me. I don’t even really think about how I could always develop an allergy to peanuts in adulthood.
But I always wear a seat belt, even without being reminded. It’s just something I’ve always done.
The reality is that some people — like me — need to see a sign in place reminding us to keep a space peanut-free because it isn’t on our radar; not due to cruelty but because we’ve never had a problem before and therefore we’re not seeing the potential problems our behaviour could cause for others. So for all the nut allergy sufferers out there (or anyone who has an allergy that can easily be triggered by another human being’s behaviour), I am really sorry. I am trying to be more mindful when I’m in public.
We go to two different schools: one is nut-free (the entire building) and one has a peanut-free table. For the nut-free school, I religiously check all wrappers when packing food, but they also make it easy for people by selling nut-free snacks in the lobby that kids can purchase. For the non-nut-free school, I’m admittedly less careful. I pack nuts all the time since my child doesn’t sit at the peanut-free table.
The BlogHer post has reminded me that I don’t need to wait for a rule to be passed before I do the behaviour. There are so many things that we know make sense — not using a cell phone in a car while driving, not texting and driving, putting on a seat belt in a car — we don’t have to wait until there are laws made restricting the behaviour before we engage in that commonsense practice of doing things that keep all of us (not just ourselves) safe. And we don’t have to wait until a space goes peanut-free or a table sign goes up declaring part of the lunch room off-limits to peanut butter and jam before we start thinking about how the food we eat could also affect the people around us.
The post really made me think about my food choices, and how I’m consuming that food in public. It’s made me a much neater eater, which is always a good thing.
What is your experience with peanut-free spaces, and do you think one day they’ll be a given in the same way that we’ve banned smoking in public spaces?
* Well, I can’t prove they are all exactly the same people, so it’s an assumption, but I’m going to guess that it’s a fairly accurate assumption.