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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.


1 Pepper { 10.09.13 at 8:38 am }

I don’t have any specific experience with this as my daughter does not yet attend school or daycare and the school where I taught was not nut-free. However, I do deal with my own (non-life-threatening) allergy to milk, etc, so I feel for the allergic kids and their parents. There is nothing they can do and cannot control the fact that they can’t eat a whole food group. Believe me when I say those kids and their parents would much rather be able to eat it all and not draw attention to themselves. But that’s not an option. So I agree with the point that to them it’s a serious situation but to the rest of us it’s just lunch.

We’re human and, even though sometimes it’s inconvenient, we need to watch out for each other. And just do things because they’re right, and kind.

2 Meredith { 10.09.13 at 8:54 am }

I don’t have kids yet, but I am severely allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. If someone so much as touches a cashew and then touches me, I break out in hives. I will die if I ingest one. It’s so severe that my husband doesn’t eat nuts anymore. It’s not worth taking the chance that something could happen.

All of that being said, when I was growing up, food allergies were not as prominent as they are now. I was one of the only kids who had any food restrictions. My schools were not nut free. And there were many times when parents would bring in cupcakes, etc. for their child’s birthday and I simply didn’t eat the food because the parent couldn’t guarantee there were no nuts. To be honest, I think nut-free schools make sense. I will tell you it’s great now that airlines don’t serve peanuts. I hated being 30 some thousand feet in the air and smelling something in recirculated air I knew had the potential to make me really sick. For people like me, who could have a reaction simply by touching someone’s hand that just touched nuts or by touching something that someone who just ate nuts touched (like a door handle), nut-free makes a huge difference. When you’re talking about kids who share toys, crayons, etc. and frequently touch their faces, eyes, mouths, etc. you’re talking about the difference between life and death. However, I do believe that nut-free places should NOT create a false sense of security and that kids and adults alike with food allergies need to always be vigilant about what they are putting in their mouths. Kids with food allergies need to be educated on an ongoing basis about the foods they can and can’t eat and how to clearly communicate and ensure the food they are ingesting is safe. It was a constant conversation in my house. Before I went anywhere my mother was always reminding me over and over and over again, “Watch what you eat!!!” I see people with food allergies that are afraid to live and go places and I think it’s sad. I studied abroad, I eat out, I have dinner at friends’ houses. Everyone knows about my allergy. I learned from a young age how to clearly communicate it, and when I was older, I learned how to do so in a different language so I could travel overseas. If I’m unsure of something, I don’t eat it. Simple as that. Nut-free or not, we need to make sure kids understand that mentality as well – and if they are in a situation or place that isn’t nut-free, it’s OK to be the only one not eating something if it means it’s going to keep them safe.

3 Barb { 10.09.13 at 8:59 am }

People used I get up in arms about seatbelts when it first became law. Freedom and all that. :/

4 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 10.09.13 at 9:11 am }

Owen is not allergic to peanuts, but he’s allergic to eggs and has a life-threatening tree nut allergy. He is the only kindergartener who has to sit at the allergy table at school, where they are peanut and tree-nut sensitive (as in, they have an allergy table and they don’t sell peanuts/tree nuts in the cafeteria).

My experience with his allergies is that you aren’t sensitive to it until you HAVE to be sensitive to it. We have made a few big missteps with his egg allergy – not realizing eggs are hidden in SO many things – like ice cream and caesar dressing and anything with mayonnaise. (And did you know that McDonald’s honey mustard sauce has egg in it? Not that we eat there on a regular basis, but I NEVER would have guessed that.)

And that’s the thing. If WE can make missteps, when our own son is allergic, it’s impossible to expect people for whom allergies are NOT an issue to think about it ahead of time. I love the idea of peanut free schools, personally.

But the problem is that for whatever reason in our culture today, we rail at the idea of our “rights” being taken away from us. It’s this idea: Who are YOU to tell me MY kid can’t eat his peanut butter at school? Just keep YOUR allergic kid away from him. I don’t understand it.

Kids are worth keeping safe, and there really is only so much you can do to educate them. Owen knows what it’s like to have anaphylaxis – twice now we’ve ended up in the emergency room for allergic reactions – and his first question is always whether or not the food has egg or cashews in it. But if he asks that of his classmate – another kindergartener? That kid, guaranteed, will not know.

Anyway, I agree with Pepper here that we’re just not KIND to other people. I don’t know what it is, but people seem to have forgotten that we’re all in this being human thing together, and it’s good to look out for one another.

5 Gail { 10.09.13 at 9:27 am }

I am highly allergic to cats. When I was a child, if I was in the same room as a cat or hugged someone who had been petting their cat before coming to school, my throat would swell shut and I would stop breathing. I found out in kindergarten that this allergy also applied to guinea pigs and my classroom had one of these for a class pet. I was moved to another kindergarten classroom. There was no consideration for banning the owning of cats for the school population and there was no need to make other children suffer this loss because of me. This allergy made it difficult to have friends, spend time with them at their houses and it was especially tough when I met my husband and found out his mom had a cat and that severely limited my ability to spend time with her or be in her house. My allergy is still around as an adult and it has only gotten better over the last year because I take allergy shots. Again, no one was forced to change their cat-owning status to appease me. I just had to learn to live with my allergy, learn how to medicate and avoid situations with cats (and other animals) as much as possible.

Even with my history of a life-threatening allergy, I think banning nuts in schools is a slippery slope. If we ban one type of food for a very small minority, then what’s next? Do we ban wheat products for the gluten-free people? How about milk and dairy products for the lactose intolerant? What about animal contact for those with animal allergies like myself? Eventually, the kids will only be able to drink water at school and will have no pets. I understand about life-threatening allergies, but an entire school should not be forced to be nut-free for one child. Especially when the majority of the school population will never come into contact with that one child. Sure, make a nut-free table and the child’s classroom can be nut-free just like my classroom was guinea pig-free, but unless someone is standing at the front door checking every single lunch bag and forcing children to wash their arms and hands and faces before entering, it won’t matter. Somewhere, sometime, a nut is going to sneak into the school and then who is to blame. The nut-bringer, the school, the parents of the nut-bringer? I see law suits and legislation and all sorts of craziness. Hence, why I call this a slippery slope.
Also, making entire schools nut-free doesn’t help the children with allergies from learning how to navigate the world around them and speak up and advocate for their health. What happens when the allergic kid goes to the mall or Target or takes a karate lesson or goes to baseball practice? And, how about as the kid gets older and wants to have a part-time job? Are we going to require all these places to be nut-free? These places sure weren’t cat-free for me, but I learned to handle it.

6 Lollipop Goldstein { 10.09.13 at 9:37 am }

I think there’s a difference between banning foods when the behaviour of others won’t affect the allergy sufferer (as is the case with a gluten intolerance) vs. a nut allergy, where for some people, they don’t actually need to ingest the nuts to have the reaction. Our nut-free school even asks kids to enter the school and immediately wash their hands because there are kids who can have a reaction to touching a surface that a person who has just eaten nuts comes in contact with.

I don’t think it is that uncommon. 1 in 50 kids have a peanut allergy. Add in the ones that have a tree nut allergy, and you have more than that.

I do think there is some weight to that argument that it creates a false sense of security. But I also would hate to keep doing something that obviously doesn’t work for part of the population just because it’s how we did it in the past. There were no vegetarian options growing up, but I’m grateful that schools have revamped and made vegetarian options available. Did I learn to handle navigating a cafeteria that was unfriendly to me as a life-long vegetarian? Sure. But I’m glad my vegetarian kids don’t have to.

7 MeAndBaby { 10.09.13 at 10:27 am }

I couldn’t have said this better myself. I agree 100%. As the parent of a peanut allergic toddler, I am not sure I agree with peanut free surroundings due to a potential false sense of security but my son is not contact allergic. And, luckily, I have a few years before he’s in school. (his preschool/daycare IS nut free.) However, like you said, IT’S JUST LUNCH.

Thanks for posting this and bringing more attention to food allergies. So many people are unaware because they don’t have to be. And children can die from eating something they are allergic to.

8 Catwoman73 { 10.09.13 at 10:39 am }

I am somewhat on the fence about this issue. While I do agree that creating nut-free facilities can create a false sense of security, I think that if it were my child who had a life-threatening allergy, I would be eternally grateful that those facilities exist. That being said, though- I think it’s really important that parents start teaching children with life-threatening food allergies to be vigilent themselves, and this needs to start happening at a VERY young age. I can’t tell you the number of times I have inadvertently sent a banned food to school with my daughter, only to realize what I had done later on (there are a lot of banned foods at her school- all nuts, mustard, eggs in any form- I’m sure I’m not the only one that has dropped the ball a few times). I’m just grateful that nothing went wrong. Accidents do happen, and rules do get broken. If we can teach a 4-year-old type 1 diabetic to give himself insulin injections, surely we can also teach him to only eat foods that he has brought from home in his own lunch bag. It’s a tough issue, and there are no easy answers. I don’t think the bans are a bad thing, but they aren’t foolproof.

9 Lollipop Goldstein { 10.09.13 at 10:45 am }

We have a non-life threatening food situation in that we keep kosher. And we have been able to teach the kids from a very early age not to eat food that has been offered because they don’t know if it’s kosher. Since they were 2, they knew not to mix meat and milk.

More amusing, we were recently at a bris at an orthodox shul. And the ChickieNob asked the rabbi if the cream cheese and bagels were kosher. We were a little embarrassed and jumped into saying, “of course you can eat food at this shul!” but the rabbi interrupted and told her that he thought it was very smart that she would ask even in an orthodox shul because humans sometimes make mistakes and you never know. That said, the cream cheese was kosher.

10 Ann Z { 10.09.13 at 10:59 am }

My father used to be a campus pastor. One day, when I was in college, I remember him calling me with a very wavery voice. He had just spent the day counselling the parents of a girl my age who had just died from an anaphylaxis due to her peanut allergy, while at the college where my dad worked. She had gotten a list of peanut-free foods from the cafeteria, but had gone with her floor had gone to a catered meal, catered by the cafeteria, but using different recipes. The apple crisp that was safe in the cafeteria, was not safe at that dinner.

I think you’re right that peanut-free zones might lead to a false sense of security. But ever since talking with my dad that day, I have vowed that if a small action on my part can make it safer for others, then I can take that step.

11 mrs spock { 10.09.13 at 11:02 am }

Both my children have life threatening food allergies. I myself am allergic to shellfish, but I actually have to ingest it to break out in hives. Both kids are allergic to dairy, and my daughter has asthma and is allergic to red food dye.

When you have food allergies, you live in a constant state of hypervigilance. It requires constantly strategizing to avoid exposure. I feel for people with nut allergies, because even a touch can cause a terrifying reaction. My kids to to ingest dairy or dye to react. I’m a nurse, and I’ve worked ICU as well, and I’ve had patients on ventilators with their heads the size of a basketball because of anaphylaxis. It’s horrific. Imagine a 3 year old child experiencing such a thing in their body. Who could possibly want that?

Keeping a small child safe is a very different strategy than keeping a teenager or adult safe. Small children, especially those in group day care or school, where the adult to child ratio is not great, need bans to help keep them safe until they have the cognitive ability to keep themselves safe. My son was always highly unusual in that he is not even remotely impulsive and would ask an adult at 18 months if something had cow’s milk in it before he would put it in his mouth. Our daughter, at almost 3, does not understand and would shove whatever tasty object she can grab into her mouth before someone could tell her, “Sorry, that has allergies in it.” My son is picky and loves peanut butter, and would eat it 3 times a day if he could, but if it was banned in his class, we would gladly send sunbutter or make him get used to eating something else. I don’t trust small children to thoroughly wash their hands and faces before touching something with peanut butter hands, and you can;t expect an elementary age kid to grasp how many ways allergens can hide if food and even non-food products. ADULTS have a hard time grasping that they need to check the label every time, even for “safe” foods, and our son has almost been exposed several times. Once they are older, kids need to start practicing and taking over their own food safety, but for small kids- I am 100% OK with bans. My kid’s PB & J is not remotely worth someone else’s kid dying a terrible death.

12 Angie { 10.09.13 at 11:10 am }

I teach 5th grade in a school of around 300 students. We have been “peanut/tree nut free” for 4 years now…for one student at a time (students are only in our building for 2years. While I personally love all things peanut butter, it’s a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things and I only occasionally find myself wishing I could pack a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch. I do, though, fear that it creates a false sense of security, and it is a point I always try to make sure the affected child’s family is aware of when I am involved with the meeting regarding their wishes. Most know that, and by the 5th grade, the child is trained not to trust items offered and report the first sign of any exposure. But it gets dicey when the child also has other special circumstances-such as autism. Our first allergic student had limited ways in which to communicate with us if he wasn’t feeling well, and couldn’t really explain why something was off. I didn’t have this child in my class, but I read every label of every outside snack my students brought in in my best effort to keep this child protected. Others can learn to read labels and politely decline offered treats, but it is still no guarantee that touching residue won’t trigger a reaction. Scary stuff!

13 Heather { 10.09.13 at 11:13 am }

Kirsten’s school is not nut free. Her teacher this year sent a note home stating that there is a student in their class with a cashew allergy. Fine. We can send Kirsten to school with PB&J, heck she can even get it as a school lunch. There are a handful of children with peanut allergies and they sit together (they span different grades, my 1st grader thinks it’s cool her friend gets to sit with 4th graders, how the 4th graders feel…well… I’m guessing it’s not a ‘treat’ for them). Anyway, should her school go nut free, no biggie. I will gladly stop sending her to school with a nut lunch. She will have no issue not having those items, life will go on.
Life will go on, nobody is going to die if they DON’T eat peanut butter for lunch but somebody very well might if they DO. So, let’s teach our kids about caring for one another and looking out for their fellow classmates. Of course the children with allergies will still have to be aware, and parents vigilant, but why not make their lives a little bit easier for most of the day?

14 Another Dreamer { 10.09.13 at 11:38 am }

I’ve never really thought about it much before this year, I’ll be honest. My nephews are allergic to peanuts though, and a few friend’s children have allergies too, and I see how scary it is. I still pack DS a PB sandwich when we go to the zoo, and a PB&J for myself, but I do always wipe our hands down and wash them. I try to be cautious, but I’ll admit it’s hard to pack something other than PB for lunch… I don’t like meat (and a picky eater), with DS only wanting PB for lunch (every. single. day. if he could), it makes me less inclined to change. I do try to be cautious, and have started trying to think of lunches we could bring that don’t have nuts in them.

I’ve never encountered a school or, well anywhere, that’s specifically nut free. I understand the idea, and why it may be necessary though. I don’t really know how I feel about it, I think I’d fall into the camp that if it’s a rule that’s fine- I’d follow it. Because I do get it, even though I’ve never experienced an allergy like that to food. I guess I just don’t understand or see how prevalent it is, and maybe that’s something I should look into.

It gives me something to think about.

15 Emma { 10.09.13 at 1:57 pm }

I feel like I’m all over the place with this subject, so I apologize if this is disjointed.

I never gave much thought to peanut allergies until I had my son and everyone was telling us NOT to feed him peanut butter until 2 becauase he could have an allergic reaction and die. That was terrifying to me as a new parent. (I think this rule is starting to get reversed, which I’m glad of. I feel like this “holding off” on things doesn’t make sense, if you have a true allergy to something holding off isn’t going to make a difference.)

If my kids don’t have issues with banned products, then my reality is life can be chaotic and reading labels on EVERYthing I buy, when my kids don’t have allergies, because it *might* end up in my kids’ lunch, isn’t going to be in the forefront of my mind. And I know it won’t be in my husband’s should he be making our kids’ lunch one day.

But I know I’d be singing a different tune if it was MY child with the allergy. The reality would be that I AM reading every label, and I’d *want* the parents of children my kid is around to as well. Because at some point I HAVE to let go and I’ll be depending on others to help keep my kids safe.

I think if nuts are going to be banned, then it makes more sense to do so at daycare/preschool/elementary schools. Heck, G’s pediatrician has signs all over the place stating patients/staff can’t bring peanut products OR bananas into the office because of patient/staff allergies. Young kids really can’t communicate as well as older ones. And these places are supposed to protect our kids. And no, you can’t trust other kids. I can’t eat cheese, but you know what my friend did on Nacho Day? Rubbed nacho cheese into the chip and gave it to me to eat. What if this had been something that could have sent me to the ER? I’d hate to think of this happening to another child because their friends are old enough to really grasp the reality of things. And I’d feel awful if it was my kid who sent another to the ER because they didn’t quite understand the potential impact of sneaking something in. SO, in these places where there are young kids? I’ll follow. I know it can’t be convenient to the parents to cater around these allergies if they don’t have them either.

I feel it’s a slippery slope overall. You’re not going to make everyone happy. And as others have pointed out, at some point our kids HAVE to enter the real world which won’t usually cater to their needs. They’ll have to figure out how to navigate it with their allergies. As a very picky eater I can see both sides. Banning can keep kids safe AND keep them included in the fun. But when it isn’t a reality for the majority of families/children, I think it will always be hard(er) to enforce this kind of rule, and parents/kids on both sides need to keep in mind the other’s reality isn’t their own.

16 loribeth { 10.09.13 at 1:59 pm }

I never gave allergies too much thought until I started breaking out in hives myself about five years ago (tomato was eventually pinpointed as the main culprit). Through careful avoidance , I have not had a reaction in about three years now (knocking wood…) & in fact, allergy tests last year showed no sensitivity to tomato whatsoever. (??) My allergist has said that if I want to reintroduce tomatos into my diet to come to her office and eat a tomato in front of her first. I haven’t taken her up on it yet.

Believe me, I developed a whole new respect for people who are severely allergic, and for parents dealing with allergic children. The son (only child) of a pg loss group friend, now about 8, is highly allergic to many things, including bee stings. The poor kid got stung twice within just a few weeks, & both times wound up in the hospital. You can imagine his poor mom. She has had several pg losses, and to come so close to losing her only living child… Very, very scary stuff. 🙁

My own reactions have always responded to a Benadryl or two — I always carry Benadryl with me now, and I also carry an epi-pen, even though I have never had cause to use it. But the reactions I had were scary enough (I did go to the hospital a few times, just to be safe), & they CAN escalate. The psychological impact was huge. For awhile there, I found my throat tightening up if I just looked at a tomato. It took me a long, long time before I stopped worrying about every bite that went into my mouth.

17 It Is What It Is { 10.09.13 at 2:36 pm }

Lots of responses and food (pun intended) for thought.
My older son’s last school was a nut-free school. There were signs posted at all entrances and it was reinforced at events and meetings, there were to be no nuts, nothing made with nuts, and nothing served that was made on machines that might have processed nuts. Before I got the hang of it, many a snack item was sent home (because, for instance, Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies are made on machines that may process tree nuts).

His new school has an allergy lunch table.

I’ve not minded either situation and still check wrappers just because I got in the habit. My son hates all nuts and nut butters so it’s not that much of a concern.

What I will say, is that both scenarios have made my young son aware that other kids do have allergies and he is sensitive to the idea that not everyone is the same. That has been one of the great things to come out of his school environments, learning that we sometimes have to be mindful ourselves for the benefit of others.

18 GeekChic { 10.09.13 at 3:51 pm }

I have severe allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, etc.) and have since I was a child. When I was growing up the school didn’t ban nuts but they did ban sharing of snacks (or lunch when eating lunch at school became more common in the later grades – I didn’t eat lunch at school until grade 6). That worked OK but our class sizes were smaller than they are today so it was easier to monitor.

I have seen allergies used as weapons for bullies. One of my classmates had their allergen rubbed all over their face by bullies and the same group tried to force-feed me peanut butter (fortunately for me, I was stronger than them).

19 Brianna { 10.09.13 at 4:36 pm }

I’m kind of torn on this. I grew up with Type 1 diabetes, so I was used to having to eat when nobody else was, or a classmate bringing in treats that I wasn’t able to eat (and if I did eat it I could get sick and possibly end up in the hospital), so a part of me thinks “they can just avoid the peanuts”. But, when you related it to smoking and that these people could DIE from exposure to peanuts it did make me think that maybe in the future there would be more peanut-free spaces. But then again, are we eventually going to cater to every type of allergy that can cause anaphylaxis–how would we prevent those that are allergic to bees from being exposed to them; can we never hold an event outdoors because of this allergy? I can see how this could be a very heated topic that will require lots of thought, compassion and understanding.

We recently enrolled Gus at a preschool that DOES have a policy against peanuts in the school. I’m fine with this, because they provide him with very nutritious and varied breakfast, lunches and snacks without peanuts. My worry/concern is for when he begins kindergarten. His elementary school is also peanut-free. I think the biggest thing that would help me better acclimate to a peanut-free environment for him is to offer me suggestions of what he could bring in his lunchbox INSTEAD of peanut butter and jelly that doesn’t need refrigeration or a microwave, that he won’t get tired of eating.

20 mrs spock { 10.09.13 at 4:40 pm }

Nut free school lunch ideas: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/10/07/nut-free-school-lunch-ideas/

We have always had to pack lunch and 2 snacks at day care with no refrigeration available. Use an ice pack or two in an insulated lunch tote, and there should be no problems.

21 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.09.13 at 5:17 pm }

Back in the 60s I was one of those kids who was allergic to nuts. All nuts. Deathly. Back then it was an anomaly. I can only imagine how tough it was for my mom to keep me safe. We weren’t in a position to change my various environments; I simply had to adapt and find ways to be safe in them.

Even as bad as it was, the only time I wished that others would change their behavior for me was in an airplane. In that confined space with recycled air, when everyone else opened their bags of peanuts, I would start sneezing violently. My body rebelled even though I wasn’t atually ingesting peanuts.

I was happy in the 80s or 90s when it seemed like airlines switched to pretzels.

22 Bionic { 10.09.13 at 6:20 pm }

I am 100% with you on following rules about nut-free (etc.) spaces, though I roll my eyes a bit at a few stories I’ve heard of schools that have instituted rules like that without having an actually allergic kid in the school.

I’m less on board with the idea of not eating peanuts (etc.) in spaces that are public but not designated nut-free. That doesn’t make a lot of practical sense to me, since the space won’t be “safe” regardless. But perhaps I am missing your point.

All that said, I am not entirely joking when I say I’m afraid we will have to homeschool if our extremely picky son ends up at a school with food restrictions. Like, for real, I do not know what he will eat. (And a friend with multiple severe allergies is routinely driven mad by the restrictions at the school where she teaches, which don’t protect her but do limit the foods she is able to eat to an extremely minuscule number. She doesn’t break the rules or anything, but I do think she’s right to be frustrated that she has to avoid the few foods she can eat, given that she doesn’t have contact with the allergic kids for whom the rules exist.)

23 ANDMom { 10.09.13 at 6:52 pm }

My thoughts immediately go to the last point Bionic is making – sometimes it’s not “just lunch” it’s stepping on the toes of kids with OTHER medical conditions and severely limiting THEIR options – to the point where it might not be viable for them to eat a nutritious lunch at school. And while it’s not life-threatening it can be detrimental to them … and it’s the school’s responsibility to make sure they are looking out for the best interest of EACH child, while also keeping everyone safe.

We run into food restrictions routinely in waiting rooms plastered with “no food due to potential allergy risks” signs – and that’s a problem when you have a child on a medically-necessary strict eating/feeding schedule. It’s very common for us to have to go up to the front desk and request to be moved to a different area to wait because we HAVE TO feed him.

I think blanket bans in schools are a bad idea – I think it needs to be assessed given the school population as a whole to make sure that the needs and safety of each student are accounted for. Sometimes that might mean a total ban, sometimes that might mean an allergy-free table, but leave it as a dynamic policy that goes with the flow of the school population.

24 chickenpig { 10.09.13 at 7:35 pm }

It would be nice it is ‘just picky’ or it’s ‘just lunch’ but for some of us it’s not. My son is literally only eating two tablespoons of peanut butter at lunch because he won’t eat anything else. He is severely underweight and undergoing tons of testing…again. Nuts are one of the very few things with protein that we can get him to eat. I think our school has a good compromise in having a peanut/nut table at school that is the ONLY place peanuts/nuts are eaten. I feel that if your child is so incredibly allergic to peanuts that they will drop dead at the sight of one, the only place that is safe for them is at home.

25 Sara { 10.09.13 at 9:24 pm }

I have a sister with a severe nut allergy, and a child will pretty much only eat peanut butter. We are lucky that my daughter’s school is not nut-free, but if it was, I would respect the rules both in the sense of following the rules and also in the sense of appreciating that the rules are there for a reason. Yes, it would make my life much more difficult, because I’d probably have to go pick my kid up, take her away somewhere to eat her peanut butter, and then bring her back, but having dealt with my sister’s allergies also, I’d rather do that than put someone else’s child in mortal peril. I do agree that sometimes institutions aren’t thoughtful in their decision-making about these things, but I just can’t bring myself to be offended by it.

26 Jo { 10.09.13 at 9:56 pm }

As I read these comments, I wonder how many parents (not the ones here, but in general) truly understand what nut-free entails? It’s not just no peanut butter – if no nuts. It’s nothing with any nuts, or nut oils, anywhere in the food, or even processed on the same machines. Nuts are freaking EVERYWHERE. I understand the well-intentioned thought process behind the bans, but frankly think that they would be impossible to enforce, particularly at larger schools (the one I currently teach at has 80 staff members and over 1100 students). You’re telling me that NONE of these 1200 people will ever bring anything contaminated onto campus over the course of a school year? Ban or not, I can guarantee that at some point, someone will. Our best bet is to protect children with allergies as best we can by educating them and the adults they have daily contact with. Beyond that, I think it’s a battle we just can’t win.

27 Rach { 10.10.13 at 10:25 am }

I was never allowed PB at school. So to me, it’s no biggie. I wasn’t any worse for the wear because I didn’t get to eat PB in school. I just ate it for breakfast and sometimes for dinner, lol. I was a PB loving, picky (PICKY) eater…so sometimes my lunch consisted of carrot sticks, cheese and crackers. But, I did just fine.

Some friends of mine recently had this conversation on FB because a little girl was killed eating a formerly peanut free rice crispy snack and had such an adverse reaction that her Physician father, and two epi pens, just couldn’t stop it. It was awful, and started a huge discussion on FB. What really stopped me in my tracks was this opinion that more than a couple people had that kids with allergies should be homeschooled. As though, raising them sheltered from the world, will provide them the necessary skills to function as an adult. They blamed the parents in this case, for allowing their daughter to go out and eat a food item that she had had before, and was supposed to be peanut free. They thought she should be kept home and separate from the world.

This is the kind of mindframe I do not understand. Sure, it’s tough to find something for your picky eaters to eat if not PB. But we’re talking about someone’s LIFE. Their life! They should not be punished due to an allergy, and kept home. How is that fair to them? The world should be willing to accommodate for them, as well as them working with the world (being cautious, checking ALL foods). It’s not a huge request…it’s really not. Just leave peanuts at home. It could mean someone’s life.

28 deathstar { 10.10.13 at 12:20 pm }

My kid has already entered preschool with one blessed year away from kindergarten and ALREADY I slipped up and put a peanut butter and jam sandwich in his backpack (which I had intended to take out and give him AFTER preschool) and the teacher found it. I felt embarrassed and terrible about it. Already I’ve met a mum whose son had various allergies and she made all his cakes and breads from scratch (egg allergy?). I did not grow up with any of these concerns, nor did I know anyone who did. However, that’s the world we live in NOW, so we need to be sensitive to it even though we may not understand it.

I recently was part of a team that produced a live show at a civic theatre and at the last minute I get an email saying we should make an announcement that no one (of the 200 + performers) should not bring any snacks containing peanuts due to AIRBORNE peanut particles. This email came from a nurse, not a parent. Now, for the kids room (we had 60 kids performing), that made sense and it’s what we always do anyway, but that would imply that the ENTIRE building and all the staff and 2000 guests coming should not bring or eat peanuts. That would be unenforceable.

Having said that,this whole peanut free zone thing is just like anything else – until it affects YOU + YOURS, you don’t really get it.

Considering people are becoming more environmentally sensitive/allergic (fragrance, severe peanut/egg allergies, pollen, mold, latex, etc), you’d think more people should be asking WHY?

29 Catie { 10.10.13 at 7:17 pm }

I don’t think any foods should be banned in schools and I come from a family with all sorts (including peanut) of allergies. I really think that is up to the person with the allergy needs to learn how to navigate the world at large. The younger they are when they start to do that the better, it becomes second nature. My nephew with the peanut allergy was taught not to take any food from anyone but his family during toddlerhood. As he got older he learned what he was allergic to and how to ask if a food he was offered contained it. If there was any doubt he knew not to take it. He and all adults around him were also taught how to use an epi pen. He was 5 when he starting carrying one with him at all times. He is now 12, healthy, happy and aware of what he needs to look at before he eats ANYTHING! It is his allergy, it is up to him and his family to manage it. Why should the kids in his school miss out on a possible favorite food because he is allergic to it? Banning an entire food from hundreds of kids that might just love it goes too far in my opinion. If there are enough kids to warrant it in the school, then go for a peanut free table in the lunch room but an out and out ban is just too much.

30 Katherine A { 10.11.13 at 9:22 am }

I’m on board with having peanut-free spaces, because life threatening allergies are horrifying. Especially the contact ones where simply touching the allergen can trigger a severe reaction. Inconvenience isn’t enough to justify endangering someone else’s life. It’s especially understandable in pre-schools or elementary schools where kids are still learning to handle allergies or might inadvertently not understand that touching their allergic friend after eating a pb+j should not happen.

That being said, it’s also a matter of degree. Is it that nuts are banned, or all items that have the label that they were processed on machines that also process nuts? So that a package of cheese crackers with no nuts as ingredients could also be problematic?

There’s also an economic angle of this that has to be looked at as well. I remember a few years ago, one of the local food pantries had a list of items they were wanting if people wanted to donate food (instead of cash). Peanut butter was on the list because it’s a relatively cheap, shelf-stable, fairly nutritious source of protein. For me, finding and choosing other foods/sources of protein IS merely an inconvenience which I’m perfectly willing to do. For some people who are barely making ends meet and thus have severe restrictions on how much they can spend on groceries, how far they can travel to get groceries, or who need to use food banks, it may not be merely an inconvenience to find nut-free foods or foods that aren’t processed on machines that process nuts. It may be all they can afford or what they’re given.

This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be peanut free spaces. The economic situation does, of course, have a number of solutions that could enable parents to go nut-free to avoid endangering other children (perhaps expanding the reduced/free number of school lunches, working with local food banks – just to name a couple of ideas). That does, however, mean examining the ramifications for all children when changing a policy and finding ways to make it work so that children with allergies are protected and children who may not have a lot of other alternatives can eat.

31 Elizabeth { 10.11.13 at 4:41 pm }

A friend and one-time coworker has a number of food allergies, including sugar. Another woman at the office said one day, when the friend with allergies wasn’t there, “if it were me I’d just force myself to eat sugar until I just got over it.” (meaning the allergy). Do people sometimes think allergies are completely psychosomatic???

32 Justine { 10.11.13 at 10:35 pm }

Such an interesting discussion. My son’s/daughter’s preschool/K has a very strict nut ban, because of the airborne risk. My son’s school now, though, has just a nut free table for lunch, though he can’t bring any nuts into the classroom (I guess there’s something about smaller spaces that might get contaminated?). I used to think it was a pain the neck, but I’ve gotten used to it, and we had a neighbor up the street with a severe peanut allergy, so my kids got used to dealing with it … even N. knew that if she ate a PB&J for lunch, she’d have to wash up very well, in case we saw Cozette later in the day. I think that this kind of attention suggests that we care about each other. And it’s important to teach that kind of care to our kids.

33 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 10.17.13 at 7:05 am }

You’ve never seen the heat of the seatbelt argument? I know of at least one person who won’t visit any US states with seatbelt laws. No wait – that’s motorbike helmets. He always wears a motorbike helmet when riding a motorbike because he thinks it’s the best thing for his safety, but he won’t visit states with helmet laws because he’s against “invasions of liberty”. But of course seatbelts/helmets are more of an individual choice, so it’s a different debate.

I was once on a delayed flight out of Canada and had only enough Canadian currency left on me to buy a packet of peanuts for lunch. I bought them and was immediately told I couldn’t eat them because someone on my flight had peanut allergies. I’m hypoglycaemic. I ended up with a two-day migraine with vomiting. I was pretty pissed about the situation, but mainly because they really perhaps should have done something to keep everyone fed in the face of unavoidable delay (I am ok with delays per se – I prefer them to crashes) so people who’d already got rid of all their Canadian currency could have not starved to the point of illness – but the fact I had those peanuts on me at the time was particularly torturous.

The thing I don’t get about the whole debate, though, is how come it only exists in certain places? They had a no-nuts policy in our Australian playgroup, but the teachers actually hand out peanuts as rewards at my son’s school in Singapore? I mention the peanut allergy thing and they laugh like it’s some hilarious crazy foreigner whatever and then offer my children fun-sized snickers.

34 Jason { 11.09.13 at 11:40 am }

At first they start with statements banning peanut-based lunches or snacks, but that is just the beginning. The next thing they ask for once they have ‘trained’ everyone into jumping through their hoops is to not bring anything based on legumes – that means no beans, no frijoles, no lentils – (I’m sure the other “I’m special” group, the vegetarians are digging this one), no baked kidney beans, etc. Okay now that everyone is trained to follow the hysterical regimen based on one or two psychosomatic sufferers, it gets worse. Next don’t eat any of those products at home prior to going to school because even a trace – a particle, you understand – can cause anaphalaxis!

Next they will be asking you not to buy those products at all, because your child may have traces of those products in their digestive system days after consumption – days only!

Do you see what has happened? You are being trained to follow someone else’s crazy. Trust me, it is not a fun thing to do. This is what you tell them while smiling and nodding gently so as to not set them off; “I will not eat peanuts – that is what you are ‘allergic’ to right, around you, no problem,” then you go into the next room and have your fucking peanut butter sandwich with a smile and be thankful you are not as crazy as they are.

35 Heather @ Blue Bear Aware { 01.12.14 at 9:30 am }

Most well-thought out, reasonable article I’ve read in ages – thank you! The seat belt and smoking analogies should make many think twice. I am sharing this with friends, family and customers. We’ve dealt with all kinds of attitudes and for the most part people seem to be getting it, but there are still those who believe my 7 yr old’s life threatening allergy impacts their rights.

36 Michelle { 01.12.14 at 1:05 pm }

Kids with food allergies ARE taught at a very young age to say no to food that is not from home. However, with airborne allergies it’s not about eating the food- the particles in the air can kill a child. It’s the same for children who are contact reactive. If the allergen touches their skin they will have a severe reaction. If they touch a surface that looks clean but there is a small amount of the allergen protein on the table, the child may touch it and if he rubs his eyes or puts his hands in his mouth he may die. It’s not just about eating the food.

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