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A Public Ban On Peanuts? Oh, Come On.

By Madeline Holler |

peanut allergy, parents and children, food intolerance

Delicious snack or loaded weapon?

I don’t know why my first impulse, when it comes to peanut allergy discussions, is to roll my eyes. I also have a real Tea Party kind of reaction when it comes to designated peanut-free zones: I’ve got my rights! You can’t tell me how to feed my child!

My reactions confuse me, because I’m typically very much one who is for taking care of others, doing my part, etc. and so forth. I think communities are only as strong as their weakest members so, you know, it behooves us all to pitch in and make adjustments and accommodate others. Anyway, I’d rather not have my son watch a friend get carted away on a stretcher during snacktime, so, I guess I can make a bigger effort to wipe his face clean in the morning (peanut butter toast junkie that he is).

Still, I read Lisa Conquet’s piece up on Babble today with a familiar irritation — and not one in the back of my throat due to a swollen, allergy-stricken tongue. It was the same irritation I feel anytime there’s talk of how a little sandwich is wrecking other people’s lives.

Why? Why am I so protective of peanut butter?

Conquet writes about what she deals with every day in trying to keep her daughter from being exposed to not just peanuts and peanut butter, but the oil that remains even after hands have been washed and tables have been wiped. There’s a constant risk of exposure — at the park, playdates and parties. The nut oils could be lurking anywhere (even her own pantry, as she found out). My family’s dependence on peanut butter and nuts make family’s like her miserable.

Even those trying to accommodate her daughter, as one mom did at a birthday party, aren’t doing enough. There’s almost always something there that forces Conquet to pack up and leave. All of which is really sad, but … still. I wasn’t feeling it.

Then Coquet writes that her daughter survived babyhood and preschool (which was nut-free) and is now navigating the PB&J-smeared wilds of public school. And that’s where my cold and peanut butter-filled heart broke a little. At lunch, her daughter sits at a regular desk that is pushed up at the head of table where her classmates sit. That works now, I guess. But I’m already cringing for the girl during the more self-conscious 2nd-grade year and beyond.

Coquet says a ban on peanuts in public places — much like smoking bans — would make her and her daughter’s life much, much easier. And healthier and safer, too. Bans on smoking? Oh, I love those! Let’s have even more of those! A ban on peanut butter, though? Actually, that desk makes me a little more willing to consider one.

Go on … how do you really feel about peanut allergies? Hype? Self-pity? Do you live in a peanut-free world?

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About Madeline Holler

madeline-holler

Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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37 thoughts on “A Public Ban On Peanuts? Oh, Come On.

  1. TC says:

    Sure, ban peanuts, nuts, gluten, and anything made with milk, eggs, soy, and anything with shellfish. We have to accommodate and protect everyone you know.

  2. Jenny says:

    Until you watch YOUR OWN child swell up with hives, turn blue, pass out from his/her blood pressure dropping, and hear them gasping for breath and slowly losing consciousness while you fumble with a needle you have to jam into their leg before the ambulance arrives, all because one kid was not too good at washing his hands after lunch, then you’ll understand the knee-jerk reaction us allergy moms have about allergenic foods.

    My daughter has a peanut allergy, it’s not life threatening. My son, on the other hand, has a dairy allergy. It’s life-threatening. He can’t even sit at the head of the table at a desk, he has to sit with the desk removed from the other kids.

    Who would think to ban milk? You’d think it would be me, but I don’t because that’s dumb. I expect the teachers and lunch aides to protect him. I’ve done everything *I* can to minimize problems by teaching them and sending their food, but once he’s at school it’s up to them. If the school decides they can’t or don’t want to pay the required attention to my child’s needs while s/he is in the public school receiving his/her free and appropriate education, complete with a 504 plan under the IDEA act…then they’ll choose to ban. I just think for a lot of allergy moms (myself included in the past, but we’ve been dealing with this for years now) the “ban” is a knee-jerk Mama Bear instinct to protect her own child, which is understandable.

  3. goddess says:

    A public ban deosn’t always work. What about the kid who may have traces of it from breakfast? My kid loves PBJs, whole wheat bagels with PB- not many days go by without him having one or the other. IF the school bans it, they know I will be taking him home for lunch on days we have PB. We’ll respect a ban, but we won’t change what we serve at home. (Registered Peanut-Holic here, LO!)

  4. goddess says:

    As for bans in ALL public places, I can’t support that. Will we ban all wheat over celiac disease?

  5. TC says:

    Jenny-I have family members with severe peanut allergies. I am not a stranger to this. However, banning one food item from public places starts a slippery slope of “why not my allergy, it’s equally as dangerous”. Plus, parents with kids who have extreme allergies are usually prepared and try to educate. You can ban PB from schools (my kids go to a peanut free location), but you can’t expect public places to be free from food allergies because of a small minority of people. And, who would “monitor” what people eat in public area? Should we set up neighborhood watches on every playground? Why not add more water clean kiosks and hand sanitizer stations for just such a reason?

  6. goddess says:

    In the comments following that article one woman claims her child has had three reactions form smelling peanuts on another child’s BREATH- once FIVE HOURS after he ate it.

  7. FoodAllergyMom says:

    Instead of turning this into another devisive, “mommy wars” issue, wouldn’t it be great if we could discuss this with a modicum of sensitivity and empathy? As the mother of a 3 year old with food allergies, it makes me sad to read some of the comments that have popped up on here. I’m not advocating for a country-wide ban on peanut butter, but I’d be happy if more people understood the reality of food allergies and anaphylaxis and did not diminish the severity of reactions. Having experienced anaphylaxis personally, it is not something I joke about. It bugs me that this is taken so lightly by a lot of parents…until it becomes an issue for their own child.

  8. JBoogie says:

    I am deathly allergic to latex, and doctors say my son is likely to develop the same allergy. But I’m not asking you to pop your kid’s balloons when we walk in the party. If it’s that much of a danger, we won’t go to the party. If your kid could have a life-threatening attack at the mere scent of peanut butter then why in God’s name would you send him/her to public school? Of course elementary school kids can’t wash their hands well enough. Freakin’ high schoolers can’t do wash their hands well enough.

  9. alison says:

    Our school is nut free. As the parent of a non-allergic child, I completely support food bans in school if it will keep children safe. Why? Because as inconvenient as they may be to me, I am willing to inconvenience myself if I can help keep another parent’s child safe. For my child, it is only an inconvenience. For that severely allergic child, it is life and death. Obviously, as our kids grow up, they will have to navigate a world where their allergies are not understood or accommodated, but for now, I think our inconvenience is a small price to pay for the extra time piece of mind this gives children with allergies and their parents.

  10. Sara says:

    How are these kids ever going to be productive adults in society? Are they going to be on disability for life because someone might have touched a peanut?

    I’m all for reasonable precautions for little kids who are know for being dirty and if there is a real documented situation of a kid with an airborne allergy. However, to often we have huge bans when there are no kids who are high risk.

  11. alt says:

    @FoodAllergyMom, it’s funny that your posting came up just as I was thinking that the comments in this thread were doing a good job of respectfully laying out the issues of concern from all sides (with the possible exception of TC’s sarcasm). For the most part, everyone posting seems to be doing so with empathy and awareness and appears to be solution-seeking instead of engaging in the finger-pointing that can go on at times in forums like these. It’s a serious issue–it’s a life threatening reality for some– and I think everyone gets that and wants kids to be safe out in the world without feeling socially excluded. But… life-threatening biological realities for some do not necessarily entail restrictions on the liberty of choice for everyone else. I think that is what people are struggling with here. How to say that without sounding insensitive. (Okay, so maybe it can’t be done)

  12. Emily says:

    I’m genuinely curious if there’s research being done into the cause of both the growing number of allergic children and the increase in severity – and what’s being done on the medical front to help it.

  13. Andrea says:

    As someone who has medical problems that curtail a normal life, I can totally empathize with wanting the world to be a little more friendly to your own particular problem. That said, there’s no way that we can create perfect spaces for every single individual need, and it’s important to accept individual responsibility for your own limitations or your childrens’. It’s also safer to expect to be responsible for your own safety than expect that everyone else in the world is following the rules.

  14. Laure68 says:

    @Emily – is that true? From what I have read the number of people who die of peanut allergies every year has remained steady. (Maybe it is on the rise and people are more sensitive about avoiding peanuts?) I am not diminishing the reality of those who are severely allergic, but I had heard that the main reason for the rise in allergies is more/better screening?

    I’m not sure how I feel about peanut bans. On one hand, I really liked it when Wrigley Field had a day when a section was peanut-free so kids who are allergic could go to a game. It was great to have a private organization recognize this need and provide a solution. However, if there was a government-regulated ban it would be crazy. There would be miles of documentation and validations to make sure places were peanut-free according to a standard. I’d like to see that we could deal with this among parents instead.

  15. Lisa says:

    Comments ” And that’s where my cold and peanut butter-filled heart broke a little.” So glad the author was able to move to a place where she would “consider” a ban. Still, with increased awareness and understanding of not only peanut allergies, but all of the food allergies that various children deal with, a ban would not be necessary because universal precautions could be set up. Ultimately the goal is not to inconvenience anyone or take anything away from others, the goal is simply to find a way for these children to be safe. It truly takes a village, and if all parents are willing to work together we can ensure that we are all taking part in raising our children safely and well.

  16. Shelby says:

    No one asks for a peanut allergy. I am a peanut loving mom of a peanut allergic boy. I am sorry that other peanut loving families have to change the way they eat because of allergies. But try to put yourself in our shoes, imagine sending your precious child out into the world knowing that something in someone’s lunch could kill him. Not make him throw up or give him a rash, but kill him. Eat and enjoy your peanut butter, just not at school and not around people with allergies.

  17. goddess says:

    I’ve said I’d respect a school ban- even going so far as to going TO the school and picking my son up for lunch and taking him back to that school on the days he will be having a PBJ. He’s not all that into lunch meats & things of that nature- nor likes any of the slop the school serves. And I’ve researched the costs of sun butter et al- and it’s way too expensive for our budget at this time- and that’s assuming we’d even like it.
    So yes, we’ll respect a ban- though he’s only got a year to go in that school, I don’t see one coming. They handle it differently, instead of a school-wide ban- and so far, they have more problem with tree and grass allergies provoking asthma than a nut reaction.

  18. PlumbLucky says:

    I’m on the fence here too…I have severe food allergies myself, been stuck with an epi more times than I care to remember, dread the idea that my children may have a similar issue. I do not expect accomodations from anyone, just enough information to keep myself safe and alive…and you would not believe how difficult this can be as too many people believe that food allergies are fake, overblown, or that “you can have just a little/you can pick around…” when really, no, I can’t. I’m not sure what the answer is, other than understanding and cooperation on both sides. And that can be difficult enough to achieve within the family dynamic, much less the general populace!

  19. goddess says:

    I will say- I’m glad food companies started labeling for allergies- it makes it much easier to get peanut-free foods for a class party.

  20. kathryn says:

    Comments
    When you stood by cheering smoking bans, it was only a question of time before a new ban would come to something that actually affects you. Prepare for more. The nanny state will not stop with smoking, alcohol, trans-fat, and peanuts. Sooner or later they will come for you. Peanut lovers be prepared to become the new smokers/fatties. It is evident in the posts here.

  21. Karen says:

    How about we look at this as an opportunity to teach compassion, empathy and giving? These are values it seems many religions like to talk about, and that most people would like to think of themselves as having. What a terrific lesson for our kids – doing something for the benefit of others. Give up peanuts to save a life? Not so hard. And you know you would if it were your own child.

  22. Marj says:

    Perhaps all school officials should take first aid course that include injection training. And all children with severe allergies must keep medication on the premises. Also, general life-saving medications should be kept there, employees trained in their use, and waivers signed for all children.

  23. PlumbLucky says:

    Know what was frustrating Marj? Know where my epi-pens were kept when I was in high school? The nurse’s office; I was not permitted to keep it on my person. So it was kept in a locked office in a far corner of the (physically quite large) school. Thank goodness I never had to find out at school how quickly I needed it (as in seconds vs minutes…). I really believe that life-saving meds should be on the patient. Didn’t have a problem with this scenario til I was at a public school, I was required to have it on my person while at parochial middle schhol!

  24. goddess says:

    I agree Lucky- they even keep the asthma inhalers locked up in the nurse’s office.

  25. Lynnsey says:

    Our son’s preschool (ages 18 mos. through 5ish years)is free of all tree-nuts. While I appreciate the severity of some people’s allergic reactions to nuts and I understand why it’s easier at this age range to just not have peanuts than it is to try to explain to toddlers that Suzie might go to the hospital if we have a PB&J, I think it’s counterproductive to ban these type of things from public places instead of teaching kids how to deal with peanuts that are going to be in their environment. I don’t think we do them any favors by pretending that the world will always accommodate them.

  26. TC says:

    I think my sarcasm was more to prove a point rather than to be insulting. The point being that we are not going to be able to accommodate everyone’s allergies. Food allergies do suck for both parents and kids. I understand and respect that. But, if we ban something like peanut products in public on the off chance someone could get a bad allergy, then we (as a society) won’t stop there. There will be other allergies that are just as life threatening, and we won’t ever be able to be a sterile environment, no matter how much we want it to be. I agree with researching why more and more allergy cases are popping up, and allergy restrictions in schools, but not publicly. And, I also feel that a child not having accessibility to an epi pen or asthma (or any other life saving med) in class is ridiculous, if not criminal.

  27. moominmama says:

    I’ve got to say I find the whole thing a little confusing, and here’s why. My niece has a life threatening allergy to eggs, which they discovered when she went into anaphylactic shock at the age of one after eating a bite of egg for the first time. Everyone has always worked very hard to protect her and educate people around her so there are no slip-ups, and I remember one of her first sentences being “can I eat this?” HOWEVER, nobody ever asked the school to create some sort of egg-free zone around her or avoid serving egg-laden things at parties she was attending (she always brings her own treat to eat). Because I’ve spent the last 12 years watching my niece grow up with a life-threatening allergy, I thought I knew what it was like for allergic kids and their parents. But then I read things about kids sitting at separate tables, banning other kids from bringing foods to school, etc., and my first reaction is “huh???” Have things just changed that much in the last 11 years since my niece was diagnosed?

  28. Baja K says:

    Many may be interested to know that any number of lower-end cigarettes may be made partly or entirely from Peanut Shells instead of tobacco. True. A measured, uniform shot of nicotine is added, of course.
    Search up “U S Patent 3,978,866″. It’s legitimate to ask regulators if this form of peanut exposure affects those with allergies.
    There are other patents for what is called “tobacco substitute material”…where other forms of agricultural waste are turned into Fake Tobacco. The patents involve techniques to disguise the trash to look, smell, taste, and feel Just Like Tobacco shreds. It’s a lie, by appearance. And it’s “legal”.
    This is important because all the “smoking” laws are based on studies of “tobacco smoke”. You can’t get tobacco smoke from peanut shells, and no studies have been provided about any health effects from peanut shell smoke anyway. It’s a perversion of law that it is banned anyway, without a trial, so to speak. It is telling that our legislators allow this cigarette industry deceit to continue.

    But, for that matter, no studies have come out yet about smoke from tobacco…meaning un-contaminated, plain tobacco. They “study” cigarettes packed with more pesticide residues than exist in any other product, and with dioxin-creating chlorine, and with cancer-causing levels of radiation from certain tobacco fertilizers, and with any of 1400 untested non-tobacco substances…and they conclude that “tobacco kills” or that tobacco causes such and such disease. How such “researchers” manage to keep their licenses is a question.

    Some other interesting fake tobacco patents are 3,796,222 (coffee bean hulls), 3,538,6600 (wood pulp), 3,100,492 (corncobs), and 3,964,495 (popped corn)! Look ‘em up. Does your brand say it’s made from tobacco? If not…you may have unwittingly “quit” smoking tobacco.
    Since tobacco is the fifth most pesticide intensive crop, smoking that industrial waste from other sources would be somewhat safer.

  29. JEssica says:

    Wouldn’t it be safer to just home school the peanut allergic kids. I don’t support any school bans of food at a PUBLIC school. Even if the schools do ban nuts, the lady in the article failed in keeping her allergic child away from nuts in her own home; would schools fair any better. Maybe parents of nut allergic kids have unreasonable expectations.

  30. Marj says:

    I think it is ridiculous that kids cannot keep their medication with them. The point of inhalers and epipens is to be RIGHT THERE when you need them, and the need will sometimes not wait.
    Also, case in point, you can ban all nuts, but technically a peanut is a legume. :)

  31. Sam says:

    I would really like to understand why we have all of the peanut, wheat, egg, etc allergies we currently have. Can anyone explain this? I have never in my life encountered any one with these allergies growing up, at school, high school college, work, anywhere. And now it seems to be an epidemic? Even as a mom, I have never encountered a kid with with any real allergies to these foods; I do know a mom who thinks wheat is the root cause for her son’s autism, and refuses to allow him near it, but he has no reaction if he eats it. I just find it odd that this is now such a problem for us. Is it the pesticides being used to grow these foods? If my kid didn’t eat peanut butter, there would be no lunch for him, so many kids are like this, so how can we even consider a ban? Does organic natural peanut butter make a difference? Can we really ban peanut butter? More kids die from drowning, abuse, or car accidents; so do we ban pools, cars, and bad people? Why all the allergies? Why now?

  32. Cab says:

    Comments

    Your first sentence essentially reads:

    “I don’t know why my first impulse, when it comes to discussions about potentially fatal conditions in children, is to roll my eyes.”

    How sweet.

  33. Michele says:

    As an adult with a severe allergy to shellfish, I can sympathize but not condone. I can not be anywhere near shellfish. I have nearly died from accidentally eating shrimp at a party. I survive by being aware of everything. Anywhere we go and everyone we know has been advised of my reaction. As an adult I can protect myself. Until a child can learn the skills to survive we the adults need to protect them.

  34. Rob says:

    Comments
    I have 2 kids with food allergies, one nuts and the other Milk and eggs. I am not for banning anything but do expect resonable accomidations. For my school it means a peanut free classroom. Kids can still eat peanuts at lunch just not during snack when they are righ next to him. At lunch he sits at a peanut free table. We asked the parents to have thier kids wash their hands if they eat nuts before school.
    My school has been pretty good however I have heard horror stories about others. Most parents when they send their kids to school worry about if their kids will make friends, behave, get in trouble. I worry that he may not come up due to his allergies. Yes the chances are small that anything will happen but as a parent can you ever stop worry?

  35. JT says:

    Once again, back to school means parents with kids with food allergies worrying about exposures, and parents of kids without food allergies dealing with peanut and nut bans. I’ve read a lot of opinions and comments from both sides, so I’m going to throw out a link to the latest scientific review article about managing food allergies in schools: http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(09)00560-0/fulltext
    It’s from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and published by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
    The section about “evidence base available for controversial issues in avoidance and treatment” addresses things such as: does casual skin contact and inhalation of peanut butter cause life-threatening reactions (No. Casual skin contact may cause localized reactions such as rashes, and not even in every case, but ingestion is necessary for anaphylaxis). They also outline other methods to help keep all children with food allergies safe, not just those with peanut/nut allergies. Education is key to not just keeping kids with allergies safe, but also to help allevieate the fears of parents with food allergic kids. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) website is also a good resource. It is interesting to note that neither the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology nor the FAAN support banning of any food allergens, even peanuts and nuts. Also, no state which has established guidelines for school management of food allergies requires banning of any food allergens.

  36. [...] While most people aren’t so flat out mean, it does seem like there is a slight contempt for kids with allergies. Why the anger at a non-PB&J eating little [...]

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