Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Peanut Allergy: Don't Be a Hater!

As the school year is underway, there is a rise in the number of news pieces about peanut allergies in schools and the attempts at keeping our kids safe by either having a school wide ban on peanuts or allergy tables and other measures in place to diffuse the peanutty goodness in the classroom.

I'm always amazed at the ignorance of people who comment on these articles and casually say that kids with peanut allergies should do the following (my commentary is in parenthesis):
  1. Be homeschooled (Homeschooling? Why didn't I think of that? Because I don't know about you, but I'm MADE of money and I don't have a mortgage or anything).
  2. Be sent to a separate room to eat (So they can reap the benefits of NOT socializing at school - she feels bad enough about sitting at an allergy table, so yeah isolating her even more will be SO helpful).
  3. Be expected to know exactly what they can and can't have at the ripe old age of 5 (what? your 5 year old doesn't know how to read? Sheesh!)
  4. Be fed peanuts so they aren't a bother anymore. (so THAT's how you treat peanut allergy?!? I feel so stupid).
  5. Know that when this commenter was a kid there was no such thing as food allergies (yeah, we're making this whole PA up for attention. blah, blah, blah - well you know what? there are allergies NOW and we're doing the best we can to keep our kid ALIVE at school).
It's just a sandwich people - one food of millions. Lighten up. Our kids have a right to a safe place to learn. And I hate to break it to them, but technically food allergies can be classified as a disability so we have good old 504's to back us up. Should we discourage kids with diabetes (we may need to alter our snacks!) or epilepsy (a seizure might interrupt my child's day!) from attending school too? Or how about kids with physical disabilities? Shall I go on?

Hey Mr/Ms Commenter: why not take this as an opportunity to teach your child tolerance? I'm sure you don't know what that means.

My personal stance on allergy tables and peanut bans is this. I support peanut free classrooms for preschool and kindergarten. I support allergy tables and good hygiene/preventative measures for elementary school kids (and junior high as well). A peanut free cafeteria menu would be cool, just so B can eat lunch and not worry about cross contamination, but I wouldn't make it a deal breaker. But banning PB and all traces of it completely? I just don't think it's realistic. So why not come up with a solution that works under each circumstance?

Ultimately, why do people need to be so mean? We know not having peanuts (or wheat or egg or milk) sucks. We live it every day. For you it is a small choice to not send a sandwich in. For us it is a choice between life and death for our child.

OK, my venting is over. Do you have anything to add?

20 comments:

Nicole said...

Nothing to add. Just saying I completely agree with everything you said. I get especially irritated when parents say, "But it's the only thing my child will eat!" Then they haven't done their job in my opinion if that's ALL their child will eat. It's just the easiest thing for them to make.

ChupieandJ'smama said...

Amen (nothing else to add).

Tara said...

Nicely written. My biggest pet peeve with people through Ava's life has been ignorance. First, over her strawberry hemangioma birthmark, which we ultimately had removed. I was actually asked "Oh, did you crave strawberries when pregnant and not eat them?" SERIOUSLY. And now with her peanut allergy. Anyone who doesn't have to fear a reaction in their child at school should consider themselves blessed. We are lucky to have found a nut-free preschool for Ava-- her first/intended school was not (and thus I allowed her to try PB as a test).

Anonymous said...

The problem is that it ISN'T just a sandwich. The problem is that a true peanut ban includes everything that contains peanuts/tree nuts and nut derivatives as well as anything processed in a plant that also processes peanuts/tree nuts. The problem is also that many things aren't labelled as containing peanuts (like Mexican, Thai, other Asian foods). These "harmless" leftovers may in fact contain traces of peanut because they are made in places that also cook with peanuts.

The major problem with a nut ban is that it isn't sustainable. Sure, people will start out trying hard. But then money runs short or they're in a hurry, or they're out of everything else. Sometimes it's just the kid ate peanut butter toast for breakfast then wiped his hands on his clothes.

NO ONE can guarantee a peanut free environment. Teaching the children they're safe at school is crazy because they aren't. People with airborne allergies are never safe and need to learn to accept and deal with it.

Tara said...

In regard to the previous poster... while it is true, a nut-free school cannot be guaranteed, I would MUCH rather have my daughter somewhere that was at least TRYING to do that rather than somewhere that will not even do so.

Do I expect perfection at my daughter's nut-free preschool? No, that is a given. But is it a safer environment than a school which allows ANY peanut or tree nuts, their by-products, and potential cross-containation items? HELL YES.

xxdreamer87xx said...

Thank you!!! If ever I meet someone who is utterly ignorant about peanuts, I'll refer them to this entry.

In any case, I'm still having trouble with people and peanut butter is a staple on college campuses. Just last Wednesday I had a friend who informed me I should go to more restaurants and her reasoning was in relation to your number 4.

And just to add on to your list, ya gotta love the people that think the allergy is "all in your head." That seems to happen a lot too.

-Samantha (the girl that added you on facebook)

Anonymous said...

This is a good article that I was emailed last week. Although it is not in depth, I thought it did a good job of addressing the issue. It is called "Attack of The Killer Peanut Butter Sandwiches."

http://www.foodallergybooks.com/Media_Files/attack_pb_sandwich.htm

lilyd123 said...

I, too, am amazed at the ignorance in schools with this allergy. We are having a fight with the school district right now. It started with them refusing a peanut-free table for our daughter. They actually wanted her to eat OUTSIDE. Yes, outside of the building! Talk about a lack of compassion. And they refuse to teach her class about her allergy. It is (and these, sadly, are quotes) "would freak out the other kids", "We don't want to burden them with her care", and, my favorite, "We don't want to infringe on your daughter's privacy by telling them." Educating those around is KEY to keeping her safe. It makes me sick. If she didn't have the compassionate teacher she has, we'd be home schooling.
We have to be vigilent in keeping our kids safe. NEVER back down and never beg. They are, by law, supposed to provide a safe classroom. We are also supposed to be able to get a 504 plan for our kids. That's our fight now. I'd love to hear from anyone else fighting for a 504...
Leslie in Georgia

JuJuBee said...

Oh my gosh! Seriously! A sandwich? PFM, it's way more than a sandwich! My daughter's school is peanut free to an extent. The kids can bring peanut foods for lunch (thank god!), but they have mid morning snack in their classrooms, which all classes are peanut-free. I'm sorry, but I had to go out and buy all other pre-packaged and individually wrapped snacks. I can't just buy a box of PF snacks and send them in a bag. They have to be individually packaged (unless it's fruits or veggies, etc.). I'm sorry, but that's a total kitchen overhaul. I understand there need to be allowances (scream 504 all you want, I don't care), but no other allowance turns everyone else's world upside down. If my daughter was in a wheelchair, it wouldn't effect your child or your home any different. So don't even start with the "It's just a sandwich."! Plus, there's way too much paper being wasted on all of the notices being sent home reminding people to keep the snacks peanut free. I'm worried about the cause that's having on my child and her future without trees. Trees produce oxygen and she needs oxygen to live. Are you going to personally send out emails or phone calls to every parent in the school so we don't use excess paper? Now, come on, how does that sound?!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, poor YOU jujubee. You get to send your child to school without worries each day, not even realizing the stress and anxiety that a PA parent and child go through.

Why do you even post a comment here? To hear yourself?

Every mother that reads this blog would trade places with you in a second and be so 'put out' like you are.

You're an uninformed idiot lacking in compassion.

Tara said...

You know what? Had it been someone else's kid with the allergy, I would have been just as cautious as I am now forced to be with my own.

Jujubee, God forbid you ever feel the fear that each of us "peanut free mommies" feel... or think about the fact that EVERY TIME my daughter puts something in her mouth I have to worry that it could kill her. When it comes down to it, you have to buy individually wrapped snacks so that our kids can LIVE. Wow, that's a hard compromise, isn't it?

Cheryl said...

I'm hoping you can help out. My daughter is about to start pre-school in a month. She'll join a set of 23 other kids, one of whom has a severe peanut allergy. For about a year, I've packed PB&J sandwiches for her. When I tried to change it up and send her with chicken salad or deli meat, those sandwiches came back home with her at the end of the day. I have heard that almond butter and cashew nut butter are OK alternatives (the girl with peanut allergy is only allergic to peanuts), which I will try. My question is: at the pre-school level, is there a middle ground? Can proper food hygiene, clean-up and teachers strictly enforcing a no food-sharing policy work with non-allergic kids continuing to bring PB&J sandwiches?

Thanks

Gab said...

Cheryl,

What you mention at the end of your comment would absolutely work. What exactly is your preschool's policy? No peanuts at all? In that case, almond butter or cashew butter may be allowed, but be VERY sure to label the sandwich (and don't try to sneak PB in - the little girl may be very sensitive and will likely react - you wont want to cause that). If they don't have a policy at all, you might want to ask if they can have a PB free table, so kids with allergies and/or no peanuts can sit there. Email me directly if you have other questions at peanutfreemama@gmail.com. Thanks for your comment!

John Fontain said...

All this talk of airborne induced allergic attacks is non-sense. There is no science behind it. This kind of irrational fear is what i cause a disease of affluent.

Gab said...

John, There actually is science behind airborne allergic reaction - you need only check PubMed for proof.

And AGAIN nowhere in this post was airborne allergy mentioned (other than by an anonymous commenter).

Anonymous said...

Gab: I know I'm late to the party, but:

Regarding lunchroom tables: this has worked GREAT for my first grader. Her already-existing school rule was no saving seats--you sit as you come to the table, so cold lunch kids sit by the wall, hot lunch kids by the door. She ALWAYS sits in the last seat at end of the hot lunch end of the table, away from cold lunch kids who may have brought PB sandwiches. This is posted over their table in case there is a cafeteria substitute. If hot lunch IS peanut butter sandwiches, which they only do like 4 times a year, either I take her out for lunch, or she can pick a friend (who didn't bring peanut butter) and eat in her classroom. Everyone washes their hands after lunch.

I've found that trying to be creative and work within the system works better than coming in with my demands. Instead of saying, "My child MUST have his/her own table," say, "How can we keep my child safe at lunch time?" Ex: Our school already had the "pre-packaged snacks only" rule, so in our note home to parents, we highlighted the already-existing rule, saying they could send something nut-free, but if they chose not to, my daughter had a bag of treats in the classroom to choose from.

Just a couple ideas.

Julie said...

hi,

thanks for this article. Having a child with peanut allergy is a nightmare. What's wrong with packing fruits and vegetables? Prepackaged snack woman needs to learn how to pack a lunch that doesn't involve prepackaged things. How hard is that?
My daughter is severely allergic and brings in cream cheese sandwiches and fruit and juice every day. Her school is really good about it. Peanut-free table and recommending parents not to send snacks/lunch with peanuts in them. The parents have been understanding.
We may be moving to the SF area soon. We are currently in the San Diego area. Any recommendations on schools in your area that can deal with this peanut allergy? My 5 1/2 year old is in kindergarten.

Her younger sister has the allergy too it looks like, but so far not as severe.

Thanks for your help!

chrs, Julie

leachu said...

This is an interesting discussion. I am not a mom, but am a 20-something deathly allergic to peanuts and legumes. I can totally sympathize with those who want peanut-free classrooms and/or schools, especially for young children who can be careless with not washing their hands and sharing food, etc. However, I think the most important deterrent is the education of the people surrounding the allergic children, which includes the administration, teachers, aides and classmates.

I didn't have a peanut free classroom or allergy table at any time in my life. Luckily, touching peanuts (as long as they don't touch my mouth) won't send me into a reaction. However, there were definitely times where I had allergic reactions in school. The times when I felt least safe were when I was surrounded by ignorant people who were either disbelieving of my allergy or did not understand it to a sufficient degree. I would still feel unsafe surrounded by these people even if I was standing in an officially peanut-free area. Conversely, I would feel much much safer surrounded by people who understood the severity of my allergy and cared even if I was at a peanut convention.

Realistically, I am glad I did not go to a peanut free school. I think it would have made me feel like a burden to others and also would have made those ignorant people even more of a hassle for me, because they would obviously not be happy about the situation that I "caused" for them. In a perfect world those ignorant people would be lifted from their ignorance and become understanding, but this is not a perfect world and that will never happen. Children with life threatening allergies need to learn self-reliance, vigilance, discipline and hardiness. They also need to learn to have a sense of humor about their condition, as serious as it is.

Right now I am a Fulbright scholar in China, one of the most dangerous places in the world for those with a peanut and legume allergy (or any allergy, for that matter). Life threatening allergies don't exist in this country of over one billion; no single person would believe me if I tried to explain my condition to them. Every kitchen is cross contaminated, mysterious peanut ingredients lie in waiting. And to top it off, social culture revolves around eating. Has this stopped me from living here and interacting with locals? No. Has it made things difficult? Extremely.

I am able to live here because I was not raised with the expectation that the world will not reshape itself for me. Also, I have educated my closest friends about my allergy and find that they are even more concerned and vigilant than I am at times; they are my greatest supporters and protectors. I do appreciate measures like the ban of peanut snacks on many American airlines, but I certainly don't come to expect them.

I wonder if going to a peanut free school would have affected the philosophy I have developed about living with my allergy. I'm not sure I would have the same sense of determination and adventure that I have now. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't... This is definitely something for parents of children with allergies to consider when deciding how responsible they feel society should be for the protection of their child. I will definitely think long and hard about it if one day I have children who are as unfortunate as myself in this regard.

Teachermom said...

I am a preschool teacher who has 2 children of my own who are allergy free. The school where I work is "nut aware" and asks our parents to avoid sending snacks and lunches with nuts to school. We have had parents complain that it is an inconvenience to them to have to check EVERY package they send. I always calmly remind them that I am happy to check labels and send home anything that could be dangerous to other children. I also remind them exactly how DEVASTATED their own child would be to see a friend and classmate have a severe life threatening reaction caused by something that they were eating. I always do a lesson about allergies in the beginning of the year and I find that my children are always eager to be sensitive to the needs of their friends. Somethimes parents can learn a lesson from their children about how to be a respectful member of a community. No child wants to be responsible for hurting another. Parents need to stop thinking only about how they have been inconvenienced. They also need to think about how the consequences of their actions will impact the child who is having a severe reaction, as well as all the children, teachers, and staff who will be the ones to witness the allergic reaction. I have watched a child placed in my care have to leave school in an ambulance due to a sandwich. I have had to console a class afterward and I have seen horrified expression on the face of a parent who 'forgot' and sent in a peanut butter sandwich. Is convenience really worth all that?

Gertie said...

Hello!!
For those who seem to know all on allergies and telling a 4 year old to deal with it!!
Airborne is MUCH different than peanut.....a sneeze, headache and runny nose is much different that your windpipe closing off and a child dying because people are too lazy to look out for the child they are hired to do so for. And the refusal to give the epi to a child in needed in completely a cop out....let me crush your windpipe and see how you handle it without immediate medical attention....If you do not want to do your job, get a new one or go work for McDonalds.....OH that right even McDonalds cares...they removed peanut oils....HMM imagine that.

If this was your child you would care too, and damned if you would not be pushing the Federal Laws to be followed too.