Saturday, July 21, 2012

Peanut-Free or Not to Be?

This peanut thing is tricky. For one reason or another, peanuts in schools seem to be getting a lot of folks all worked up these days on both sides of the lunchroom. As mom to a peanut and tree-nut allergic kid, I'm oddly bipartisan on this front.

Obviously it would be safer to rid Roo's world of all traces of nuts starting with his school lunch table. On the other hand, singling out peanuts doesn't really help us much since a stray walnut or trace of almond butter are just as dangerous for him, if not more. 

I also understand the frustration of parents who can't send an easy, reliable, standby sandwich to school with their child. My kids are not always great eaters and if someone tried to tell me I couldn't send chicken to school with Roo, I'd be a little peeved. Then again, if that chicken was going to endanger another student's life, I'm pretty sure Roo could manage with carrot sticks and turkey roll-ups. I'm not messing around with kids dying.

The other aspect of my peanut-free ambivalence is perhaps more controversial. See, I don't trust other parents. I can't. It has taken years of reading labels, calling manufacturers and restaurants, reviewing RAST results, reading allergy studies and meeting with specialists to gain a firm understanding of how to keep my own son safe. That still doesn't qualify me to keep another child, one with different allergies and a different level of severity absolutely safe.

At four years old Roo is pretty well-versed and won't accept anything to eat unless he's verified its safety with an adult. But quite honestly, that's not their job. I don't expect another parent, camp counselor, or teacher to scour labels for filberts or albumin (yup, he's egg-allergic too) and call manufacturers when there's any doubt. It's just not realistic. I will mention, however, we've been very lucky to have a superstar teacher at Bean and Roo's preschool who goes way above and beyond in terms of understanding and accommodating Roo's unique needs.

To me going "peanut-free" at school doesn't mean much. There is still no way to guarantee that Timmy's mom didn't sneak him a peanut butter sandwich, just this once, or that Karen's grandpa didn't realize that the Kitchen Sink cookies from the local bakery contain peanuts. Roo needs to know that unless something has been deemed safe by me, his dad, or another trustworthy adult who has read, reread, and understood his entire allergy protocol, it is not safe. On some level isn't it more dangerous to instill a false sense of security at school when that's not how the rest of the world works? I don't want him thinking that just because he's at the peanut-free table, everything's copacetic.

Now, don't get me wrong. You have no idea the tear it brings to my eye when someone takes the time to find out what works for Roo, then opts for birthday fruit kebabs over cupcakes because they are safe for the whole class. I sincerely appreciate the efforts that so many of our dear friends and family have made over the years...from the first batch of vegan, nut-free sugar cookies my sister sent a few Christmases ago, to the strategically planned family anniversary party at a restaurant that would accommodate Roo's needs. My gratitude is immense.

Clearly food allergies are real and sadly, they're not going away any time soon. I don't know what the right solution is but as we're figuring it out one thing is clear. We're going to need to work together. Allergic kids and their parents deserve an environment in which they're empowered to protect themselves. Epi-pens in every classroom would be a good start, in my opinion. If we can manage defibrillators in public places, a few strategic epi-pen jr. packs placed throughout schools should be doable. Parents of non-allergic kids need to be able to ask questions and feed their families without being attacked and accused.

No matter your stance, many of us are looking at nut-free lunches this coming school year. Be on the lookout soon for posts highlighting the many delicious and varied alternatives to PB and J and peanut butter cookies that our family has grown to know and love.

1 comment:

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