Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Battle of the Deadly Nuts

Those of us who grew up in any generation prior to the current 20-and-under crowd find ourselves astonished at how many children in our kids’ classrooms and playgroups have moderate-to-severe allergies to nuts. Having someone else’s child come over to your house to play or sleep over, or even making fun snacks and treats for your child’s birthday, can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster: What can I make that’s safe for everyone? Will this adjusted recipe still taste good? Did I touch any of the cooking utensils or dishes with anything that has been in contact with nuts? Am I absolutely certain that my ingredients are nut-free in every way imaginable?

peanuts for nut allergy post
Faces of Death.      
image credit to bioag.novozymes.com
Let’s face it. Nut allergies are scary. They’re scarier to deal with (for us average parents of non-allergic children) than milk allergies or gluten intolerance or other food-related sensitivities. For some reason – whether backed by science or simply what makes the news that we read – nut allergies seem deadlier and more insidious. There are individuals who can even become horribly ill – or worse – from being in proximity of nut particles in the air. I mean, come on! If the idea that you might accidentally distribute the almost invisible dust of death out into the breathing space of a highly allergic child isn’t terrifying, I don’t know terrifying.

Hence, the inception of periodic peanut-free flights and the dramatic rise in popularity of pretzels as airplane treats. (Not sure why plain M&Ms haven’t become the obvious replacements for peanuts, but that’s for another discussion.)

Let’s get serious, though. As with anything that requires tremendous care, consideration and some level of restriction, the need to accommodate individuals, even children, with nut allergies tends to upset some people.  Moms and dads alike rail against the concept of requiring all school snacks or brought-in birthday treats to be peanut free. They act persnickety about the parents of these children taking a moment to send out pre-birthday-party emails about the precautions needed to keep their kids safe. The list of grievances is long and the frustration real.

So let’s go there. Let’s get real.

The reality is that if these parents didn’t take these precautions, their children would be put in danger, sometimes mortal danger, every day in this country of ours where so much of what we ingest and are exposed to includes nuts or nut particles. If that’s not clear enough, let me be more concise: These parents who insist on these precautions are protecting their children. Their kids. The young people they not only are required to raise and care for but that their instincts drive them to protect… especially from anything deadly.

Some parents (of non-allergic children) who feel inconvenienced suggest that children with such severe allergies should not be allowed in public schools and shouldn’t be included in common outings and parties, stating that if exposure is so dangerous, these sensitive children likely should be kept tucked away from kids and crowds and mishaps. Let’s face facts. This reaction isn’t about the safety of the kids with the nut allergies. They’re about the fact that the safeguards that are put in place may occasionally inconvenience their kids. Essentially, it’s a douche-y response.

For the parents of non-allergic children who get bent out of whack by precautions that are established to protect children with nut allergies, I put together a little comparison for you, an if-this / if-that list if you will, to help define which option might be the best option – keeping severely allergic children separate from other kids or finding ways to include them safely.


If we restrict snacks and treats to those that are nut-free, your child might have to wait until she is at home to eat and enjoy her beloved peanut butter sandwich or the granola bar with nuts or her favorite brownie. You might also have to avoid making cupcakes to bring in for her birthday, since the ingredients may not come from a nut-free facility. I know this is rough and a huge let-down.

If we don’t restrict snacks and treats to those that are nut-free, the child with the nut allergy could die from accidental exposure to or ingestion of nuts or nut particles.


You have options here. You could grumble but accommodate, possibly frustrating your child that he’s going to have to wait until after his party to eat his favorite cake. You could not grumble but accommodate, with the same results but likely with a better response from your child who believe it or not does look to you as an example of how to respond to the world. I know either of these options is emotionally wrenching, and the whining might be difficult to bear. Of course, you could refuse to accommodate, be a completely and total douche canoe, and exclude the allergic child from the party. (Hopefully in that last instance your child will be a better human being than you and will apologize to his classmate for your douche-ocity.)

If you don’t accommodate but simultaneously don’t say anything back to the parents, or if you claim you’ll accommodate but actually do not, the child with the nut allergy could die from accidental exposure to or ingestion of nuts or nut particles.


If we allow a child with severe nut allergies to attend public school, precautions have to be put in place to keep that child safe and alive, just as precautions are in place to keep any non-allergic child safe and alive. That includes becoming a nut-free zone (see above for all of the strife that will put you through).

If we keep a child with severe nut allergies out of public school, your child will be able to eat her favorite snack when she wants to. She’ll be able to bring in whatever tasty treat – for lunch or for snack or for celebration – that suits her whimsy, or yours. Your child will get straight As and will be guaranteed years of happiness and future professional success simply from lack of stress over the restrictions of a nut-free school zone. Angels will weep with joy.

If we keep a child with severe nut allergies out of public school, we put that child’s education, emotional health and future at risk. Some parents are exceptional at homeschooling and put public school education to shame; however, others struggle, either from lack of knowledge, difficulty understanding how to convey concepts to a young learner, or simply from the economic strain of having to choose between full-time employment and the education needs of their child. We have schools for a reason – not everyone is a good teacher by nature; the choice to homeschool should be just that – a choice. Also, there are the inherent emotional risks of potentially reducing opportunities for the excluded child to have peer-to-peer social interaction – again, this is entirely dependent on the parent’s strengths to accommodate this. In short, you risk a child’s childhood for the sake of others’ convenience.

I suppose that’s the most difficult part for me to get my head around, this idea that anyone can feel that their child’s convenience is more important than another child’s safety. It’s one thing to care more about your child than any other child, but it borders on a pathological lack of sympathy and empathy to put your child’s desires above another child’s health or well-being.

I can understand feeling frustrated about being restricted from doing or having something you love or crave, and I can understand feeling frustrated when your child faces this type of restriction. But when this is put into the context of accommodating-my-frustration-versus-putting-someone-else-in-mortal-danger, especially when that someone else is a child, suddenly I don’t really feel such a strong need for that thing I miss. I don’t feel such an urge to fight for my kids’ taste buds to be satisfied at any given point in the day. And when I think about one child being entirely excluded from a rite of passage (yes, school is a rite of passage) just to allow another child the freedom to eat whatever he or she wants during the learning part of the day, the whole argument seems not just a little bit pathetic and selfish and awful.

So if you feel strongly that your child faces powerful injustice at the hands of the nut-free power lobby that his God-given and constitutionally defended rights to eat his Nutty Buddy or his Snickers bar or his grandmother’s banana nut bread are being infringed upon, please feel free to whine and gripe and carry on. Have at it. Clearly, you have your priorities in good order. And when you “swear to God” that you’re the kind of person who is selfless and looks out for the good of others, don’t be surprised if I gingerly but quickly put a little bit of physical distance between us. I’m not fond of standing that close to a lightning rod.

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