When my children were little, they had a friend named Peter*. He was a cute and mischievous little boy with bright eyes and a wide grin. He loved playing Pokemon and dancing around the living room with my two kids. He also had a large amount of food allergies. He was deadly allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts plus he was also allergic to peas (linked to peanuts), wheat, soy, and beef. On top of that he had a sensitivity to raw fruit and veggies and for one whole summer he could not handle any water (either for drinking or bathing) that hadn’t been boiled. He had so many allergies that his doctor used to rotate the minor ones just so he’d have something to eat. Malnutrition was a concern.
He was invited to both Emma and Jeremy’s birthdays, which meant I baked an egg, milk, and nut free cake for several parties. Every time I cooked anything for Peter, I scrubbed my whole kitchen counter (then rinsed it with a bleach solution) plus I scrubbed every single utensil, bowl, and pan even though I was pulling them clean from the cupboard. I triple checked every ingredient just in case as I did not want to kill off my childrens’ friend. Peter’s Mom was thrilled as this was the first time he’d ever been to a birthday party and eaten the same cake as everyone else. Meanwhile I was surprised. I knew I’d gone a little over the top but, even so, my additional precautions took maybe five extra minutes. What’s five minutes compared to a child’s life?
Then Jeremy started school. As you know, Jeremy is autistic. They also have texture issues that affects what they eat. They didn’t even eat solids until they were over a year old, and then went on to eat only a few select items. Sometimes yogourt… sometimes applesauce… sometimes cereal… sometimes scrambled eggs or tofu nuggets. They liked macaroni and cheese and they loved peanut butter sandwiches; those were one of the few things they’d eat with any consistency. Jeremy had a little boy in their JK class, who was also in their Beaver troop. The little boy was bright, cheerful, and happy… and he almost died that Christmas when his throat swelled shut while tasting nuts from his grandfather’s Christmas nut bowl. They had no idea he had allergies. That January brought around a ban on peanuts and tree nuts.
Remember the only lunch item Jeremy would eat with any consistency was a peanut butter sandwich. My immediate response was to explain to Jeremy how sick their sandwich could make their friend and immediately switch to a cream cheese sandwich. My child’s “right” to a peanut butter sandwich did not trump another child’s right to life itself. Jeremy was upset about the change but was willing to try, especially when promised they could have a peanut butter sandwich as soon as they got home. I never did need to make one though, Jeremy quickly grew used to cream cheese sandwiches.
I’ve heard a couple of arguments over the years about food bans then heard them all again yesterday when a friend had this article posted on her Facebook page…
Argument #1 “My child is such a picky eater. They won’t have anything to eat if I don’t send peanut butter sandwiches”
Really? If the only thing your child eats AT ALL is a peanut butter sandwich, day in and day out, then you really need to get that child in to the doctor. Your child won’t eat a wrap or a sandwich with cream cheese? A thermos of soup or macaroni and cheese? A slice of cold pizza? Hummus, cream cheese or cottage cheese with crackers (or veggies)? Cold cereal with a little container of milk? Mini pitas and pizza toppings so they make their own pizzas? Muffins? Apples? Yogourt? Apple sauce? Mashed chickpeas as a sandwich or wrap filling? Deli (or vegan deli) meats in a sandwich? If you’re not vegan you could add meat sandwiches as well. Go look at a variety of lunch blogs and get inspired by what’s available. Just don’t tell me there’s nothing else your child will eat. That says more about your sheer lack of imagination than your child’s eating habits.
Argument #1b “I bought Wow butter (or any peanut substitute) and now the school won’t allow that either. My child still will only eat peanut butter (or that one sub) and their rights are being infringed on.”
You know who you can blame in this case? The asshole parents who make peanut butter sandwiches then tell their child to lie and say it’s Wow butter. Know how I know this? Because four year olds don’t lie well.
“What kind of sandwich are you eating?”
“Mommy made me a peanut butter sandwich. She said to lie and say it’s a Wow butter sandwich. What’s Wow butter?”
Yeah, because no one will notice when the kid beside your angel breaks out in hives, starts gasping and vomiting, and their eyes start bugging out. Thankfully I noticed the sandwich before she took it out of the saran wrap considering she was right beside the nut allergic kid.
Argument #2 “We are too broke to afford anything but peanut butter sandwiches. All that’s left is meat.”
You know what? Just once I’d like to make it to the poverty line. Not above (although I’d like that as well) but just plain to. Take a good look at the list I wrote above and tell me the only thing left up there is meat or that cereal and mashed chickpeas are mega expensive. I’m a vegan and can come up with all sorts of milk, egg, and nut free lunches. It’s not that hard or expensive. Really.
I had a parent complain to me before that her son was made to starve one lunchtime because she sent him into school with a peanut butter and jam sandwich and it got confiscated. This was despite there being a ban and despite knowing his teacher had a life threatening allergy to peanuts. She was furious because the school board was discriminating against her since she was too poor to afford anything except peanut butter and jam sandwiches. My response? “Well you can obviously afford jam. Why didn’t you send a plain jam sandwich?”
Argument #3 “I don’t mind accommodating allergies but I don’t want to cater to kids with allergies. They should have their own little corner to themselves so I can send whatever I want with my own children.”
Really? You want to segregate 2 or 3 kids out of several hundred, pulling them off into their own corner away from everyone else to eat? Are you going to put a flashing sign over their table that blinks “different” as well? And all because you don’t want to have to think of other foods. Alrighty then
Argument #4 “These children need to fend for themselves. How are they going to learn how to protect themselves if everyone coddles them and hides them from dangerous foods? What’s going to happen when they’re adults and Mommy isn’t there to protect them?”
This one tends to be the “intelligent argument”, the one that gets people nodding. It’s still crap though. What other life threatening situation is there where we leave elementary school children to fend for themselves? Do they walk themselves to school because they’re going to have to learn how to keep an eye out for cars as adults? Do they prepare their own meals over a hot stove because no one’s going to cook for them as adults? Do they go home as latch key kids in kindergarten because when they’re an adult they’ll have to let themselves into home and spend hours by themselves unsupervised?
In our society we tend to go the complete opposite. I know someone who had Children’s Aid called because she let her children play on their front lawn while she was inside watching them from a window; something that Children’s Aid took quite seriously by the way. Parents are known for over-supervising their children… becoming “helicopter parents”. But throw in an allergy that could kill a child and suddenly that child (who often isn’t even old enough to read an ingredient list) needs to become an immediate expert on the subject. We don’t expect that level of expertise from our children in any other area so why are allergic children treated any different.
I’m not saying to hide the allergy from children. By all means teach them about what they’re allergic to and show them how to protect themselves. I simply don’t feel entering the cafeteria should be a life or death situation.
* the kid’s name was not Peter