I see a lot of parent activism about peanut allergies – attempts to ban peanuts from classrooms, ballparks, and airplanes are calls to action that make the news and break your heart with stories of kids who have needlessly died from a severe reaction to coming into contact with peanuts. My heart breaks too when I see that, but all of these stories also seem to have another thing in common: an irresponsible use of the term “food allergy.”
Attempts to ban peanuts in the name of “allergy awareness” can be dangerous for children with other food allergies. My sweet, wonderful, exceptionally bright niece Hope has a serious allergy to corn. She has ended up in the hospital, poor baby, as a result of well-meaning but misguided classroom volunteers who assumed that her food allergy was to peanuts and handed her a treat that contained a corn product and said it was safe for allergies.
Banning peanuts and labeling that school/ballpark/plane as an “allergy free” zone doesn’t raise allergy awareness, it just reinforces an idea that this one, high-profile allergy is the only one that matters. It does, of course, matter and parents should be able to advocate for their kids to be safe in their environment. I’m sure that none of these allergy awareness advocates want their victory to be at the expense of kids like Hope.
As the adults, I think we should all be aware of what is in the food we feed our kids – both as in “our kids we parent” and “our kids in our community”. Take the time to read ingredients and know what they mean. And if your child has a classmate or teammate with a “food allergy,” don’t just cross off chocolate peanut butter cupcakes from the treat list and leave it at that. Take a few minutes to ask his or her parent exactly what the allergy is to and how they determine whether food is safe for their child. Who knows, you might even learn something that can help make you healthier.
Kids like Hope, and those of us who love them, will really thank you!