July 31, 2006

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut

After a dad at her son's preschool vetoed the snacks she was sending--twice, two days in a row!--Emily Bazelon found herself not unsympathetic, mind you, but frustrated in dealing with other kids' nut allergies:

But it would be a lot easier to accommodate allergies graciously if I felt like I could tell the rationally neurotic parent with the extremely allergic kid from the crazy neurotic parent with the slightly allergic one. And I can't.
Can anybody? Slate itself has done at least four articles on the nut/food/kid allergy axis, but there doesn't seem to be any mention of studies or rational recommendation, just peanut-scaremongering. And a doctor mentioning "hypochondria" in 2001.

But what I want to know is, how is it this dad gets pre-emptive veto authority on other kids' snacks? Is it a co-op? What kind of school puts up with that kind of parental micromanaging?

Trees vs. Children: Are nut allergies taking over the planet? [slate]


I worked at a preschool where tree nut products were banned outright. Food allergies are on the rise, and it's true that in extreme cases, just touching peanut butter could be dangerous. It's easier just to keep it out, especially if you're dealing with little kids.

But in that incident, the dad sounds like the nut.

i have a hardcore anaphylactic allergy to tree nuts (not legumes, not peanuts) and grew up in an era before people were really sensitized to fatal allergies. i had to go to the ER a few times (and in college got quite ill after making out with a boyfriend who'd just eaten a walnut brownie). once i had to be intubated and hospitalized. today, i wear a medic alert bracelet; i am a pain in the ass in restaurants; worst of all, i have to leave business class on the airplane when they break out the warm nuts i know, your heart weeps for me. mostly i fly coach. (DO YOU SEE HOW I SUFFER?)

seriously: maybe b/c when i was little few accomodations were made, i was trained from age 2 on that i alone was responsible for my health. i was not to eat anyone else's snack; i was to ask parents at birthday parties whether there were nuts in the cake, etc. i still think that's the way to go, because kids with allergies really do have to be vigilant themselves rather than relying on adults to do the policing for them. (mistakes are made, even when intentions are good. the time i was intubated, a restaurant told me the pesto was made with pine nuts and not walnuts. i should have trusted my instincts that the waitress was wrong and stopped eating after one taste instead of six bites. and i no longer eat pesto unless i make it myself.)

in addition to training me to watch what i ate, my parents also taught me to name and recognize what we called "nut taste" -- the itching in the throat that signalled the presence of nuts. no matter what anyone told me, i stopped eating a food if i had even a glimmer of "nut taste." i am concerned that parents today put the onus almost entirely on other people rather than on their own kids (asking for nut-free birthday cake is one thing; taking away other people's snack crackers is something else). and yes, i do fear that some of the most obsessive parents are angry and entitled and controlling without evidence of a blood test. (and incidentally, when kids are tiny, test results can change over time, so kids should be retested.) my older daughter had blood tests at age 2 and 3 (she didn't inherit my allergy, yay) and my younger one will certainly be tested when she's old enough. of course there *is* a tiny fraction of the population who really does get sick from exposure to even a particle of allergen, but i also suspect that those kids are far less numerous than the parents who simply "suspect" that their child is ultra-allergic, haven't had up-to-date testing, and want to be "careful." they aren't doing their kids any favors, in terms of teaching the child to be the guardian of her own health OR in terms of fostering anxiety in the child and people around her.

Our society is too sterile and clean. I grow up in an agricultural little town and didn't know anyone with a food allergy. We all ate vegitables right out of the ground.

Move to a big city and the people down the street sterile and disinfect their house once a month with harsh chemicals. Their kids are sick all the time and have "issues" with food.

One of the baby food companies needs to come out with "dirty included" baby food to get kids immune systems more hardy in this day and age.

We have an (almost) 3 year old with a tree nut allergy. Yes, she has been tested by an allergist, and yes her allergic reaction to different types of nuts varies. I wish she wasn't allergic, we did everything we could to make sure she didn't develop a food allergy (did not expose her to nuts or peanuts too soon, as her father has a cat allergy which could translate into a food allergy). I had the best advice possible -- my stepmother is a national pediatric allergy specialist in Europe.

But dang it all, she IS allergic.

Yes, she has a medic alert bracelet, bendryl and epi-pen at Montessori. And until now, it hasn't really been an issue. At her previous Montessori, all food was supplied. And since 3 out of 14 children had tree nut and peanut allergies, they were EXTREMELY careful of the products they used (plus, very few things were prepared outside the Montessori, the exception being pita bread and some digestive cookies).

It is quite the exceptional child that is able to take care of their own health at age 2; I frankly have not met any. I know that my daughter, despite our warnings and the education we have tried to provide her about her condition, still does not truly understand what nuts are and the danger they pose to her. Her very bad reaction was so long ago -- she was but 14 months old -- that she does not remember what it felt like.

All food allergies are not created equal -- for the most part, food allergies may give a child diarrhea or cramps; only in extremely rare circumstances do they pose a fatal risk. Most food allergies are outgrown during childhood.

But there are exceptions: tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish. These allergies can kill your child. Dairy and soy allergies can also lead to anaphalaxis.

In some cases, all it takes are trace amounts in food -- they do not even have to be an ingredient.

And while the father in the Slate story may have been exagerating, we are not privy to the specifics of his child's health allergies, and so it is not fair to pass judgement. The author of the Slate article did not consult with any of the allergists treating the children in her story, she just took a position of scorn (and oh how the world has changed if children can't even eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch!). How do we know that it is outrageous hypochondria for the nut trees to have been felled? Did she ever ask a specialist in pediatric allergies? It is really easy to strike such a tone when your children are free of dangerous allergies.

It is terrifying to have to trust other people with your child's life. I know what it feels like.

Our daughter is now in summer camp, where everyone comes with a packed lunch. I just have to trust that other parents are respecting the nut ban at her Montessori, and are not sending banana bread with walnuts, because of all nuts out there, those would kill her. It's a scary feeling.

Here is a case in point that I hope will silence the sceptics and the sanctimonious: the story of a young girl named Sabrina, who had food allergies. She made a radio documentary for the national Canadian broadcaster, and despite being very careful and well-educated, died as a result of her allergies.


If you have survived through adulthood with a life-threatening allergy then you are very fortunate. I hope that we are as lucky with our daughter.

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