Food allergies are a fact of life for many children, and some schools must make lunchtime arrangements to keep the allergic child safe. Is a peanut-free table, room or even school fair to the non-allergic children?
We speak to parents and experts on why you should be happy to keep peanuts out of your child’s lunch for the safety of her classmates.
Peanut allergies are no joke — even a tiny bit can send a child into an allergic reaction, which can be anaphylactic. Anaphylactic allergic reactions are serious medical emergencies, and if emergency medication (epinephrine) isn’t administered in a timely manner, it can result in death. Some schools, in addition to providing teacher training on the use of EpiPens, have implemented peanut-free areas of their building, or have designated the whole school peanut-free. Arguments, generally from parents, spring forth as they feel it impinges on a non-allergic child’s right to eat what they want. Here’s why it’s important for everyone to help protect our kids.
Some reasons it may be harder
For kids who have other special diets, such as being vegan or vegetarian, it can be more difficult to impose a peanut butter ban in the school. Charles Stahler from the Vegetarian Resource Group (http://www.vrg.org/) says that banning peanuts from a school can make it harder for vegetarian kids. “Many vegetarian and vegan kids live on peanut butter at school or camp because there is not much else convenient to eat,” he explained. “So in most cases, it would seem there should be a way to balance the needs of both populations rather than totally banning peanut butter or similar foods.”
Life-threatening trumps inconvenience
However, most experts, parents and fellow allergy-sufferers agree that the potential life-threatening aspect of a peanut allergy trumps a child’s desire to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “The American Disability Act requires a school to meet the needs of the food allergy child, and it would be foolish not to — it is a life and death situation,” said Jamie Perillo, child and family psychotherapist who serves on the board as an expert clinician for the Food Allergy Education Network. “Kids are generally accommodating and supportive to their peers. It is often the adults who are not. A child who brings in peanut butter and triggers an anaphylactic reaction in the food allergy child would hold a tremendous amount of feelings if that occurred. The rule then protects both children. Children can learn compassion from these rules. A lesson in compassion and a great friendship is worth more than that peanut butter sandwich.”
Cheryl McEvoy, the director of communications for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, agreed. “While a peanut-free classroom or a ‘no cupcakes’ policy may seem unfair to children who do not have food allergies or sensitivities, health and safety are the priority,” she shared. “It’s a medical necessity.”
Non-allergic kids have options
Jen from Canada, who has suffered from allergies (including a life-threatening peanut allergy) for most of her life, agrees that a no-peanut rule in schools is best for everyone involved. “No one has a ‘right’ to eat peanut butter at school,” she told us. “It’s not a right. It’s simply a choice, and given that a child could die because of the choice, no you don’t get to bring it to school. There are plenty of other foods that kids can bring, they don’t ‘need’ peanut butter and they can eat it all they want at home.”
Especially in the younger grades, protecting a child with a life-threatening peanut allergy should be priority for staff, students and other parents. When you don’t have personal experience with food allergies and how frightening they can be, it can be difficult to really understand the need to eliminate certain foods from a child’s environment. All of us — as parents and fellow human beings — should consider the safety and welfare of all children as important as our own and should not balk at a peanut ban.