Friday, September 5, 2008

Does Peanut Butter Still Have to = Back-to-School??

I'm curious--with school back in session have any of your local papers run any food feature stories lately paying homage to peanut butter as "that good, old-fashioned" school lunchbox food??

I only ask because earlier this week, on the 2nd day of school for Chicago public school kids, the Chicago Tribune Good Eating section ran a huge feature about peanut butter. The title page read:"The time is ripe for a peanut butter resurgence. Spread the love" with large pictures of peanut butter dripping off of a spoon, peanuts scattered about randomly and peanut butter cookies stacked up on a plate.

The picture alone was a turn-off, as was the first line of the story: "During the back-to-school rush, we think of peanut butter as a front runner in the lunchbox sandwich brigade."

Oh, we do???? And why does peanut butter need a "resurgence?" Unfortunately, it hasn't exactly gone out of style.

Where have these editors been? Even if your school does not support a peanut butter ban (more on this in a minute) most parents these days are familiar with food allergies, particularly peanut allergies. And many families, like many of you out there reading this right now, deal with food allergies in your own family.

My first thought (after ugh!) was "How archaic are these editors?" And my second thought was: "How insensitive are these editors?"

Like many of you, I've just spent that last several weeks filling out allergy forms, getting prescriptions ready, calling doctors, instructing others on safe foods and EpiPen usage, getting an allergy ID bracelet, and so on, etc., etc.

For this story to appear on the 2nd day of school was, I felt, a slap on the face to everyone who has approached their school on the dangers of peanut butter for food-allergic kids. I just have a gut feeling that someone, somewhere at the Tribune food department has to be ticked that their kid can't bring peanut butter to school, or has to curtail their consumption of peanut products at school. Otherwise, I can't account for their need to promote a peanut butter "resurgence."

Even given the fact that I'm admittedly sensitive to peanut butter being promoted as a "go to" lunch food for school children, I wouldn't have minded a story simply about peanut butter. It's their right to write about whatever they want. Some of my favorite food magazines have written peanut butter features--though those stories are generally geared towards adults cooking for themselves.

But here's where the Tribune story added insult to injury. To accompany their feature, the paper also ran an AP story called "Backlash to school peanut ban has unlikely allies." This story, which quoted some hideous "message board" responses to one school's attempts to institute a peanut ban, also quoted Anne Munoz-Furlong (head of FAAN) as being one of these "unlikely allies." FAAN does not support a peanut ban in elementary schools, due to the fact that they don't want to promote a false sense of security, thereby leaving allergic kids even more vulnerable.

You may or may not agree with that logic, but I think most of us agree that FAAN would never consider itself an ally of the hatred that is spewn by many of the people who oppose a peanut ban. Yet, the story implied FAAN is on the side of the sort of whackadoodle who suggested on a school message board that the solution to food allergies in schools is to kill all the kids who have peanut allergies: problem solved. And every single food allergy parent quoted in the article said something like "I don't want my kids in a bubble." Hmmm...have any of you heard that one before? Like any us want our kids in a bubble--the point is we want them to live and be well. Big difference.

One woman even said she trusted her 7-year-old to self-administer his EpiPen in an emergency, stating that he was "smart." Well, so is my kid but according to my doctor self-medication is not recommended until at least middle school.

I'm not making this stuff up: read the story yourself. Even worse, the print version of this story was accompanied by a photo of a woman wielding an EpiPen in front of her young son with a big smile on her face. The message I took away: "Look, peanut allergies aren't that serious, in fact, they're really kind of fun! See my big smile?" Clueless, clueless, clueless.

The fact that some people don't want to be inconvenienced by a peanut butter ban does not negate the life-threatening nature of peanut allergies. The fact that the Tribune ran an AP story implying that food-allergic families' concerns about peanut butter are basically without merit was, I felt, an attempt to justify their peanut butter cover feature.

The massive increase in food allergies among school children is old news at this point. Why did the the Tribune choose to run these stories, at this particular time? As we know all too well, NO ONE needs to be told to pack peanut butter in their lunch. They already do. Why promote it??? It's not like it's a new and exotic food.

As the people who read this blog regularly know, I like to stay positive about this topic. And I truly believe that life with nut allergies can be managed so that our kids can live happy, normal lives. Usually, this type of stuff doesn't get me down all that much. I know what I have to do.

So: news stories like these simply tell me that as parents of food allergic kids, we have a lot more work to do. Maybe we're not getting the message across clearly enough that peanut allergies are serious, can kill and need to be mitigated. Or we are, and people are choosing not to believe it.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that peanut bans are always the answer. But I don't think they should ever be off limits. Some schools may need them more than others--it's a very complicated topic. My daughter's current school does not have a peanut ban, and I'm confident she'll be fine. But I'm just one parent. All of us with food-allergic kids deserve to have our voices heard.

I wrote a letter to that editor outlining everything I just stated here. That's a start, but I give all of us the challenge: do everything you can to educate your communities about this. Education is the best enemy of hatred and ignorance. And it will keep our precious kids safer in the long run.


Anonymous said...

Jenny- there really ARE some idiots in this world are there not? That being said, our community had it's own battle a few years back when the lunch room was split between hot lunches, cold lunches and nut free tables. Someone called the press and cried discrimination against their poor child who could not sit at the same table as his friends because THEY ate hot lunch and HE ate cold lunch. It was at that time that a I had a very real lesson about the POLITICS of peanut butter. The real, nitty gritty, bottom dollar, peanut farmers of america politics of those of us stirring up trouble where peanut butter is concerned. The only good thing about it is it shed some light on the REASON seemingly intelligent people would be so frighteningly insensitive.

It still gives me a stomach ache thinking about it. It is a very helpless feeling when you come up against something that makes zero sense and it involves the safety and well being of your child.

Sorry for the novel. Hang in there!!


Anonymous said...

I have to say that as time goes on, more and more people are touched by the food allergy epidemic, especially peanut! Just since my sons first reaction four years ago, I feel like I have become surrounded by more peanut allergies. Of course, for a peanut allergy mom it kind of makes things a little easier because it just means there are more people who understand our situation. (Sad, I know.) I have heard more than one parent say things like, "I was so against peanut allergy bans in schools until I witnessed my own child have a reaction."