Summer is right around the corner (in Chicago it feels like it's here already with our near 90 degree temps) and that means the onset of the outdoor festival season.
Of course we know that any outdoor fest that focuses on food (I'm thinking "Taste of Chicago" or "Taste of Anytown" for that matter) is most likely off-limits for us. Most of us accept that, even if we don't like it.
But what if the focus of the event isn't traditionally food-focused? I just found out about a peanut theme for an outdoor sidewalk sale days in the downtown section of a Chicago suburb. Yep, that's right--"Everything's Peanuts" Sidewalk Sale days was scheduled to hand out bags of peanuts to all outdoor fest attendees. For those of you who don't live in the Midwest, let me tell you that Sidewalk Sales days in the summer are much-anticipated events. For folks in our climate, (who can't enjoy the outdoor weather for most of the year) this is a fun community event.
As someone with a child who struggles to avoid contact with peanuts, obviously this did not sound like a very inclusive event to me. Recent studies show that peanut and tree nut allergy about tripled in 10 years in children. Peanut allergy is on the rise in adults as well. The other problem with peanut allergy is that contact reactions are so common and peanut dust can pose an inhalant risk. Bags of peanuts would create a fair amount of peanut dust that could be spread around the event and in some cases, breathed in. It just isn't a great idea.
Well, a local (and vocal) food allergy support group started making some phone calls and sending e-mails to this particular suburb's local officials and guess what--peanuts are out! They've decided not to serve them after all.
For anyone who thinks their voice doesn't matter on issues of food allergy advocacy, this story is a lesson that persistent, polite advocacy can work. You can't sit back and think "One day they're gonna get it." Not unless you speak up.
Education is key. I saw many of the e-mails that were sent via our local support group and they explained the risk of reaction and problematic nature of peanut allergy. Many people don't consider this when they plan an event. The other thing that helped was that many parents pointed out how serving peanuts on this wide scale was somewhat akin to having a "stairs only" building that would only allow people who could climb stairs to enter.
Some people may feel that the minority (those with peanut allergies) shouldn't dictate the food served. In this case, I feel that the community nature of this event dictated that community issues (food allergy) should be reasonably addressed. This wasn't a private club event or private location event for members only. It was open to all members of this particular community and the surrounding communities. For that reason, I think they made a great choice and I applaud all the parents who spoke up on behalf of their children.
When we make strides like this, we should make a point of attending these events in order to show our support, both moral and financial. The same goes for peanut-free baseball games. If they are offered in your town--go! Show that these events are needed and wanted. We should also thank the officials who make peanut-free events possible. When we all work together and tone down the rhetoric, we can have an event that is enjoyable to all members of our communities.