I was a little scared to post yesterday’s piece about novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s request that parents of non-allergic kids take certain precautions to protect kids with food allergies at the playground. The degree to which society needs to collectively accommodate such kids can be a hot button issue, and I had no idea what to expect in terms of reader reaction.
But in the end I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer niceness of TLT readers, both here on the blog and on TLT’s Facebook page. Here are two typical comments that came in from parents not affected by food allergies in their own families:
We generally avoid taking peanut butter to the park. If we do you can bet we wipe up good when we’re done. I don’t get why this is so hard. I do not want to be the cause of another child’s suffering, regardless of whether the general public thinks I am responsible or not. It’s just a decent thing to be aware of. It takes a village people!
And . . .
No snacks on the playground. Water only. When it is time for snack, we exit the play area, find a nice shady spot in the grass and have our snack away from everyone else. When providing snacks for a group, I steer clear of nuts, berries, kiwi and soy. Or I just ask the parents ahead of time if there are any allergies or food avoidance in the group. I know I would appreciate the thought if one of my children had food allergies.
And many parents felt that Sittenfeld’s requests would serve all kids well, regardless of allergies. Here’s a comment along those lines from Alissa Stoltz of Simply Wholesome Kitchen:
. . . there are so many benefits to ALL kids to not allow them to run around eating and dropping food all over the place, that the fact that it will also help protect kids with potentially life-threatening allergies makes it a no-brainer.
Dana Woldow of PEACHSF had a similar view:
Letting kids run around while eating is a bad idea on many counts, including increasing the likelihood of choking. Also, part of learning healthy eating habits is to value eating as an activity worthy of one’s full attention, not something to do while also doing something else (like watching TV); distracted eating not only can lead to less enjoyment of the food itself, it also makes it harder for the child to realize when he or she has had enough.
I wasn’t the only one pleased to see such widespread acceptance of Sittenfeld’s proposal. Here’s an email I received yesterday from my sister-in-law, Lisa Siegel, whose daughter has a severe nut allergy and was one of the first kids to undergo the type of desensitization program discussed on the blog here. Lisa has been a committed advocate for food-allergic families and had this to say:
I had to share that I am surprised and encouraged by the supportive comments made on yesterday’s TLT allergy post. I was recently a part of a national conference call hosted by FARE to gather testimonials on how the stress of having a food allergic kid affects the entire family. One recurrent theme shared by parents was the frustration of reading new stories/blog posts written by those unaffected…and reader comments filled with judgement and insensitivity. No one can truly understand what we go through until they are faced with their own adversities. But the posts on your blog may show that the tide is slowly turning. Thanks for putting the dialog out there!
But not everyone felt that Sittenfeld’s requests were realistic or desirable. Reader Kate had this to say:
While the article doesn’t quite say it, it sort of assumes every park going kid has mom and dad hovering nearby with a wipe. I’m not trying to be disrespectful here, but is that really the sort of culture we want to create? Many kids are of an age to play in a park by themselves. Some I know might even cut through the park on their way to or from school, and take a quick ride on the swing. Sure we can teach these kids to be respectful of their environment, but it wouldn’t be realistic to think they were 100% free of contaminants at all times, or would be carrying a packet of wipes.
. . . I have to say I’m disheartened by an environment where nuts are villainized and banned in so many schools, but highly processed foods that have “clean” allergen statements are not perceived to pose a threat. One is actually a great source of protein and energy for kids, but is life threatening to a small minority with dramatic and immediate consequences. The other is seemingly innocuous, but has dramatic and long-term negative consequences that many refuse to even recognize.
My 2-year old son and I were thrown out of my daughter’s preschool class Halloween party because I gave him a bag of trail mix that had nuts. We were ushered away immediately and almost incredulously at our brazen ignorance. The classroom, unbeknownst to me, was nut free. At the same time, the class was enjoying store bought, artificially colored cupcakes, go-gurts, goldfish and fruit juice – all parent provided in strict accordance with the nut-free snack policy of the school.
There has to be a middle ground here. Schools implement drastic elimination food policies because they don’t know how to deal with severe allergies. Many times these policies restrict far more nutrient dense and wholesome foods than are otherwise allowed…all in the name of safety.
I think Justin’s point could be the topic of a separate post: does vigilance about food allergies result in kids eating more processed food?
Thanks to all who wrote in and engaged in this important discussion.
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