Last night I read a thought-provoking piece in Slate by novelist Curtis Sittenfeld in which she asks parents to take precautions at the playground to protect her food-allergic daughter and others like her. After explaining how chance encounters with various foods on the playground could potentially cause her child to suffer fatal anaphylaxis, Sittenfeld makes these requests:
If your child snacks at the playground, please don’t let her run around while she’s eating. Please don’t leave the food unattended and accessible to other kids. If your child spills, help her clean it up. And after she’s finished, please use wipes to wash her hands, not antibacterial gel; hand sanitizer doesn’t kill the proteins in most foods that cause allergic reactions, and tiny amounts of such proteins can literally be lethal.
The comments on Sittenfeld’s piece, predictably, have gotten a little nasty. A typical entry:
Honey, they are YOUR kids. Don’t be looking to the rest of us to do your job for you. You made your bed, now lie in it.
Before I read last month’s New York Times Magazine cover story on childhood food allergies and a possible cure (discussed in this TLT post), I might have dismissed Sittenfeld’s views out of hand. But having read about the unrelenting anxiety and other burdens shouldered by parents of food allergic children, and the unpredictability of a child’s allergic responses (hives one day, anaphylaxis the next), I honestly don’t know how some of these families hold it together at all.
Even before reading the Times story, my concerns about food allergic kids led, in part, to my writing my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto (in which I argue that school classrooms should be food-free), and I certainly support accommodations for food allergies in school cafeterias. But schools are unique in that parents can’t supervise their children there, and they must trust third parties to take reasonable precautions. When we move outside the school context, though, what’s our societal obligation to protect food allergic kids?
Do you think Sittenfeld’s requests are reasonable or overreaching?
Whether or not you have food allergies in your family, I’d love to hear what you think. And be sure to check out this 2010 guest post on The Lunch Tray from the Wellness Bitch, a parent of a food-allergic child who asks essentially the same question.
[hat tip: Jolly Tomato, for sharing the Sittenfeld piece on Facebook]
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