Peanut allergies and school children in Ontario

Here’s one for my overdrawn “Duh!” reaction face:  “Peanut allergies more rife in well-off boys”. Realistically, did I think they would be more prevalent in well-off children than not?  No–but I have always thought that the numbers are skewed. I have enough experience of parents making announcements that because their child is allergic to A, it obviously means they’re allergic to B.  The big one is that if they’re allergic to nuts, they’re allergic to peanuts and vice versa. Trying to explain to parents that nuts and peanuts are not related is a useless process. “But that’s what the doctors say…”  Perhaps there are doctors that “say” that…that doesn’t make it true. I’m allergic to almonds–which means I can’t have fruit with pits, as almonds are in fact the pit of a tree. No one has ever suggested to me that I not have peanuts (so I was able to have too many of the peanut butter cookies my son happily made the other day:  peanut butter and sugar. Can’t remember if there was an egg. They were ridiculously amazing). Peanuts, for the record, are a legume…and as I’ve cheerfully (spitefully?) pointed out to more than a few parents, if your child is allergic to peanuts, which are a legume, there’s a good shot they’re allergic to soy beans…which are not only a legume but just as prevalent in modern food as peanuts and peanut products. Soy products are not banned at schools, but under Sabrina’s Law, kids can not have peanuts or nuts at Ontario schools. Figure that one out…

There are also parents that so live in fear of the terror induced by this subject:  the warnings to make sure that their child has no peanut product before the age of one, the idea that it might induce anaphylactic allergy reaction. There are some (I think in the States, not Canada) who now give their children their first tasting of peanut butter only in a doctor’s office under supervision. I kid you not. (Actually, now that I think of it–it would have to be in the States, as we couldn’t add that level of cost to our overburdened universal health care costs.) And there are parents who announce that as they are allergic to A) then so must their children without understanding that the children might inherit the tendency to allergies; that doesn’t mean they inherit the specific allergy. (If one parent is allergic, I think the child has a 75% chance of having allergies, if both parents have allergies it goes up to 85%. Which is to say:  not a guaranteed thing by any stretch).

This is one of the subjects that obviously irritates me a lot…I have three kids currently in Ontario schools. The law was not in place when my eldest went through–he probably would have starved to death as one of the very few things he was willing to eat was peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Now, my kids are terrified to have peanut butter on any day they’re going to school or even the night before, on the off-chance that it gets anywhere on them and they will go to school and kill a classmate. The argument is always that a child does not have to have peanut butter at school; they can have it at home. But it has genuinely added to/created an atmosphere of some hysteria with children causing them heightened anxieties, added to the hysteria of parents, and frankly, deprives poorer families of a good source of cheap, healthy protein for their kids. (I know parents who, if their child has peanut butter, literally make them change their clothes after before they can be with other children.)

Now, obviously, I’m not a big fan of killing children…and clearly, my kids don’t have anaphylactic allergies. But I’ve read more than one article by specialists who say that peanut allergies just aren’t as prevalent as people think, as accurately diagnosed–or the prime killer of children. One pediatric allergy specialist pointed out that more kids die of bee stings every year than peanut allergies, but no one is making laws to take flower gardens away from public schools. His suggestion, like those of many experts, is that banning peanut products just gives a false sense of security:  my kids’ schools send home constant notices to remind us, but the onus is completely on us. In the younger grades, teachers and lunch supervisors go ’round and check the kids’ lunches, but are obviously only able to check the ingredients on items that are labelled. They have no idea what products are used in home cooking/baking and whether there was any level of cross-contamination.

And because the law is in place in Ontario, schools individually can exercise their own levels of caution or hysteria. One of my kids’ schools constantly sends home notices reminding us that “there are children in the school with allergies to fish, peanuts and nuts so please do not send peanut  or nut products to school.” Notice anything strange about that sentence? Fish is not banned at my kids’ school. Not in any way, shape or form…but that sentence sure leaves the implication in people’s minds. One of my kids’ refused to eat tuna at school any more as he was convinced it was essentially a murder weapon.  And there’s a boy at the school who is allergic to eggs, so the school has now decided that eggs are not allowed; but they don’t send any notices home, they just wait until kids bring products with eggs in them to school and the item is confiscated, put in a plastic bag and returned home with a note saying that it has a banned item in it. To me, an interesting move that always leaves me wondering if it’s not actually legal, just trying to leave us with the overwhelming impression that we have no choice.

I don’t want to endanger children’s lives and obviously children are messy creatures who get food all over them at certain ages (or genders) and thus, could endanger others. Handwashing is not enough at these ages…but it’s not possible to absolutely, utterly guarantee the complete and utter food safety of children with anaphylactic allergies. And when you look at the numbers of kids with anaphylactic allergies and compare them to the kids who have to go without that food item, it seems a bit odd…

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