September 22, 2003
"THE WORKING COOK
Peanut butter cures lunch-box blues... It seems like a never-ending
problem -- what to put in school lunches.
Kids like something this week, hate it the next. And aside from
what kids will eat, there's peer pressure, too. Younger children
will send home entire lunches uneaten, and older kids often refuse
to be seen with a bagged lunch, say several Chronicle readers polled
about what their kids eat for lunch....Among the foods that the
kids do eat, two things came up most often: peanut butter and noodles.
Of course, almost all of the kids love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Most go for noodles...So why not put peanut butter and noodles together?
In today's recipe..."
This article, aimed at
helping busy, working parents trying to assure that their children
have a good lunch (good nutrition AND good taste), seemed to have
the perfect solution. Most kids like peanut butter. Using peanut
butter to add good taste to a variety of lunches (with out adding
junk food) seemed to be the "cure" for the lunch-box dilemma.
While the headline above:
"Peanut butter cures lunch-box blues" appeared on August
20, 2003, less than three weeks later (September 9, 2003) peanut
butter was no longer the solution. It was the problem.
"At the center of
the storm is a 5-year-old boy enrolled at Valle Verde Elementary
School in Walnut Creek. He suffers from 'peanut and tree nut' allergies
that his mother says are life-threatening. As a result, school officials
have taken extraordinary steps in Pod C, a group of kindergarten
classrooms at Valle Verde that share a common central area....[K]ids'
backpacks and lunch boxes were searched for peanut butter sandwiches
and such. District spokeswoman Sue Berg acknowledged that 'the principal
said the first day they did have to confiscate or set aside' some
Students attending school
in these kindergarten classes are not to bring peanut or tree nut
products to school. The mother of the kindergartner said that "with
the measures taken by the school, her son faces no threat. 'This
is nothing new. This is a situation of parents who are not informed.'"
Whether parents agree or
disagree with the measures taken by the school, there are strong
emotions on both sides. Some understand and support the accommodations.
Others see this as disrupting the lives of many to accommodate one.
Letters to the editor on both sides have come in, one from a ten-year-old
"Editor -- In your
newspaper it says the parents in Walnut Creek want a child with
peanut allergies not to go to school. But at my school there is
a boy who has bad peanut butter, dairy and chocolate products allergies.
Everyone knows about it, so we never bring peanut butter to school
and he is fine. Everyone is his friend. The parents in Walnut Creek
should let the person with the peanut butter allergy have friends
at school. They should think less about themselves and more about
RUTH SHAPIRO, 10, Moraga."
This letter is the only
one to see things from the child's perspective:
"The parents in Walnut
Creek should let the person with the peanut allergy have friends
at school." It's hard enough to start school--or start a new
school--especially if you know something about you is going to make
you different from the other kids. Are they going to like me? Are
they going to accept me for who I am? With the other parents reacting
so negatively to the child, one can only imagine what the other
children are saying to him (what they have come up with on their
own, or what they have heard at home and brought to school to share).
This is a health issue
on different levels. If your school is facing a similar medical
issue, then help is available. Schools around the country have dealt
with severe allergies for years. One option to help educate staff
and parents about the issues is a:
"Free Food Allergy Information for School Staff FAAN (The Food
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) now has a limited number of FREE
food allergy information programs for schools. If you haven't already
done so, nominate your school for the special edition of our School
Food Allergy Program (SFAP). The comprehensive, multimedia program
includes a video, an EpiPen® trainer, a poster, and a binder
filled with more than 100 pages of information and standardized
forms. Thousands of schools across the country have used it to safely
and successfully manage their students with food allergies."
Food allergies are not
new and not uncommon. If it is not an issue at your school now,
that does not mean is hasn't been in the past, or will not be one
in the future.
"Peanut allergy is
the most common food allergy especially in the U.S. where peanuts
are a popular dietary item and peanut butter is introduced at an
early age. Throughout the world, cows' milk allergy is the most
common food allergy among infants due to the widespread ingestion
of milk during the first months of life. Any food which contains
protein has the
potential to elicit an allergic reaction in someone. The most common
allergenic foods tend to be foods with high protein content that
are frequently consumed. The exceptions are beef, pork, chicken,
and turkey which are uncommonly allergenic despite their frequent
consumption and high protein content."
(More information about the
physical affects that allergies have on the body is available at
this Access Excellence site.)
Another issue is one of
mental health. Regardless of whether you think the school board
handled things properly, there is still the question of: what are
the kindergartners going to learn from this situation? What is the
one five-year-old who is getting all the attention going to take
away from all this? How is this mentally and emotionally a different
learning environment from that of the ten-year-old (and her classmates)
who wrote a letter to the editor? What responsibilities does the
school have for creating a physically and mentally safe learning
environment for students?
How long is it the responsibility
of the school? In kindergarten? What happens in third grade? Junior
high? High school? What about life outside of school?
This is an issue airlines
have been asked to address, as well. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis
Network offers suggestions for those with peanut allergies.
"Flying With a Peanut
As of May, 2001, United, U.S. Air, and TWA are the only major U.S.
airlines that do not serve peanut snacks. You should confirm this
with them when booking reservations because airlines have been known
to change their policy. This does not mean they are peanut-free,
because they may have peanut ingredients in their meals or other
passengers may carry peanuts on the plane with them. No airline
can guarantee a peanut-free flight. However, some airlines are willing
to serve non-peanut snacks upon request; others will make no accommodations...."
(Updated tips: http://www.foodallergy.org/advocacy/airlines.html
I have never been on a
flight where I was asked not to bring specific snacks aboard. I
have been on flights where "airline pretzels" replaced
"airline peanuts" as
the snack passed down the aisle. I don't remember which airline,
and I couldn't even tell you if it was before, after, or during,
May of 2001.
When was the last time
you had someone new over for dinner, or went to a pot luck? In school
and beyond, people have foods they need to avoid for medical reasons,
and those that they choose to avoid--either for medical or personal
reasons. Were you asked to exclude any specific foods? Did you ask
about any special dietary needs the people might have? Would you
consider it courteous or prying if someone asked you? Is it your
responsibility to ask?
Our first question this
week is taken from the sfgate.com article about the five-year-old
in Walnut Creek, California. The entire article can be found at:
Questions of the Week:
"For years, schools across the nation have struggled with how
to balance the needs of severely allergic child -- like the one
in Walnut Creek -- with the desires of children who love peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches. But the question remains: How far should
schools, airlines and other institutions go to accommodate people
with severe allergies?" How accommodating would you be willing
to be if this were your school, friend, or relative? How might your
opinion of the situation, and what you were willing to do, be different
if the person you were being asked to accommodate was a close friend
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum