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When a Nutter Butter is Public Enemy Number 1

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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Monday, July 07, 2008

When a Nutter Butter is Public Enemy Number 1

Back in the mid 1970's, I was in elementary school in Western Massachusetts. Every day at lunch, they had an interesting way of insuring children ate the slop that was set in front of them. They offered us crack on white bread for dessert.

Of course it wasn't really crack, but it was the most silky, gooey, creamy peanut butter I have ever had, stored in huge white drums. If you finished your lunch, you were allowed to go back into the lunch line and get a piece of soft, nutritionally void white bread with a huge dollop of peanut butter slapped across it. We would cradle this bread lovingly in our little hands and eat the open-faced sandwich in tiny bites, savoring every bit of it.

I am very doubtful that this scene takes place in any public schools today.

It's strange how a food as ubiquitous as peanut butter has become Enemy #1 in the Food Allergy Wars. Every preschool my daughter has attended has been "peanut free". Elementary schools have "peanut free tables" where allergic kids can sit and be safe from the humble nut. I feel guilty when, out of desperation, I make a PB&J and bring it into a public space. We eat it huddled together and then afterward I scrub their hands before they touch anything.

And, yet, I understand all too well why this is necessary. Because although peanut butter (Skippy only) is a staple in our home, my oldest daughter, Belly, is allergic to milk. Well, not really milk, but casein which is a protein found in milk.

This means that she cannot have ice cream, yogurt, butter, cheese, Cheetos, pizza, milk chocolate, donuts, Cool Whip or even certain types of cereal, bread, soup, crackers and TV dinners. In some cases, especially when it comes to TV dinners or Cool Whip, this is a good thing. But, when she attends a birthday party, she can't eat the cake. When she goes to the movies, the popcorn is verboten. When the Ice Cream Truck rolls around, I have to quiz the guy on a Push Up Pop's ingredients until the rest of the neighborhood is ready to throw me under the tires.

What about you? Is this topic near and dear to your heart? Or, are you sick of all the rules surrounding what you can or can't pack in your child's lunch box? Please join me as I talk more about this subject with Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored. I'll be the guest on her weekly online radio show this Wednesday night, July 9th, at 9pm. If you'd like to call in, I'd love to talk with you and hear your thoughts on this subject.

Just don't feel sorry for Belly. As far as allergies go, hers isn't so bad. As the guy at Whole Foods said as we searched the freezers for dairy-free pizza: "At least she isn't allergic to gluten. Now THAT sucks."

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Blogger Suburban Correspondent said...

Hey, sister in suffering! My oldest is also allergic to milk. In fact, he would react if milk were in the air (say, if someone opened a bag of Cheetos near him - that powder gets airborne, you know). Milk is in everything. I could never leave him in any group childcare situation (church nursery, mom's morning out) because there were always those darn cheddar cheese goldfish crackers around. Back then people weren't as sensitive. And, because he was my first, people thought I was just overprotective. I mean, c'mon, milk's healthy!

Now, things are a little easier for parents of allergic children. People don't treat you like you're nuts (excuse the pun). And things get better as the child gets older and learns how to watch out for himself. My son is 16 now, and while other parents worry about drugs and drinking and driving and colleges, all I care about is that he has his little emergency pouch with him, the one with the Benadryl and the inhaler and the Epipen. That's all that matters.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm hypoglycemic and when I need a hit of protein I eat peanut butter on whole wheat bread -- but if in public I do so furtively as if it is crack.

Wait: isn't cool whip made out of petroleum by-products?

My son is friends with a boy who is allergic to gluten, soy, milk, rice and celery. He lives on meat and fruit, as far as I can tell.

At my son's former school mustard was forbidden because a family of children are allergic to mustard (and all members of the watercress family). I think that one would be hard to enforce just because so few people know about it.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My oldest is lucky enough to be in the same grade as a boy who is EXTREMELY allergic to peanuts. If he smells a peanut he goes into Anaphylactic Shock... poor kid.
He is also allergic to milk, soy and wheat. He was in her class this past year and I am not sure what he ate, but I did hear of his mom bringing him lunch and sitting at the table with him. How's that going to fly in say 8th grade?

For that, I might seriously consider homeschooling...

6:01 AM  
Blogger Dorene said...

My son is also allergic to milk. He is 16 months old and I am still doing my best to search the shelves of the market to find something the poor child can eat. What makes it even more difficult is that my daughter (3.5) would eat nothing but milk products if we let her. When she was his age her diet consisted of cheese pasta dishes, milk, yougurt and chicken nuggets. So I am still struggling through the learning curve with the little one. I'll have to miss the radio show (Bon Jovi concert. I am such a dork.) but hope to catch a recording. It is great to find another mom with the milk allergy issue in common.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Suburb Sierra said...

As we are getting ready to transition to a new school and new preschool in the fall, the first question out of the kids mouth was "Can we bring peanut butter to our new schools?"

The answer is no, but it's funny that even kids at 3.5 and 5.5 years know how sensitive that food is and how it can be banned from their daily lunchbox. That's why it's such a fantastic treat at dinner when I whip up a pb, jelly AND fluff sandwich! Makes me look like a hero.

While we don't have any allergies in our family, if you saw my oldest's diet you'd think we banned all meat but deli ham or hot dogs (and I'm not sure either of those are actually "meat") from our lives. I keep thinking she's going to grow out of it and actually try a piece of chicken or even a hamburger, but as we head towards 6 that's looking less likely. Allergies or not, kids these days just have their own special dietary needs one way or the other.

9:41 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

In Africa they are saving children from starvation with a peanut-based product. They don't have the allergies we have.

Makes me wonder about our anti-microbial ways. It also makes me wonder about what we will do when the economy really has us in a talespin and so many people will have to rely on the cheap and plentyful staple of peanut butter to keep their kids plump.

2:18 PM  
Blogger SabrinaT said...

OH, this is a GREAT topic for me today. My 2 oldest are in camp this summer. NO PEANUTS! OK, fine. I can find other things. But, wait there is no microwave nor a way to keep the food cold. So that limits what the boys can take.
Pirate Boy seems to take a cream cheese and strawberry bagle most days. I toss in ice packs that almost never come home!

I understand the no peanut rule but there has to options! Even the lunchables have some form of peanut in them..

6:56 PM  
Blogger Beck said...

There's a boy in my children's school who has a FATAL peanut allergy and some parents sneak peanut butter into their kids' lunches anyhow because they're resentful of the school telling them what to pack in their kids' lunch, which makes me just want to punch them.

The Baby can't eat gluten, and they're testing her for eggs and dairy. Oh boy! That's gonna be AWESOME!

6:43 AM  
Blogger Melissa Belmonte said...

I love peanut butter, too, but it makes me so sad when parents fight the "no peanut" rules. While I understand that dairy and gluten allergies can be very difficult, peanut allergies are so scary for parents, because they're child could die with the smallest bit of exposure.

Where in Western Mass? (-:

There's always almond butter, sunflower nut butter, cashew butter, pesto, guacamole, hummus...if you are looking for sandwich options.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Shez said...

We're a family of celiacs who are allergic to dairy. Gluten and dairy are nothing, the straw that almost broke this camel's back was discovering that my daughter and I were also allergic to soy. Try finding safe food when you have to look for all those ingredients (oh, and we're vegan by choice).

I am so glad we homeschool. My kids did a choir camp last month. Feeding them was a nightmare. The camp provided pretzels, goldfish and other assorted gluten and dairy containing crackers. I sent my kids with safe food but we had a battle wth the camp counsellors giving them enough time to fetch their cooler bags.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Mrs. N said...

Since I'm the lone commenter on your xpost in New England Mama's, I thought I'd also chime in over here.


I'm thoroughly sick of it. As a pregnant diabetic with vicious morning sickness, the only cure for which was peanut butter crackers, AND a public school teacher, I had to clear the ONLY food I could eat (or I'd get sick enough to be HOSPITALIZED) by the principal, nurse and send a fucking note home to my parents, none of whom I wanted to share my pregnancy with.

Because I had 5 children in the room with a peanut allergy.

Before you say that there are alternatives, let me assure you I barfed them ALL was peanut butter on saltines or NOTHING. And no, ironically just Saltines came back up. I can only assume the peanut butter made it stick to my insides.

Here's the thing...

1-I understand the need of washing my hands afterwards, and keeping the food on my desk, which I washed daily.


2-The kids knew that they were allergic and needed to stay away from it.


3-This seemed like helicopter parenting (something else I can go ON and ON about for HOURS and how much I HATE those parents--and so do my colleagues, fyi) gone crazy. None of my kids had the kind of allergy that warranted that kind of reaction.

I'm so freaking over this. The kids eventually need to function in the "real world" where people aren't careful about peanut butter or other food substances. It's not that when I was growing up kids didn't have the allergies, but we didn't let the parents completely overturn every one else's day.

I realize I'm in the minority, and maybe I'll feel differently when my baby is born should she have food allergies, but I doubt I will. I'm lactose intolerant and I lived through YEARS of "you can't eat pizza??? that's so WEIRD" and going hungry at events that billed themselves as being "with food" because I didn't/couldn't eat what they were serving.

You know what I did?

I learned to adapt and bring my own food.

These kids will eventually need to adapt and figure out what works for them, too. Once they're old enough to understand what an allergy is and why they need to be careful, they're old enough to start trying to come up with solutions (with guidance)--from my experience, certainly 3rd graders can do this, and 6th graders should be made to do this.

Schools need to figure out a better way or we'll be sending our kids to school with BPA-free bottles of water and vitamins only by the time mine is old enough to be in school.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fortunately for Mrs. N none of her students have allergies severe enough to put them into shock and potentially die just from the smell of Peanut butter.

FYI, Mrs. N. they do have medications to counteract the extreme nausea you claim to be experiencing.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

Just a follow up comment to my post (thanks for everyone's thoughts!)---my oldest did go to a preschool that insured that no child would be left behind---what I mean is that they forbade ALL allergen foods from being served as snacks (foods could not have any of the biggies: soy, milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, etc). To enforce this, every family was responsible for supplying the weekly snack once or twice during the school year, and the list of what you could bring was extremely specific. In this case, it worked b/c the school was only 1/2 day, but I'm not sure if this is feasibe for a full-day school.

Mrs. N, I can understand your frustration (morning sickness SUCKS!) and, yes, the no-peanut rule can seem prohibitive. But, I'm surprised at how angry you sound about the whole thing. A lactose intolerance is nothing compared to an anaphylactic peanut allergy (and, yes, maybe these kids have 'mild' allergies now, but they often get worse with repeated exposure, something we saw with my daughter). These kids aren't trying to make your pregnancy harder, nor are their parents being worrywarts. In fact, it sounds like they DID let you eat peanut butter during school hours which is a pretty big deal for some parents who are petrified their kid will have a major allergic reaction when they aren't there. Perhaps the school should've offered to give you a leave of absence until the morning sickness passed so that you could've kept your pregnancy to yourself (with any luck, your morning sickness will pass in a few months). I don't know what the answer is, but I know that seeing your child scratch at their tongue b/c it 'itches' or watching them break out in hives all over their body is truly awful; I can't even imagine how scared I'd be if my child couldn't breathe b/c of something she ate, touched or even inhaled.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Mrs. N said...

Dear Anonymous

I was taking 2 (TWO) of them while I was dropping 10 pounds in 3 weeks. One before I threw up and the other for when I finished throwing up.

Kiss my pregnant still puking still down 10 pounds from when I got pregnant still on zofran and reglan ass.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Mrs. N said...

I'd edit my last comment to add, so maybe fairly odd mother can...but

I'm NOT getting better---I have hyperemisis--I'm 23 weeks on Monday and the only thing that's better is that I'm not losing weight at the rate of 3/4 lbs a week still.

I couldn't have gotten a leave of absence because I was the maternity leave sub at the time and letting me go would have been a violation of my MA employment law.

I honestly still believe that parents are WAY too uptight over this stuff. I will be a tough parent in some regards but I have dealt with enough over-reacting parents to think that while the occasional ban is worthwhile, most are ridiculous.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Ali Wicks-Lim said...

First let me say that "Mrs N" makes me want to homeschool even more than my fears about my son's food allergies do. A person who talks to others about a serious, emotional and scary issue like this, with so little compassion and so much judgement should not be influencing children. About the allerguy issue though, as a mother of a child with a life-threatening peanut allergy I feel like I have to make a couple of points. I often feel awkward about how frequently I have to ask people to make accomodations for my child. I knsow that it is an inconvenience to read lables and find safe foods (I do it all the time) and I hate to inconvenience people. However, the love I have for my child and the fear I feel about the possibility of my child being exposed to peanuts and stopping breathing is enormous enough to outweigh my discomfort about asking for help in keeping him safe. Children are only in school for part of their day. No one is suggesting that peanut butter be outlawed, just that it not be brought into common areas where it could kill (I know that sounds dramatic, but it is a reality for my family and others)children. With all of the alternatives that are on the market (most children are not experiencing morning sickness like "Mrs N" and can enjoy other nut butters, hemp butter, soy butter or sun butter) and the other options for food, I find it hard to see why this has to be such an enormous issue for some people. I feel for parents who have children who are allergic to things that are harder to eliminate. To me peanut butter seems relatively easy. Let's think for a moment about the children who are struggling with these allergies. Is it fair for them to feel fearful in their schools? They already miss out on a lot of things other children get to enjoy. They already live with the fear of a reaction and the questions their parents have ask everywhere they go. Doesn't it seem reasonable to create a learning environment where they feel like they can eat and play in peace, without fear of an allergic reaction? My hope is that our values of safety and inclusion outweigh our desire for convenience. Are we really so hungry for something to resent that we can't let go of our need for peanuts? And finally, a note to "Mrs N" who made it clear in her posts that she is pregnant. I hope for your sake and your childs that he or she is not born with a food allergy. However, they are becoming increasingly common and increasingly severe. The only thing seperating a family not facing the issue from a family facing the issue is luck. If it does happen in your family I hope it brings to a more compassionate place.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I'm sorry Mrs. N, but using the hyperemesis card to justify your frustrations isn't flying here. I too had hyperemesis w/ both my kids for the full 9 months+ I carried them. That's more than 18 mos. of puking and medication and trips to the ER and I still would have preferred a constant IV drip of Zofran, Reglan plus the puking to possibly putting an innocent child in danger.

It sounds like your school system allowed you to have your peanut butter and crackers and you're incredibly fortunate because a lot of schools wouldn't have accommodated you. But instead of feeling fortunate you're unfairly labeling these parents as "helicopter parents" because they are justifiably concerned about their children and their well-being. I think you might want to check your opinion until your child is born and then revisit it. You might find your view on the subject slightly changed.

And in case you're wondering, no, neither of my girls has a peanut allergy as of today. I hope they never will. Not just because of the extreme hardships they will face in the simple act of eating but also because of people like yourself that they'll meet.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad Mrs N aint my kids teacher. My severely Autistic HAS to go to public school cause there is no where else to go, celiac and milk allergic child with many other food intolerances.

I expect she would call me a refrigerator mother.

I am soooooooo pissed off with her right now my hands are shaking.

Go eat your food in your car for crying out loud.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh and lactose intolerance? Pul-ease. So you fart a lot. Big deal. Better than picking out a coffin.


8:38 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Mrs. N., when you say that "None of my kids had the kind of allergy that warranted that kind of reaction," it shows how utterly ill-informed about this issue you actually are.

There is NO way to know how any one of those five would react to contact (perhaps even airborne) with peanuts. That's one of the problems with a peanut allergy; it is known to escalate w/ each exposure.

And no-one knows how severe the escalation might be. For one child, it might mean that the last time they got hives, then next time they also get hives.

Another kid might go into full anaphylactic shock and stop breathing.

And die.

You. never. know.

As a former physician, I frequently had to educate people about this. Both those who had peanut allergies and their families. Those who don't understand the nature of this particular allergy and find themselves irritated with the inconvenience all too often sound like you.

I find it ironic that you talk about helicopter parenting...those parents who are so concerned about their precious children that they inconvenience YOU.

Sounds to me like you're helicoptering yourself; you're so self-involved that you are willing to risk FIVE kids in your class. Talk about spinning out of control.

If your medical condition is so severe that you believe it warrants putting the children in your class in danger, you should consider take medical leave. If that isn't an option, perhaps you could be transferred to a classroom without children with peanut allergies.

Or maybe there are less drastic measures. Perhaps if you had parent volunteers (or aides, or a sympathetic principal, or something) you could escape to the
teacher's lounge every hour or so to take care of your dietary needs without endangering children.

Oh, and yes...these children will eventually be on their own. When they are adults. For now, it is up to us to protect them.

So, sorry you are "freaking over it." The thing is, years after I left medicine I had my daughter. She's now four and as it turns out, has a peanut allergy.

I pray she's never in YOUR classroom, Mrs. N.

Good luck with your pregnancy, and I hope you show your own child more compassion than you'd show mine.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

I hope Mrs. N posts back here when she has a child because there are so many things that change when its your own. Teachers like this are one of the reasons I homeschool. You say that you have to eat peanut butter or you will get hospitalized, well what about the child that smells your peanut butter and in reality could die? My children don't have food allergies but we have a few friends that do and it is tough enough on them to have to deal with this - they shouldn't have to deal with people thinking they "need to learn to function in the real world". I feel bad for your students.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Oops...that last comment was id..should be me - Shannon

8:47 PM  
Blogger Velma said...

The thing that is so ironic about Mrs. N's post is this: I, too, had severe hyperemisis with my second child, and all I could stomach was peanut butter sandwiches and big glasses of milk. And guess what? My kid developed a peanut allergy, along with lactose intolerance.

Mrs. N., I would be wary of eating so much peanut butter. You might end up with exactly the sort of child whose welfare you are currently scorning. And I wouldn't wish this stress on anyone.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I don't want to turn all my attention to the angry Mrs N - just want to say this is such a good post and should be required reading. Toy Foto is right, it's scary what's going on and I hope we can start looking at the root causes.

Also, your readers' thoughtful comments are amazing. You attract good people, FOM!

10:14 PM  
Blogger Ali Wicks-Lim said...

I just want to say that after my initial angry response to Mrs. N I woke up this morning to read all of the supportive and compassionate views people expressed about this issue. It is really encouraging to hear from people who are able to put this issue in perspective and advocate for those of us who are facing it every day.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Beck said...

The child with peanut allergies at my children's school has FATAL peanut allergies - i.e., he could die just from being in the same room as a peanut butter sandwich. The severity of this allergy will likely fade over time, leaving him able to be in the same room as someone eating peanut butter and crackers, but in the meantime, it's horrifying that there are adult who would willingly risk this child's life. And no, it's not "helicopter parenting" for that child to be protected from something that could KILL HIM.

The Baby's allergies just affect her. The school will need to be aware of them, but she can be in the same room as someone eating a sandwich. BIG difference.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Magic and Mayhem said...

First off, I love your blog! Second off, Mrs. N needs therapy quick. Egads, does she have some unresolved anger issues. Third off, this subject is a biggie in our family. My rather long and pissy rant about it is here:

Thanks for opening this can of worms. Talk is good about this stuff, and I must admit I get a perverse satisfaction from seeing anonymous angry people get told off too. ;)

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, just listening to the whiney Mrs. N makes me want to throw up. She has NO IDEA what it is like to have a child with a life threatening food allergy. If I was a vindictive person, I would wish food allergies on her unborn child, which by the way....eating all that peanut butter while pregnant is frowned upon by many allergiest and OBs.
I had TERRIBLE pregnancies!!! THREE of them. Morning sickness the entire 9 mo, pre term labor, etc etc.
I cannot believe how selfish this TEACHER is. I truly hope she is nowhere near my children's school. Here kiddys...I know you might die from this, but I feel like dirt today with this human growing inside me, so let me put YOU at risk for dying. WAKE UP----if it is so bad and your OB says you must eat the blasted PB crackers....go on leave. Quit for pete's sake. You don't seem fit to teach anyway. You really "care" about your kids. You disgust me.

Mother of 3 (one allergic to MILK, EGGS, and Peanuts and one allergic to PEANUTS!)

12:27 PM  

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