Peanut Butter is a Loaded gun?

In the burbs: A mother of a six-year-old peanut allergy sufferer campaigns for a ban of peanut butter from Seymour, Connecticut, schools. Bringing peanut butter near this kid, concerned mother Lisa Searles says, is like pointing "a loaded gun" at Matthew (Republican-American, 4/7/07).

In the city the next day: The assistant rector of a large, multi-ethnic church invites all the children to participate in an egg hunt. "The eggs were donated, and we have no idea what's in them, so look and decide if you want you kids to eat what's in them," she says.

Spot the difference: Where the trees grow, rearrange reality to create the version of normal I would like to spoon-feed my son. Where the pavement grows, you are cordially invited to deal with life.

The story of the one-woman anti-peanut butter police force has been a topic of conversation since it appeared. A neighbor put the question, "Why should this boy be denied a normal social life over peanut butter? What's the big deal if nobody eats peanut butter?"

We might ask why one boy with an allergy should dictate the dietary habits of every other kid in the school. But there are bigger questions, ones this little boy whose mother says he is such a wreck "his nails are chewed down to nothing" might wonder aloud someday in his therapist's office.

That is, what's normal, and why is this illusion so important to his mother that she is making a spectacle of his allergy? What is the standard-issue social life of a six-year-old? Why is it so essential to his mother? Why not accept your little boy for who he is and make allowances for his needs?

Is it possible that more harm is done by fetishizing the allergy and inducing everyone around you to focus on it so that your kid is the "peanut allergy sufferer" rather than the little boy.

I used to substitute teach at Bethel Middle School, another little Connecticut burb. Very often I found myself filling in for the genius or the jailer--the special teachers of the exceptionally gifted (whatever that is) or the exceptionally uncooperative. The room for the latter was a far-flung interior classroom to which the miscreants were discharged when they did not behave in their regular classes. The children in both rooms were bright. The former had had more opportunities to do worthwhile things. The latter were prescribed Ritalin. I got these kids just before the next pill, it seemed.

Among both sets of would-be scholars, I would read E.B. White's Stuart Little. This is a fun, sensitive, beautiful book about being very different but going on ahead and being yourself. Stuart turns his world on its head just by being Stuart. Stuart's not hung up on his being a mouse. That boy is just doing his thing. In fact, being a mouse becomes an asset. Stuart is ingenious--kids, whatever way you label them, get that.


  1. Anonymous1:10 PM

    A few years ago, my daughter was in class with a little girl who had a peanut allergy. Normal for this girl was her mother showing up for snack time or providing an alternative to what might be in the classroom for birthdyas and parties.

    That seems to me the way to handle things as normally as possible without penalizing everyone else.

    In classrooms and schools districts, the entire student body is not responsible for the care of one student. That's ludicrous. If the kid were to die in because of that allergy, would every family be sued?

  2. The problem is that some kids are so allergic to peanuts that even eating off of the same table where peanuts or peanut butter has been dropped and left a residue is enough to send kids into anaphylactic shock. Some kids only have to smell it to have a serious, life threatening reaction.
    My daugher has a peanut allergy. It is brutal. We have to read and screen everything or she could die.

    There are several children in her school with nuts allergies, so they have gone completely nut and peanut free at the school. No one brings nuts or nut products in, and the cafeteria screens everything they serve. I feel much more secure knowing that her school is nut free. She can eat at the cafeteria with everyone else (not in a seperate room), she can even order off of the menu there because they are so careful about preparing their own foods. She is able to just be another kid at the cafeteria because of the peanut ban. If she couldn't do that, and if I had to walk into the school at every snack time and clear everything she ate there, that would call more attention to the allergy than anything else.

    Peanut allergies are life threatening. They have to be taken seriously.

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  4. The allergies are serious, to be sure. It seems to me, though, that it's inappropriate to cause everyone else to live according to one child's dietary needs or health concerns. It's also unrealistic. What happens when a kid with this problem goes to coffee hour in a church or passes by a bake sale at a grocery store or takes out a book from a librarian eating lunch at her desk? How do you protect this child from every other possible encounter with peanut butter?

  5. We avoid areas where she could be exposed. It is difficult, hence the need to carry an epi-pen at all times. I once made the mistake of taking her into a bulk foods store. :( That turned out to be a scary excursion.

    Each exposure creates a subsequently more severe reaction. The first reaction she had was only an outbreak of hives, the next stomach cramps and a rash and some tingling in her throat, after that she experienced severe pain in her back, stomach, and throat and had swelling in her lips and vomited. The next exposure could cause the swelling in her face and throat to be severe enough to stop her breathing.

    I can't be by her side every second. I can at least go about my day without being super paranoid because I know her school is safe. It is one less place she could have a reaction. We have a duty to make school a safe place for every student. That is my belief as a teacher and a parent.

    We don't want the world to stop eating nuts and nut products. Eat them all you want at home. But this is a life threatening issue. Kids can die from accidental exposure. Keep your peanuts at home. Please. Seems like a no brainer to me. *shrug*

    I guess you can't understand it unless you are living it.

  6. My daughter had a classmate last year who was allergic to nuts of any kind. Her mother took care of the snack situation whenever celebrations came up in school just in case. I bake a lot, and I made sure that no peanut products went into school snacks. But there is peanut butter in my house and I cook with it all the time. As a mother of a non-allergy kid, I'm scared to death to do the wrong thing. In this litigious age, news of an all-out ban feels like a lawsuit in the making, like confrontation. I don't want to harm anyone's kid, but I don't want to be made responsible for a situation that is way beyond my control, either. I have a cousin each of whose four kids is allergic to a different food group. The only safe thing to bring into the house was beef jerky--so that's what we brought!


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