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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

To our School Food Services...



I'm not a squeaky wheel and I really don't even know where to start to be one...but for some things, I will step out of my comfort zone to object to openly.  This is one of them. 

My child has a peanut allergy - we didn't ask for it, we didn't cause it and we don't like it anymore than you.  I won't go into details about how we found out and reacted or how we have dealt with it as she has grown, because I posted a blog a year ago about that very thing when she entered kindergarten.  

This is different.  When she started kindergarten, her school had a peanut free lunch line.  The cafeteria itself was not a peanut free zone, but this worked fine for us.  Why?  Because I knew that no peanuts entered the food area where her food would be prepared.  That meant that not only was every child eating food from the cafeteria peanut free, but she could eat there as well.  The only problem would be the children that happened to bring peanut butter in their lunch boxes.  However, we drilled into her constantly to never share food...and she seems to understand (especially since having her first reaction...which she can't forget).  

However, the school system where my children attend now serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches...everyday.  This is ludicrous to me and here is why - take a look at the most recent statistics on food allergies...

About 6 million children have food allergies - that's roughly 1 in 13 children...or possibly two per class in the US.  This is no longer "uncommon" or "rare"...this is real and at every school and in almost every classroom.  More specifically, the two more common allergies in children are peanuts and milk - peanuts causing the most severe and deadly reactions.

I know there are a lot of different food allergies out there and the schools can't cater to each one - especially if that food is prevalent in the majority of the lunches that are prepared (like gluten).  I'm not asking schools to do something that severe - something that would affect every child in the school.  I'm asking something very simple - consider the majority of severe food allergy sufferers...the ones allergic to peanuts.  It's not hard - peanuts are only served in ONE lunch offered in your cafeterias...and it can be replaced very easily and most of the time unnoticed by children - with school safe soy butter.  So instead of ordering peanut butter this year to make your sandwiches, order soy butter...problem solved.  Why is this not done at every school?!  Why are our childrens' lives being put into danger?  Parent's of children without allergies who may be shrugging their shoulders at this...did you know this? (I didn't) - not only can allergies develop at any time during your life (my sister just developed one at 39 and has to carry an epi-pen) but 25% of children who have a severe allergy have their first reaction while at school.  We need to protect all of our children.

Please don't wait until a child dies before something is done.  Why did Amarria have to die at school in 2012 for a bill to be passed requiring every school to carry epi-pens? (School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act.) Since that was passed at least two lives have been saved when the children ate something at school that triggered a reaction.  Who knows how many more were saved that haven't been reported?Can't we foresee and predict what is going to happen?  It doesn't take a genius...Why do we have to wait for something tragic? Especially when it can be easily avoided?

Cafeterias don't need to be peanut/nut free.  That can't happen and can't be enforced anyway.  But our School systems can stop serving peanut butter and other nuts.  That alone will eliminate most of the peanuts in the cafeteria and my daughter can go back to sitting with her classmates instead of being segregated at a separate table because of a medical condition.  We can't do this to our children.  We can't punish them for something they have no control over.  Do we make the ADD children sit at a separate table?  Do we make deaf or blind children sit at a different table?  Of course not - that's insensitive, heartless and traumatic for the child.  As a friend so eloquently put it with some satirical humor...

   "Our students can either choose to sit at the rattlesnake-free table, or around their friends who may or may not bring a rattlesnake to school.  Honestly, it's up to the children [and parents] whether or not they want to endanger their actual lives or their social lives."

Let's not do this to our children.  Help them all feel included.  And if there's a student in your child's class who has a more obscure allergy - be sensitive to it.  If they could possibly die from eating an apple (I have a friend who could...), then when you send apples with your child at lunch or see apples on the lunch menu - tell your child to not sit near his friend that day...for their safety.  All the children in the class need to understand the severity of a food allergy - because most likely there are 1-2 in their class.

So what can you do?  Find out who the food service people in your school system are and forward this to them.  Let all of the school systems that still serve peanut butter know that there is an easy option out there...and that all parents are in support of it.  The more parents and adults they hear from the more likely they are to change it...because one of the only reasons they haven't yet made this decision is because they don't want to start trouble with parents of students with no allergies.  So let them know it's ok, that your child will settle for a soy butter and jelly sandwich...and even if they can't, you can send one from home - just tell them to not sit next to their buddy that day.

Don't make a mountain out of a molehill...this is a huge problem with a tiny solution - so let's do it!