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Monday, January 15, 2007

It Takes A Village To Avoid A Peanut

Though my initial reaction to the events of Boxing Day were to eradicate peanuts from the face of the earth, taking the time to research, discuss and blog about peanut allergy in children has led to a more logic and sensible state.

One seemingly sage piece of advice I read was that the food allergy is our responsibility to deal with as parents and we cannot assume that others will automatically go out of their way to help. While that may be true, there are many examples of where people do go the extra mile to accommodate an anaphylactic child and their food allergy - just read these at Anaphylaxis Canada.

People do want to help but your approach is important. To effectively enlist the support of other parents, a peanut parent must avoid being overbearing and overly sensational.

An example of what NOT to do comes from Straus News (Oct-19-06). With the best of intentions (I'm sure) a 'peanut mom' tried the full frontal assault tactic and was met with significant opposition. The strategy included sending an email to parents stating that "a peanut awareness group was being formed and that petitions were ready to be signed to ban all peanuts in the school". This was met with mixed response and one non-peanut mother took issue with the ultimatum and countered “to eliminate even 99% of the products that will trigger an allergy attack will be quite time consuming. And more likely not even possible. There is not any possible way that you will be able to discover everything with a peanut or nut oil. Many people, including myself, wear lotions everyday with these products.”

Neither side is making educated arguments and instead are using rhetoric. It does not take a full peanut ban to avoid an anaphylactic reaction and, correct me if I am wrong, but I have not read anything that would suggest that skin contact with a lotion containing peanut as perhaps ingredient 15 out of 20 is a material threat for anaphylaxis.

Child Food Allergy (now linked from the NoPeanuts homepage) is a blog that focuses on parenting children with food allergies. There was a post on Jan-14 directed at 'peanut parents' who are so aggressive in their pursuit of peanut free schools that they alienate themselves and lose the support of other parents in the 'village'. The post instead recommends a more balanced approach ...

"make sure any notes sent home to parents asking them not to send food containing peanuts is written with a concerned but not panicked tone. People don't really go out of their way to help "that mom." And please show sincere appreciation to teachers and the school's staff for their efforts. They are your eyes and ears when you can't be there. Your child's safety at school depends on them."

Seems reasonable. Provide information, support and encouragement and then thank people for their help afterward. It would likely garner more support than the petitition / ban model. FAAN in particular has a fantastic section on their site for dealing with food allergy in schools.

Peanut parents have to remember that over 90% of the population is not dealing with anaphylaxis. As somebody that did not have anaphylaxis in his life a month ago, (and would often cover the floor of sporting venues with peanut shells), I totally understand the view of the 'other side'. Peanut allergy is just not top of mind for most people.

Rolski, our UK author friend, blogged on peanuts again and noted that "if we ban everything that's 'bad' for us, it's not long before we'll all be living on nothing but 'regulation' gruel and water. No, parents with peanut allergies can't expect much help from us regular folk."

Like it or not, that seems to be how much of the population thinks. Rolski adds (kindly): "it's up to websites and blogs like
Nopeanutsplease to educate the rest of us about the challenges they face and hopefully, we'll be understanding and cooperative as best we can."

I hope that the It Takes A Village series leads to a more balanced discussion around peanut allergies. Peanut parents will build a 'bigger village' of supporters if they take the time to consider the feelings and concerns of others before bringing in the heavy artillery.

The first installment featured Teachers ... more will follow.


NoPeanuts said...

This is a very different topic but the same premise holds. In Toronto anti-poverty activists hold an annual march through an affluent area to make noise and bring attention to poverty. It is a not always well-received and could arguably be a similar tactic to the 'petition to ban peanuts' approach.

Here is the post:

Daisy said...

I think it is great to have input from Nadine considering her profession as a Child Psychologist and having a child of her own with a peanut allergy. There is no reason your child should be excluded from anything due to an allergy. Perhaps it would be nice to print little cards with your child's picture on there for the parent's and teachers of the school explaining anaphylaxis, precations and emergency treatments. Becoming involved as a volunteer will allow others to get to know you and in turn you can educate on allergies. I believe that fear provokes responses we often do not like and presenting your opions and concerns in a calm manner increases the receptiveness of your audience. You sound like you are doing all the right things!!!

It would be a good idea to provide the school library with books for students and teachers to take out on loan. I am interested in making a peanut free recipe book that could be donated to the school library for teachers and parents to use for bake sales or other special events. Never a bad idea to see what other schools are doing either!

I look forward to your next story!