Alexandria Durrell: Irritated By Allergies


Are Classroom Food Bans Driving You Mad?

What Schools Should be Doing to Protect Kids With Allergies

school lunch food bans

What kind of person would resist a wheelchair ramp being installed to make the life of one student easier? Is that you? Are you the kind of person who, when asked to turn your music down at 11pm, complains about your rights being trampled on just because a neighbour wants to sleep? Are you against accommodating people with autism or ensuring those who practice different religions are treated fairly and equitably? Who complains that they can't send a food their kid likes to school because it can kill another child?

Classroom food bans are in place to protect vulnerable children who can die from ingesting an allergen.

And still, people rage against them, complaining that it is inconvenient or that it protects the rights of the minority while removing the rights of the majority. They complain that their child may suffer without eating nuts or peanuts (or whatever the allergens are) during the day. This blows my mind.

I've never heard a better response to the food ban outrage than this statement by my friend and fellow blogger Dan Thompson:

"It is not society's responsibility to provide accommodations for those with disabilities? When did that happen, because that is exactly what we should be doing as a society, from wheel chair ramps, to nut -free environments, to notetakers for university students with learning disabilities. Also just as a side note: public places are becoming more and more allergy free, offices now ban nuts and perfumes, planes no longer serve nuts, and wait for it, many many high end restaurants no longer serve dishes with nuts anymore . . . Oh and one more thing: in a democracy the majority cannot subjugate the minority. In fact in a democracy the rights of the minority must be protected by even more strict regulation to prevent a majority oppression. So yes the minority of kids are protected in a nut free school while the majority learn valuable lessons in democracy."

YES. This is the point, exactly.

Last year I wrote about some of the truly idiotic things people say about food allergies, and I'm sad that the people who say them are still just as ignorant this year as they were last. But you know what? I get where they're coming from, because I feel their frustrations over the ever-increasing rules for sending lunches to school. Food bans are driving me, ahem, nuts, too.

This week, some schools sent home letters asking parents to avoid sending items that "may contain" nuts and peanuts to school. That's unreasonable, here's why:

In Canada, printing "may contain" on a food label is entirely voluntary. That means that even items without the warning may be unsafe. The only legal requirement manufacturers have is to list (in bold print) when allergens do exist in an ingredient list. Basically, this means that many allergy parents spend a lot of time calling individual manufacturers to inquire about their sanitization practices, and to find out what the real risks are. We can't even get people on board with not sending peanut butter, do we really think they'll start calling companies and doing all this work to accommodate our kids? I hardly think so.

Every single item from a bakery is a risk.
Every single item that comes from a home where nuts are eaten is a risk.
Every single person is a risk.
Every single surface is a risk.

So what can we do to protect kids?

1. We can educate everyone about the risks and ways to reasonably protect students. This includes food bans when they're young, because what kid in kindergarten understands the importance of good hygiene? 

2. We can teach kids proper hygiene. This means washing hands and surfaces properly, and it's not only a measure to protect allergic kids, it's also great for stopping the never-ending germ cycle in schools.

3. We can push for better, more effective and accurate food labelling laws.

4. We can teach our allergic children how to protect themselves in a world that will be a threat. They should self-carry their epinephrine auto-injectors, know how to avoid allergens when possible, recognize the signs of a reaction. Empower them to grow into the inevitable job they'll have to protect themselves.

5. We can practice compassion and understand that no allergy parent wants to live this life, much less impose it on others. We do what we do to make sure our children live.

It's unreasonable to expect parents of non-allergic kids to understand the process for researching each and every item. It's unreasonable to expect a school environment to be completely safe. We are always on guard, but that doesn't mean good effort shouldn't be made to help out, does it?

It is not unreasonable to expect our kids to be safe in schools. Food bans are not unreasonable. But they need to be a part of a larger plan to educate and build empathy and compassion. If we ban every single "may contain" product from classrooms, I'm worried about the backlash, which would mean a far less safe environment for our kids in the end. We already have enough pushback.

So, will you all help?

 RELATED: Overreacting to Your Child's Allergies Isn't Helping