It’s not an ‘inconvenience’, you’re making sure my son doesn’t die.
This my son. His name is Philip.
I love all my children – don’t get me wrong – it’s just that when you’ve almost lost your child as a result of a tragedy, it makes them even more special to you. It makes you hold them, all of them, just that little bit tighter.
Philip is cute, affectionate, smart, funny and compassionate. You wouldn’t think anyone would deliberately try and kill him and yet multiple people have tried. A teacher once tried to kill him , some of his friend’s parents have attempted it, even some close relatives. They were all grown ups who should have known better and it was all because they either refused to accept he had food allergies or they just didn’t get it.
It is astounding to me that in this day and age, with all that we know about severe food allergies, some people are still refusing to accept the seriousness of them or worse still, refusing to accept that they need to play a role in keeping food allergy kids safe.
A friend of mine just received a notice from her child’s preschool informing her of food bans that are being enforced due to some of the children’s life-threatening food allergies.
She was shocked at how some of the parents reacted to it: it was a huge inconvenience, it was being enforced just to annoy them. The ban was on all foods that ‘may contain traces of nuts’ which is pretty much everything – biscuits, crackers, cereal bars… That’s because snack companies are too busy trying to cover their butts than figuring out which of their products actually DO contain nuts.
It is completely ridiculous and companies need to be held to task for their irresponsible use of the phrase ‘may contain traces of nuts’ but more on that later.
Her experience brought back some vivid memories of my own. Her reaction was to start brainstorming ideas for snacks she can pack, things like carrot sticks, fresh fruit and cheese. She would never disobey the ban because she would never want to be responsible for putting a food allergy child in harm's way.
If only everyone reacted like her.
Some didn't. Some wondered if the food bans were going too far. Some wondered why their children should be inconvenienced by the food requirements of others. Some resented the fact they were being told what they could and could not feed their children. They either didn't care or didn't get it, which is fine. They are entitled to their thoughts and feelings. They were just handed a note setting out the preschool policy. It wasn't explained to them properly by staff or food allergy parents, as it should have been.
Food bans are necessary but need to be explained better. So I'll explain them. Here's how it works.
When children are very young - preschool age and under - they put everything in their mouths, including toys, unidentifiable food particles they find on the floor and other children's hands. So food bans are necessary. Children this young can't be properly taught not to share food or to be careful after eating foods other children are allergic to. So they are banned, for their own sake.
The bans weren't always so strict. In 2007 a parent sent a peanut butter sandwich into preschool for her daughter, despite the centre's nut ban. Somehow a little boy who was allergic to peanuts was exposed to it and he ended up dying an agonising death.
His name was Alex.
Procedures became stricter after that. Each time a child dies as a result of food allergies, the guidelines are reviewed and tightened.
Still, I've had a parents say to me, "Why should my son miss out on eating peanut butter just because a child is allergic to it?" I said, as nicely as possible, "But how would you feel if my son had a bite of it and died as a result?"
Before I was a food allergy parent I was the same. I didn't get it. I thought food allergies meant sneezing and stomach aches and on very rare occasions, hospitalisation. Now I know better, from living it and seeing it and having to save my son's life with an EpiPen after he mistakenly consumed eggs. His allergies are to eggs and nuts.
Other parents have shared their intention to sneak foods into their child's preschool, to deliberately defy the bans. It's incomprehensible. It's unforgivable. Bitch about the bans, complain about them, but just follow them.
Whenever I am asked about food bans from inquisitive parents who want to know more, I simply explain that my son can't eat foods that 'may contain traces of nuts' just the same as her children can't eat foods that 'may contain traces of arsenic'. They get it after that.
By the time kids start primary school there are often food bans but only on those foods that are the main offenders - egg and nuts usually. This happens in conjunction with children being taught about food allergies and taught not to share food, ever.
When it comes time for them to start high school there are no food bans. It is expected that by the age of twelve they will know enough about their food allergies to take care of themselves.
Philip is 10 and we are working on teaching him to manage his own allergies. That means he is learning how to make safe food choices and how to administer his own EpiPen. He starts high school in less than two years. The clock is ticking quite loudly in my head.
I understand that some parents will still scoff at food bans. I was one of those parents and that's why I'm trying to explain it all to you. I hope you understand now. I strongly feel that we are all in this parenting thing together, that we must all exercise care around each others children. Just as I am careful that you child's fingers aren't in the door as I close the classroom door, just as I look out for them when I'm driving through the school to drop my kids off each day, I hope you too will look out for mine, by respecting food bans in preschools and schools.
And to the companies who overuse the phrase 'may contain traces of nuts' and other similar statements on their food packaging, you are doing more harm than good. You are being irresponsible. You are confusing parents and making the proper management of food allergies in young children impossible. Please start doing better.
Do you feel there is enough education aimed at parents who don't have children with food allergies?
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