November 12, 2009

Talk About Nuts

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This is not an issues blog. I rarely get involved in controversy, especially the kind unrelated to books but something has come up that has so upset me that I haven't been able to discuss it coherently with anyone but my husband. I've put it on the backshelf of my mind until now, even though my hands are shaking as I write this.

Chatelaine magazine is a Canadian publication for women. I've always bought their issues over Cosmo or Women's World because I felt I could relate to it. That will change. In December's issue, right on the front cover is an article called "The Making of the Peanut Allergy Myth" by a woman named Patricia Pearson. This came to my attention through my Anaphylaxis newsletter.

Pearson starts off her article with an axe to grind, her son is a picky eater and she'd like to send him to school with a peanut butter sandwich. She can't because she thinks the school are overreacting to other children's peanut allergies. I sympathize with Ms Pearson, I really do, because my daughter is a picky eater too but she will never have a peanut butter sandwich at school or at home because she has a life threatening peanut allergy.

I'm glad that my daughter's school is an "overly cautious" peanut free school that requires her to wear an Epipen and a Medic-Alert bracelet. I don't know how many times I've had to go up to the school because I forgot her Epipen on the counter! At least, when she's there I have one less thing to worry about.

Why are food allergies so dangerous? They are unpredictable. The first reaction is generally the mildest reaction. There is no telling whether the next attack will be mild or severe. A severe reaction is one in which a person's throat closes over and death from asphyxiation can occur without the intervention of adrenaline (in the form of an Epipen shot). This is called anaphylactic shock.

My daughter's first reaction was the first time I gave her a peanut butter sandwich when she was 2 years old. I wondered why she wasn't eating it (I love peanut butter) until I took a look at her. Her face had puffed up like a balloon and her eye swelled shut. Her face was covered in blotches. You can imagine my reaction. Since then we've had Benadryll and an Epipen with us at all times. Then her only other reaction she had was this past summer when she had skin contact with peanut butter at the playground. She broke out in hives. That surprised me because she did not ingest peanut butter.

I know my daughter has to take responsibility for her own health; I'm trying to teach her that but right now she's not even ten. The way kids of that age spread viruses and lice the way they do doesn't give me confidence that they will be diligent enough to wash their hands. What if one of them picked up a crayon? What if then my daughter did? What if she put her fingers in her mouth? I can't even think of the consequences.

Pearson's heartless article is like a slap in the face. I'm shocked that a mother would be so dismissive of a known medical condition and so careless of the lives of other mothers' children. Of course, that is her opinion. This is a free country and anyone with any foolish, misguided opinion can stand on any street corner and proclaim it to the world. Go free speech! But I am very disappointed with Chatelaine magazine for being irresponsible enough to print it. As Gwen Smith put it in her rebuttal on the CBC News Website,
In Canada, getting taken down in Chatelaine is as close as it gets to being kneecapped by Oprah.
Chatelaine still stands behind this writer and as long as they do I will make a statement with my wallet. Instead of buying Chatelaine I will spend my money on some other publication. Maybe I need to know how to please a man in the bedroom as Cosmo is always shouting from the cover. Not long ago, lover's of Young Adult fiction sent a message loud and clear to the publishers of Liar by Justine Larbalestier that the cover showing a white girl for a book about a black girl was unacceptable. The cover was changed. If the reaction on the Chatelaine message boards is any indication, Chatelaine will follow suit and publish a retraction, though I believe the damage is already done.

If you'd like to more about Food Allergies go to:

Anaphylaxis Canada

Allergic Living Magazine

If you'd like to learn about the No Child Without program for schools (they provide Medic-Alert bracelets for children with any life threatening medical condition) see this website.

And for fun, here's Binky Goes Nuts (Arthur series):






BookBlips: vote it up!

19 comments :

  1. I'm so sorry your daughter has to deal with this! I've read that just the smell of peanuts can cause a reaction in some people.

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  2. I know how diffcult it is to see ur kid's skin erupting into hives or seeing them have a swollen lips and diffculty in breathing due to this allergy. I used to handle these cases in ER when I was posted during my rotation .Believe me, those days in pediatrics were the most difficult ones for me.

    It used to be diffcult to calm the parents when we were handling these kids. These allergies are very serious and it needs some community co operation if have to keep these kids healthy at an age when they are too small to assess
    what is good or bad for them.

    That was very very callous of the lady to say such a thing and very irresponsible on part of the magazine to go about and publish it.

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  3. Kathy- Thank you. Luckily, she isn't that bad right now.

    Shona- Thanks for your comment. I'm feeling very emotional about it and needed to vent. Thanks for listening.

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  4. O my gosh. I can't believe that they stand behind that crap? I am not allergic to peanuts but to walnuts and pecans. Wow. I could rant but I won't. Shame on that author.

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  5. That's awful! No matter how much you love peanut butter and would like to have a sandwich wherever and whenever you want, isn't making sure someone else doesn't die more important? I'm sorry, but I don't understand people like that. Have all the peanut butter you want in your house, bathe in it for all I care. Why would you want to endanger someone? I don't think peanut butter bans are overreacting at all. And I have enough respect for other people and their children to be okay with not being able to send my daughter to school with peanut products. I'd want people to be okay with it if it was my daughter's safety at stake.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  6. Thank you so much for a tactful post about a very touchy subject. I'm fortunate enough to, so far *fingers crossed*, have children with no major allergies like this one. But I always struggle with how to approach my friends that do. I've always known they are just the same as my kids, but with a couple of things you need to be sensitive about.

    The way you approached the subject of crayon sharing and other things kids do was a great example of how easily something small can turn into something huge. It makes it a little easier to help relay this to my own children with examples like this. It's hard to teach children these things, but so important that we do. Because when you get down to it, it could truly save someone's life. Thank you again!

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  7. Wow. I can't believe someone would call a life-threatening allergy a "myth" - or that a magazine would actually PRINT that!

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  8. Sometimes I feel as though people's general ideas about things turn into outspoken, not logical arguments that are very, very rude and ignorant of other people's views. Just because a writer writes for a popular publication doesn't mean that he or she can actually write whatever he or she wants. I mean, lawfully she can, but morally maybe not so much.

    Sometimes that writer's opinion needs to be wrangled in and burnt in the furnace in the basement. I'm sorry about the article-- I hope the magazine redacts it. :)

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  9. it's really fortunate that the school you daughter attends is so supportive. Long live Cosmo!

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  10. Hmmm. Anaphylactic shock or picky eater? Who's inconvenienced more here?

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  11. I had no idea such small contact with nuts could produce a severe reaction. Let's add this to the list of dumb things none medical people say about medical conditions, like the Times book reviewer who spoke about the 'chronic fatigue hysteria'.

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  12. Amanda- So far it's only peanuts but we stay away from any nuts.

    Anna- It's true, he could eat it all day long at his own house.

    1st Daughter- Friends & family always ask about food before they give it to her. I'm lucky to have such great people in my life. My best advice is to always read the label and if you aren't sure do not give it to the child.

    Nymeth- I'm not sure if they thought they would sell more magazines if they printed something so controversial but it's irresponsible.

    She- Sometimes you have to live it to understand it. I think that is the case here.

    Nicole- Yes, I worried about the school until I found out about their practices.

    John- It's a head scratcher.

    Jodie- Yes, it doesn't take much to produce a reaction.

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  13. As you know my son has nut allergies, not to peanuts but in his case to tree nuts like hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts.

    His first reaction was when I had eaten Nutella and then kissed him and his lips puffed up. On the next occasion there was a reaction we had vomiting and puffiness and it really isn't pretty.

    Most of the time, the hardest thing about dealing with allergies is keeping track of the epipen, but I am very conscious that could change at any time.

    I wish my school was nut-free. They rely on the kids not to share food as their way of dealing with the issues of allergy. Just this week I went to a school camp information meeting and they were talking about providing snacks for the bus trip, maybe fruit and nuts. I get that they are trying to encourage kids to eat healthy, but I really don't know how bad the next reaction could be for my son. Everything indicates that the strategies are in place for dealing with an attack, but the reality is that hasn't been tested yet. I hope that it never is, but it could be.

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  14. sigh, one one of the picky-eater parents who's child ate pb&j sandwiches. Our school didn't have a peanut policy and I'm wondering how many kids we threatened with our lunch choice. I would have been happy to sent my child to school with a jelly sandwich and let him have peanut butter at home.

    And as a credit to my child, he would have been okay with it if I had told him that some of the kids might get sick if he took peanut butter to school.

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  15. Oh my goodness. This just broke my heart. First, I'm so sorry that your daughter and your family have to deal with this life-threatening allergy. And second, I'm sorry you have to deal with such ignorance. You're right--your daughter will eventually have to take responsibility for her health...but to expect that kind of understanding and diligence from an elementary school age child is just so utterly ridiculous.

    I'm so very lucky that my children don't have these types of allergies. But my daughter had extremely severe asthma when she was younger and on a number of occasions ended up hospitalized after catching a cold at school. After one particular episode with her hospitalized for nearly a week, her doctors even admitted to us afterward that they had been very frightened. Yes, I realize that it can be inconvenient for people to have to take off work or whatever to stay home with their sick youngster, that it's easier to just send them to school if it's "just a cold"...but to a small minority of kids what they pass along is not "just a cold."

    Here's hoping for greater understanding of people everywhere as to the real dangers of severe food allergies. And bravo to you for this post.

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  16. I've often wondered about peanut allergies - are they worse now than when we were kids, or are they getting more publicity? Both? Because I don't remember things being at the point where people were not allowed to bring peanut butter sandwiches to school when I was growing up.

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  17. Book Dragon- Every school is different but more than likely if there had been an allergy in the class you would have heard about it.

    Court- We talk about this a lot. We've known no one with this allergy growing up. There are lots of theories as to why but I won't bore you with them all.

    Marg- That's a worry. It hasn't been until recent years that this has become a policy in this area. I suspect there was a lot of lobbying for it.

    Debi- Scary. I have a friend whose asthma hasn't gotten quite severe in the last few years to the point he carries an epipen. He has several allergies that set off his asthma.

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  18. Good for you Chris! You should make a stand because, as you say, it's about respect of other mother's children. While this writer and publisher may not believe in the issue as strongly they should at least have the respect that *you* do. Moreover, that you have actual experience with such a horrifyingly scary situation that profoundly affects the lfe of your child.

    I hope you are able to facilitate better understanding and introduce sme change.

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