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Allergy Policy: When Balance is Elusive

This month, Sam comes face to face with the dilemma of allergy safety and reasonable expectations at her son’s elementary school.

The other evening I’m at a school event with the kids. It’s movie night, so I’m towing a bag of treats, including some ketchup-flavored potato chips (my fave), gummies (theirs) and a few other pieces of choice junk. (What can I say? It’s movie night!)

Another mother I’ve known for years – a nutritionist, no less – notices my goodies and asks, “Can Lucas eat all that?”

“It’s not all for him,” I reply. “But yeah, it’s all safe for him, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” she says, now in an obviously peeved tone. “I sent some of those same snacks in my son’s lunch bag last week and they were sent home with a note saying ‘they’re unsafe for our allergic students’.”

Another mother overheard the conversation, and nutritionist mom was quick to repeat herself, only now in an even snarkier tone. “Next thing you know they’ll be telling us we can only send bread and butter, or actually, not even that,” she adds. “I hear you on that one,” the other mother responds (and I swear I could hear her eyes rolling).

“But that’s not at all the direction we’re going in,” I protest. I know this, because I advise the school on allergy-related issues – and I’m all about asking others for as little accommodation as necessary.

I’m well aware that my son Lucas (allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, mustard and kiwi) has a much better chance of cracking his head on the pavement than he does reacting to a food he’s not eating that may contain a trace of nuts. I also believe that allergy parents must primarily educate their allergic kids and instill a no-sharing policy in them, above and beyond everyone else. I think it’s doubly important not to over-insulate our growing allergic kids and to use school as a training ground for life, within reason.

This is why our school’s allergy policy calls for support and awareness. “We don’t call for bans. We’re not hung up on ‘may contains’ and we’re definitely not only restricted to products that have a nut-free symbol on the packaging,” I explain to nutritionist mom, in the sweetest voice I can muster, despite the steam whistling out of my ears.

“Then why did they send my kid’s lunch home?” She’s clearly annoyed and was obviously humiliated by the wrist-slap.

Next page: Sam tries to figure out what went wrong …

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.