By Carina Hoskisson
Last week a friend of mine posted this question as a Facebook status: "What is gluten, nut, and egg-free AND also store-bought that I can serve at a kindergarten class party?"
I don't know, air?
All over the country parents are being asked to accommodate the specialized needs of other people's children thanks to the skyrocketing number of food allergies and food intolerances. (They both have similar symptoms, but intolerances are generally considered less serious and not life-threatening.) We can't bring in homemade cookies or snacks; we're asked to buy commercially prepared goods. Even if you agree to bring in commercially prepared snacks, you're asked to make sure they're "gluten, nut, and egg-free" or some other combination of scary food exorcism.
To a certain extent, I get it. When I was in high school, a girl in my town died from eating a few bites of a Twix bar that happened to contain traces of peanuts. Many allergies can be deadly, even in tiny increments. If a child in the same homeroom as my son could go into anaphylactic shock and die due to allergies, I think we have a communal responsibility to keep him or her safe. I would never endanger the life of a child over a peanut butter cookie; that would be ridiculous.
However, I am rapidly reaching the end of my rope as I try to accommodate what feels like every child in the universe. Schools ask parents to bring items, to provide snacks and to help with class parties and celebrate birthdays. My children's school requires that we only provide store-bought treats because some children have allergies or dietary restrictions. One mom told me there were so many allergies in her children's classes last year that all she could bring was gummy bears and juice boxes.
Let me get this straight: I'm supposed to feed my kids processed, preservative-laden food because your kid has a wheat allergy? No. I don't want to. I want my kid to have the made-from-scratch cupcakes, the ones made with fresh butter, sugar and yes, real flour with real gluten in it, and not a commercially prepared cupcake that has an ingredient list a mile long. How could that possibly be better? Not to mention that commercially prepared items are expensive.
I understand the problem with allergies because I have allergies; I'm allergic to egg whites. The difference is I don't demand egg-free items when I go to parties or to work events. I don't always get to eat what people are serving, but I certainly don't demand that my friend make me a separate cake for me on her birthday.
It makes sense to ban certain items when children are too young to ask and avoid foods that they might have sensitivities toward. But once we cross a threshold, personal responsibility and parental education need to come into play. I agree that a teacher should let all parents know about any life-threatening allergies in a classroom. However, my kid shouldn't have to forgo his birthday cake because yours can't eat it.
There are parents of kids with allergies who leave approved treats with teachers, so other parents don't have to worry about remembering and accommodating a different need. I've even made special dispensations for kids -- like special allergy-free treats for a kid on my son's soccer team. I would surely consider bringing an extra allergy-free item to the class for a child, but depriving all the other children for the sake of the one hardly seems fair (excluding life-threatening circumstances). Even if we agree to only bring commercially prepared treats, there's no guarantee that those won't harm a child. The story of the girl who ate the Twix is proof of that.
Some schools have even gone the route of banning all classroom birthdays and celebrations, which is ridiculous. The fear of one shouldn't outweigh the rest. We don't always get to eat things we want to eat. Sometimes I have to say no to your tasty, egg-laden brownies. Sometimes my kid doesn't eat something because it has nuts, and he simply doesn't like them. Sometimes your kid with allergies can't eat my kid's birthday cake.
Let's stop the allergy insanity, and let the rest of them eat cake -- the lovely, homemade, buttery, gluten-stuffed cake.