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. 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.
Vanessa, a mom of four, relates this story, “My daughter is in 2nd grade, and there is a gluten and nut allergy in her class. My kindergartner is in a classroom with egg, glucose, nut, gluten, and everything in the world allergies. Each class has a long list of requests and items parents are expected to fill. In my 2nd grader’s class we were helping the teacher with a polar express party. On the list were 23 donuts and 1 free gluten free dessert, 23 things for hot cocoa and 1 hot cocoa with no gluten product.” She goes on to say, “All parents don’t necessarily have the time or money to go buy gluten-free, allergy-free treats for every school event.”
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 them 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, ask us to provide snacks, ask us to help with class parties and to celebrate birthdays. My children’s school has asked that we only provide store-bought treats because some children have allergies or dietary restrictions. Cyndi, a mom of three, said, “Last year, there were so many allergies of every variety that all we could bring were gummy bears, oranges, and juice boxes. That was it.”
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 nothing but egg-free items when I go to a family party, a work party, or any other social function. 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 it 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. I don’t get to eat meringue. Sometimes I have to say no to your tasty, egg-laden brownies. Sometimes you have to pass on the corn because it gives you a migraine. 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.
Author’s Update: Some commenters have suggested that I am not adequately making a distinction between allergies, intolerances, and reactions. Life-threatening allergies are real, they are not a joke, and they should absolutely be respected. I have family members who are in that category. Kids don’t eat nuts anyway; they all hate nuts, that’s just science. People who lie about allergies to get out of food they don’t like threaten the safety of all by lowering public perception of threat. I would never endanger a child’s life over a cupcake. I abide by all allergy requirements sent out by our schools.
Lots of good ideas in the comments–check them out!