Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Lethal weapon

Is peanut butter an inalienable right?

That's the question schools face when a child with a peanut allergy joins the student body. Any exposure to peanuts or peanut oil can cause an extreme reaction, even death, in these children. Their parents rightly want those products banned from the premises, so their children can have a normal school experience without fearing for their lives. Yet other parents feel it's unfair to change the dietary habits of the many for the needs of the few.

It seems silly on the face of it -- with so many foods to choose from, why cling to peanut butter when it might kill your kid's classmate? It is easy for me to say this because my kids don't like peanut butter. If they did -- if it was the only thing they'd eat, and the choice was between PB&J or an afternoon of lightheadedness and hunger -- it might not seem so silly. Adults can make decisions for all good reasons, but getting kids to eat what they're supposed to is another matter entirely.

Yet I'm always amazed at how vehemently, even hatefully some people will argue for their child's right to eat peanut butter in particular, and anything they darn well please in general. It's a little frightening, as a parent of two children with special needs of their own, to see how quickly people will stop being concerned about the well-being of others when it requires a change in the way they do things -- even such a small thing as packing a lunchbox. I think, if faced with a peanut-butter ban, I'd use it as a way to show my children that we as a society care for all our members, and if giving a little something up allows someone else to be safe, that is a good and worthy act. I think I'd do that even if my kids adored peanut butter. I think I would make it a project, even if it was hard.

It's a project many parents are likely to have to take on, as the number of children afflicted with the allergy appears to be increasing. For goodness sake, giving an allergic person peanut oil as a way of murdering them has already been featured on "Nash Bridges," so we know it's getting common. And in light of that -- in light of the fact that every school will likely have to deal with nut embargoes in the near future -- may I make a suggestion to the food manufacturers of America?

Synthetic peanut butter.

If they can make fruit juice without any fruit in it, surely they can make something that looks like peanut butter, smells like peanut butter and tastes like peanut butter without actually having any of those pesky peanuts. Work on it, folks. The lunchrooms of America are calling.

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