Thursday, May 3, 2012

We Need Milk Bans in Elementary Schools!

My son is allergic to milk. It's not a gut-only allergy - it's full-out anaphylaxis. His milk reactions have been much worse than any other reaction including peanut: vomiting, wheezing, hives, extreme congestion, that sense of doom...

So, given the severity of his allergy, I think all schools should ban milk to accommodate children like him.

Just take a moment and think about what went through your head. Really consider trying to ban milk from your child's diet (assuming he/she is not allergic, of course). No cheese. Only one or two brands of bread, and they're hard to find. Virtually no baked goods or desserts. Even many deli meats have milk as flavorings or fillers. Casein in canned tuna. Butter in soup bases.

Could you do it? Would you do it?

Over the years, I've posed this theoretical question on various chat boards and, without fail, virtually all other allergic parents rejected outright the idea of banning milk. I'm usually given reasons like the following:

It's just too hard - it's in too much. Huh. Wonder how my household does it.

Milk allergy is not as severe as peanut allergy. Not always true. Milk allergy, in its extreme form, is not as prevalent in the population as peanut. However, there have been many cases of milk-induced anaphylaxis and some fatalities. 1, 2

Milk isn't as sticky as peanut butter. Hello? Milk spills!

The pinnacle of bitterness for me was the day I had a PA-only parent tell me "you're just angry because I can get a ban at my school and you can't." It's easier to marginalize my son by asserting that his allergy is not serious or that the societal burden is too great than to do what it would take to keep him safer. 

Sounds like what other parents do to us with regard to peanuts.

We want the school to be peanut-free so we do the mental gymnastics required to get there, even if it means marginalizing other kids. If we get challenged, we pull out the death card ("but peanuts can cause death! Your child will only be inconvenienced!"). But to get what we want, we have to willfully ignore those other kids who really do eat mostly peanut butter. Some of them are autistic. Some diabetic. Even for the parents who want to try, banning peanut butter to them feels like banning milk does to you. There are lots of weird ingredients rules. (Does "may contain" count? What if my pans had peanut butter cookies on them last time?)

I'm obviously not a believer in peanut bans. Not because I wasn't able to ban milk (thank you, compassionate allergic parent - it's been several years, yet that comment is still sticking with me like peanut butter), but because I believe the long-term harm to our community is greater than the short-term value. IMO, getting food out of classrooms is a much more important (and obtainable) goal than getting peanuts out of schools.

FAAN has taken a lot of flack over the years for their phrase "false sense of security." However, I think what they were trying to say in a politically-correct way is: there is a sub-segment of the population who will respond to a ban with anger and subterfuge. If you ask for a peanut ban, you can almost guarantee there are parents who will send peanuts just to make a point. Personally, I would rather have the school assume that every lunch bag contains peanuts than have badly-trained cafeteria monitors thinking the school is peanut-free and therefore Johnny's coughing fit and flushing must just be a cold. You can't legislate empathy and schools are not prepared to do the lunch checking and label reading to make a peanut ban truly work.

Yes, there are some instances where a child has a true contact allergy where a ban is needed. Yes, peanut bans make perfect sense in preschools where children are still so tactile that their slobber is everywhere. But asking for a knee-jerk ban on peanuts at the elementary level for children without a demonstrated contact allergy will cause a huge backlash. We're already seeing it. We end up making our kids less safe.

I could write forever on the topic of peanut bans. If you believe in them, though, I know I'm not going to change your mind. I'll just go back to my "not really allergic" or "too inconvenient" corner and suck on my bitter, milk-free beverage. Maybe one of the moms of the diabetic or autistic kids will talk to me.

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  1. Great example! The dismay most PA parents would feel if milk was banned should help them realize how non-allergic families feel when a peanut ban is proposed - they think we are crazy.

    I still haven't seen a peanut free middle school, high school or workplace.. so when do you teach your kid to protect himself rather than hoping others around you will (my answer: as soon as they can comprehend, but definitively by kindergarten).

    My son is severe PA allergic (contact and ingesting). I am NOT for peanut bans except for pre-schools and airplanes (and can I add I am sick of picking up peanuts on airplanes?).

    Even if you make a school "peanut-free" you can't be sure someone isn't sneaking it in or ate it for breakfast. Isn't it better to set up protected zones for food allergic kids and teach them to watch out for hazards? Smelling peanut butter and thus getting away from it has been my son's best defense for years. And carrying his epi of course.

    I often feel like the only PA mom that's not on the "Ban the nut" team... I just want to ban crazy parents.

  2. You are my favorite food allergy blogger! Every time I read one of your posts I want to shout out to the world that THIS is what I'm trying to say and can't get out quite right. Thank you!!!

  3. Yes! Right on target as always. Thank you for again sharing your common sense approach to these issues.

  4. I absolutely agree with all you said here. In my daughters preschool room, there were three kids (out of 12, how bizarre huh) that all had multiple allergies, and they were all different. While my daughter is PA + more, it was regularly on the menu for a classmate who had several other allergies. My daughter drinks soy milk while the kid next to her couldn't tolerate soy. By banning foods in that situation no one would have had anything left to eat! I don't think bans will really help anyone and I don't like the idea that my child could be made to feel entitled to one. The only way to truly stay safe is to have properly trained staff, and educate your own children.

  5. Love it. My son is allergic to milk and nuts, but all 5 of his ana rxns have been to milk. Glad to see I'm not alone in my views - many Moms of nut-only allergic kids don't take me seriously! Don't get me started on the new dairy-free health craze....

  6. I knew it was time to switch pediatricians when during a regular checkup the doctor looked down at my son's medic alert bracelet and asked why he was wearing it. When I reminded him that my son was allergic to milk, he stated "Oh you don't have to worry, milk isn't one of the serious ones." Yeah, right.

  7. When my daughter was first diagnosed with a peanut allergy, I was very anxious and would have been in complete and total support of a peanut ban in the schools. But then I began attending support group meetings with moms whose children have a variety of allergies, including one whose daughter has experienced anaphylaxis several times due to her milk allergy. I saw that their kids were surviving school without a ban. This made me much more pragmatic. Not only did I not insist on a ban, my daughter also did not sit at the peanut-free table (gasp). I found the peanut-free table made her very anxious -- she could sit there with only one friend and was very frightened of contact with PB.In first grade, she began sitting wherever she wanted, with whomever, as long as the person next to her did not have peanuts. This made her stand out less and since she was around PB and saw it did not affect her to just be in the vicinity, she is much less anxious.

  8. Amen.

    My milk-allergic son attended a 3-week summer program at which there was a total ban on peanuts. Without his usual PBJ sandwich -- a much needed source of fat for him -- he lost over five pounds.

    Headed to college, he specified on his housing form that he should NOT be assigned a roommate who has a peanut allergy. His eating life is tough enough.

  9. FWIW, Nuts are banned in all schools in Canada. My son has a MA but they serve milk in the classroom every day. Many offices in Canada have signs that say "Peanut free." I have no problem with it. At least they let him carry his Epi-pen on his body. Here in U.S. the nurse who is a million miles away has it hidden in her office.

  10. Not entirely sure that nuts are banned in all schools in Canada. Schools in our province are definitely NOT nut free. They are "nut aware" but there is no ban on nuts. Last I checked, I live in Canada.

  11. I'm an adult and still have anaphylaxis when in contact with soy. Try to stay away from that. It's in e every thing now.

  12. I'm an adult and still have anaphylaxis when in contact with soy. Try to stay away from that. It's in e every thing now.


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