Parks Shouldn't Ban Snacks Just Because Some Kids Have Allergies

playgroundI feel for the parents of kids with food allergies. I really do. It must be terrifying living with the possibility that something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich could kill your child. And yet, a mom's suggestion that parents stop taking snacks to the playground, lest her kid get sick, is the latest example of the food allergy community taking things a step too far.

Take mom and author Curtis Sittenfeld (whose books I happen to adore) who opined in Slate this week that parents need to rein in their hungry kids at the park. Her fear, of course, is that her daughter's food allergies will be spiked by some careless kid wiping his PB&J all over the jungle gym.


As noted before, I feel for her. But that doesn't mean I agree with her.

Said Sittenfeld of her playground peanut problem:

My preference would be for kids to avoid eating food at playgrounds altogether, but I understand this possibility is probably about as likely as my laundry washing itself or me having a moms’ night out with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. If you do bring snacks, something like fresh fruit is statistically less likely to cause problems than donuts or cheese sticks -- though of course statistics aren’t much comfort to the dad of a kid who’s allergic to strawberries. 

OK, she realizes it's pretty much impossible, and yet she asks anyway? Does she even hear herself?

I get the sense that Sittenfeld is scared, and she's trying not to be one of those moms who comes off as self-involved. No doubt she's just a caring mom dealing with an issue that could kill her child.

But when you expect the world at large to forever be changing to adapt to your kids' issues, you can't help but sound a little self-involved. Hence the divide between parents of kids with specific allergies and the rest of the world.

Other kids may not have food allergies, but the move to make a world perfect for food-allergic kids fails to address the fact that no public space is going to be perfect for everyone.

What of a kid who is hypoglycemic, requiring small frequent meals throughout the day? Leaving the snacks at home isn't an option for his family. Or what of the immuno-compromised kid who could die if they catch a cough from the kid who just hacked all over the monkey bars? The kid whose allergy to synthetic fabrics will kick into overdrive if your tot hugs them with their rashguard on the merry-go-round?

The food allergy community has cornered the market on hysteria, so to speak. It's acceptable for them to put out demands like this on major websites because people are becoming more and more highly aware of the risk of just a little peanut to a kid with a serious allergy.

But let's put things in perspective. Just 8 percent of kids in America have food allergies. That's all of 'em, even the kids who might get one hive from eating a strawberry (not just those who will die at the scent of a peanut).

What about the other 92 percent of kids? What of their issues?

Can society truly be expected to change for them all? Out here? In public (note, I'm not talking about peanut-free schools ... that's a microcosm of kiddom that's much easier to control)?

Is it even possible? As Sittenfeld herself points out, fruit is fine and dandy for her kid, but could send another person's child into anaphylactic shock.

There is no perfect.

And yet, all kids deserve a chance to be normal, to go play at the playground with their peers.

So the real question is whose job it is to preserve that normalcy. Is it the world at large or ours as parents?

In a public setting, I have to insist that it's the latter.

We can't call for bans on everything.

Instead, we have to shoulder the burden of watching out for our own kids and their needs. Maybe that means spotting a mom with a PB&J and politely asking for her to put it away, but it doesn't mean banning all snacks at the playground anymore than it means banning all kids with the slightest of coughs or all kids with synthetic fabrics or ... who knows the end of that list? 

A hypoglycemic's mom totes snacks to the park. A food-allergic kid's mom needs to walk the perimeter and check for possible allergens, needs to watch what her kid might be putting in her mouth. The mom of the kid with cancer makes sure her son bathes in hand sanitizer. And so it goes.

We can all work together to help one another out in this global village, but one kid's serious issue doesn't trump another child's. Not in the real world.

Do you think it would be fair to ban snacks at playgrounds? Is this mom expecting the moon?


Image via nzgabriel/Flickr

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