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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