Food Allergy: The Peanut-Free Tables are Turned

Gina Clowes Health Guide
  • “…I realize that the more I understand of other people’s difficulties, the less funny they are.” --Joel Stein

    Many of you will recall that Joel Stein wrote a piece for the LA Times titled “Nut Allergies-A Yuppie Invention” last year questioning the increases in food allergies and attributing this to parents who need to feel special!  The mixture of humor sprinkled with a few out of context facts and ridiculous conclusions outraged many of us who are raising food allergic children.

    Anaphylaxis in a child is about as funny as a car accident, and I’ve yet to meet a parent who had a child diagnosed so they could feel special.  Sadly now, the peanut-free tables are turned and Joel’s young son Laszlo was diagnosed with nut allergies. Joel Stein wrote about this in the August 9, 2010 issue of Time Magazine.

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    The blogs and message boards are ablaze over this, some include mean-spirited blog posts about karma while others seem frustrated that  Joel Stein still doesn’t “get it” because he wrote  that he would not be “banning nuts” from their home nor would they send him to a nut-free school. 

    The other thing that ruffled the feathers of some was the quotes in the article by allergist Rita Kachru, MD.  They seemed to imply that she was not offended by Joel’s LA Times article where he stated that food allergies are a “Yuppie Invention” and “only an issue in rich, lefty communities.”

    I called the Dr. Kachru and asked her if she would clarify her remarks and she was kind enough to do so.  She said:

    “I have never read the article in the LA Times by Joel Stein regarding food allergies.  I was asked to answer some questions by him, after seeing his son for a food allergy.  During the visit, he asked me if I was offended about his ignorance about food allergies, not whether I was offended about his prior article.   Of course I'm not 'offended' by ignorance about food allergies, it's my job as an allergist to educate the public about food allergies and the very significant risks associated with them.   I explained that I would be 'offended' if he was still ignorant about the importance and gravity of food allergies after our conversation."


    She went on to explain that Joel really wanted to “redeem himself” with the Time article.  These comments meshed with what his friend Heidi Miller wrote in her blog. So I decided to ask him to elaborate on a few issues. If he was really sorry about what he wrote, I was hoping he’d say so.

    He said he’d be happy to answer a few questions but when I sent him the questions, he declined, explaining:

    “I'm hardly an expert at any of this. So I don't have answers to your smart questions.”


    Not sure if he was being sarcastic or not but either way, I hope that other parents are taking note of the fact that even someone who doesn’t believe in food allergies can find themselves in the emergency room with a child who is swollen, vomiting and struggling to breathe.

  • Last year, Joel Stein didn’t believe in the increase in food allergies. Now he does, but he doesn’t think it’s necessary to restrict nut products from his home, and says he won’t send his child to a nut free school.  Maybe I’m reading between the lines but is he saying that we’re going overboard if we do choose to protect our child in these ways?

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    This reminds me of when I was a perfect parent before I ever had a child.   I didn’t get it.  And I’ll confess that after my son was first diagnosed, I was still eating protein bars with nuts in our home until my son’s face blew up and was covered with hives after I kissed him. The only thing worse than worrying if a reaction will progress to anaphylaxis is knowing that you caused that reaction.

    I agree that keeping nuts or peanuts in the home is probably pretty simple with a one year old.   These are the easy years.  They eat what you give them.  Period. When you have a two or three year old who can scale counter tops and open the refrigerator while you’re in the shower, you may think twice about its contents.

    School is a whole other can of worms. Young children are tactile, they’re oral, and they’re socialized to share.   If the thought of 20 to 30 of them in a classroom with peanut butter on their hands doesn’t give one pause, then, as my teenager would say “You’re a newbie.”

    There is a reason why so many parents want a nut free classroom and there is a reason why teachers and school administrators agree to this accommodation.  Kids sneak food, trade food, cross-contaminate the classroom, and after a child has had an allergic reaction or two, yes, they can be anxious around food.  And while most contact reactions are not life-threatening, once any reaction starts there is no way to predict its course. 

    Still, we know that parents have different comfort levels and kids have different maturity levels and sensitivity to their allergens.  Surely, we’re all trying to make the best decisions for our kids.

    As for Joel Stein, I’d be willing to bet my subscription to Time that when his son is ready for school, he will attend a nut-free one.  Hopefully by then, Joel will have become an informed advocate for his son and for our cause.  Joel, if you’re reading this, we’d love to have you join us at a FAAN walk or at one of the lovely Food Allergy Initiative fundraisers.  And I promise, we won’t make you eat crow!

Published On: August 16, 2010