Finally, Someone Who Gets the Dangers of Communal Food

I just came across this article by Curtis Sittenfeld in Slate, and I am THRILLED.

It’s called “Don’t Spill Your Child’s Snacks All Over the Playground.”

Finally, someone explaining to the masses how scary food is for food allergic people. Fine, this is about kids specifically, but it applies to adults, too. People don’t realize that the food they eat at their desks or before a meeting where they have to shake hands or on a train or in a movie theater can be harmful. No, I’m not saying to ban food, but just to increase the general consciousness surrounding what we touch and who we touch afterwards.

I have some friends who will soap their hands before they see me. Before they get in my car. Before they hug me. Before they come to my apartment. I thank them every time. I’m so grateful because I know they are thinking of my safety. They usually say, “No big deal, I want you to be healthy and it’s not hard to wash my hands.” I’m always stunned at how simple it is for them and how difficult it is for other people. Maybe someone can do a psych study on that. The point is, it’s doable to be conscious and still eat. I’d be more okay with people eating everywhere if they cleaned up after themselves. Dishes, wrappers, hand washing. Eat your movie theater popcorn. But maybe don’t spill it everywhere, and if you do, tell an attendant who can clean it before the next show or pick it up yourself. Wash your hands before you meet a new person. Don’t grab a handful of bar nuts and then shake my hand. One or the other. Wouldn’t it be better if fist bumped or just waved than if I ran to the bathroom to cover myself in steroid cream for hives and downed two benedryl?

These two paragraphs really struck me from the article:

If I seem here like a particular kind of parent—a fussy, hovering, self-righteous priss—let me say this: I kind of am. But the fact that we live in the Age of the Irritating Parent shouldn’t be conflated with the rise of allergies. According to the advocacy organization Food Allergy Research and Education, 1 in 13 American children under age 18 now has a food allergy, as does 1 in 10 preschoolers. The food-allergy rate in the U.S. rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. It’s true that I happen to be a neurotic mom. It’s also true, as demonstrated by skin tests, blood tests, food challenges in the doctor’s office, and accidental exposures, that my daughter has a serious medical condition.

So the fact that I wish parents wouldn’t let their newly walking toddler stagger around the sandbox with that sloshing sippy cup of milk or their 7-year-old practice his throw with Ritz Bits—I promise it’s not that I’m trying to tell them how to raise their kids. They probably just want to keep them fed to prevent a meltdown, which I sympathize with. (For the same reason, we bring fruit squeezers for the ride home.) And I wouldn’t presume to instruct parents what to do at their own house. You do not need to bake and serve a vegan cake at a birthday party. (Claire brings her own cupcake.) I realize all bets are off at a restaurant, which is why our family doesn’t go to them. But in the communal space of a playground, food isn’t the main attraction.

YES, CURTIS! YES! I read so many articles and hear so many jokes on TV about helicopter parents who have food allergic kids. SO NOT THE SAME. Parents not wanting their kids to die from invisible food proteins have medical reasoning backing them. Parents who don’t want their kids to play with Timmy because he has a dinosaur toy and dinosaurs and scary and scary things lead to anxiety which can get you off the list for the top preschool are not the same thing.

Also, most food allergic people who I know are more than happy to bring their own food places if that’s what their host prefers. And they are fine avoiding restaurants. But there are lots of places where food isn’t the main attraction, and it has begun to bother me that it’s always on the sidelines anyway. Do all events need free snacks or can they stand on their own merit? I’ve done a lot of event planning, and we always throw out food, no matter the host organization. What if we didn’t serve it? Just had water, maybe a bar (drinks are less all over the place and have fewer allergens for the most part)? Would the events be bad? If you need food, designated food areas are totally doable and safer.

Just some food for thought…that kind of food, no one is allergic to.

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