Until peanut allergy cure is found, it's not unreasonable to mind our PB&J's

Ryan Zavitz and his son Carter Zavitz, 4, who is allergic to peanuts, watch a game Sunday from the peanut-free zone at Nationals park.
Ryan Zavitz and his son Carter Zavitz, 4, who is allergic to peanuts, watch a game Sunday from the peanut-free zone at Nationals park. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)

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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I will totally confess right now to hating sunflower butter. And soy butter.

And I will admit to a tiny fist pump when I learned that my kids' nut-allergic friends will be out of town for a birthday party and I could bake with abandon, at last making the chocolate- peanut-butter-caramel cake my boys love for the celebration.

If you don't have kids, you probably have no skin in the peanut wars, where school lunches, birthday parties and class picnics are culinary and political minefields.

The days of PB&J at lunch are over. If your kids attend one of about 30,000 schools in America that have gone peanut-free, the staples of your goobers-and-grape childhood are a no-no.

In some cases, hummus and many crackers, snacks and cereals are also verboten. There have been a few times when my son returned from school humiliated because I tossed an item with evil tree nuts into his lunch and the offensive snack was confiscated by the peanut police and sent back home.

Bad mommy! A granola bar? What were you thinking?

And, of course, it's not just in the school cafeteria. Last week, the U.S. Transportation Department announced it is considering a ban on peanut products on airplanes even though some airlines have already substituted pretzels for peanuts. (Wait, I forgot, they really don't do free snacks anymore. Perhaps they'll simply charge you extra for having peanut thoughts.)

There's a reason for the jihad on Jif. Peanut allergies, which can be life-threatening in the most extreme cases, have tripled in the past decade, and no one knows why.

Some experts blame the sanitizing of our world. In developing countries, where kids' immune systems are fighting at every turn -- dangerous drinking water, questionable meat -- little bodies don't see peanuts as a threat. But for children in developed countries, everything is purified, so when something as jaunty as a peanut comes along, the autoimmune system, like fat, bored revolutionaries, takes up arms to fight it.

The next logical step, then -- because it makes little sense to toughen up our kids by fouling our drinking water (we'll leave that to the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority) -- is to simply ban peanuts from our lives.

On Sunday, the Washington Nationals created a peanut-free zone, at the ballpark, opening two of its boxes to families with allergies.

I went over to meet some families and see how big a deal it was to them to be in a peanut-free zone, a box that had no food and was wiped down completely before the game.


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