Opinions

Mind Fights: Should peanuts be allowed in schools?

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Yes: Banning them is not the solution

In the days of our forefathers, peanut butter was regarded as a delicacy, served at high-end cafes to the elite. During the Great Depression, peanut butter sandwiches became one of the top children's meals because of their low cost, high nutrition and easy assembly. When searched, the graves of the ancient Incas of South America were often found to contain jars filled with peanuts as food for the afterlife. Peanuts have proven to be a nutritious and inexpensive staple food for centuries. However, due to the risk of children with life-threatening peanut allergies, some school boards are banning peanuts from schools.

The problems with banning peanuts from schools are numerous. Some peanut allergies can be so severe that the simple fumes or traces of oil on a surface can trigger an allergic reaction, but banning them from schools doesn't take away the risk. It only slightly lessens it.

Although the school doesn't allow peanuts inside its doors, nothing will stop other students from eating it for breakfast and then coming to school with traces on their hands and bodies. Besides, peanuts and peanut traces may be present in any other location. The allergic kid can never fully be assured of their health, at school or not.

The banning of peanuts from schools is also insensitive. To a child who is deathly allergic to one of the other seven most common food allergies, it is a slap in the face. Eggs are the second most common food allergen and can set off an allergic reaction with their fumes or traces, but while the child allergic to eggs can't bring his peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school, the child allergic to peanuts can sit next to him and eat his hardboiled egg.

It's completely unfair to ban one thing, when six others are just as much of a risk to some students. Would the schools next discuss banning eggs? The same goes for playgrounds. The risks of playgrounds are many, even though they have been constantly "improved for safety," by replacing the wood structures-- which risk splinters-- with metal structures-- which risk broken bones. When one child died because they crawled under a merry-go-round, the rides were completely removed from playgrounds, but when a child died from strangulation because their loose clothing was caught on the playground structure, the structures weren't removed.

Taking peanuts out of school is not going to remove the risk. It simply creates a sense of security that underestimates the continued risk. Although peanuts may seem to some to lead to the most violent reaction, anaphylactic shock can occur in response to any allergy, as long as it is severe enough. Banning peanuts from schools isn't the answer.

The proper way to deal with the problem is to educate everyone involved, especially the allergic, early on, as to the precautions that need to be taken by everyone and the individual. For very young children who are severely susceptible to risk, the teachers and people the children interact with everyday must be specifically trained to properly deal with the problem. Whether or not the schools go through with the ban, the risk will always remain until an actual solution to this deadly problem is found.

No: It is ridiculous to risk lives for peanut butter

One of the most important aspects of a democracy is that every citizen has the right not to suffer at the expense of others. Canadians, for the most part, do well in this aspect. We don't feel the need to lock our doors while we're inside of our houses during the day, we don't feel the need to carry firearms to make ourselves feel safer and giving up space for another individual to sit beside you on the bus isn't a problem-- all because we respect our fellow Canadians.

This principle seems not to apply to peanut butter in schools.

According to the British Medical Journal, 1.3 per cent of the general population suffered from peanut allergies in 1996. This may not seem like many, but in an elementary school with 500 students, it should be enough to raise awareness about the facts of peanut allergies.

When exposed to peanuts, individuals with allergies may experience one of two types of reactions. The more serious anaphylactic reaction may be life-threatening for the allergic child and it's hardly any more fun for a child to experience the less severe non-anaphylactic reaction. Swelling and hives occur at the point of contact and an antihistamine has to be applied to the local area.

There is no way that a child with peanut allergies would feel any more regular if they had to carry their antihistamines and EpiPens around all the time, waiting to use them when they experience an allergic reaction. These two devices that may be used to save their lives might actually be killing them socially.

Similarly, the "Share the Air" campaign was initiated by a Calgary bus driver experiencing an allergic reaction to a woman's perfume as she was entering the bus. Unknowingly, she infringed upon the right to health that the bus driver is entitled to.

Just like innumerable cases in elementary schools, it's hardly likely that she intentionally caused the allergic reaction the bus driver had.

But we have to be careful of what we do, touch, eat and even smell like when we're around people we don't know. There's no reason why kids can't find alternative foods to fill their sandwiches with at lunchtime or parents can't switch to peanut-free desserts that their children may eat safely in school.

If it was your child who could experience an anaphylactic shock and come within an inch of his or her life, there is no precaution that you wouldn't take to make them safe.

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Comments

I agree with Roman. I grew up with the peanut allergy back when it was very rare. I had no protection against it at school and only survived because I was also allergic to wheat and chocolate, so was rarely accidentally exposed. Now I am a children's author who visits many schools. I'm so relieved when I see the peanut-free sign. I know I can focus on reading to the kids without worrying about swelling up from peanut fumes on their breath.