Why Peanut Allergies Make Everyone So Nuts
The New York Times tackles the perfect storm, two totally toxic experiences fused into one: airline travel plus kids with peanut allergies
If you were allergic to dogs, you would avoid dog places. You wouldn’t have one in your house. You’d never visit the dog park. You’d skip pet stores and cross the street when you saw one coming. It seems like peanuts, being small-time snacks and mediocre lunch material, would be simpler. But they’re not. Especially when it comes to those tiny bags on planes.
This week The New York Times tackled something more relevant than last week’s rant about nannies who don’t cook fancy enough meals and the $2500 solution (ahem). No, this question is straightforward, and a reasonable solution actually seems obvious too: What should airlines do about children with peanut allergies?
None of my three children have food allergies but as we all know by now, some kids are so allergic to peanuts that even traces of the stuff can trigger anaphylactic shock requiring immediate emergency medical care, which is hard to come by at 30,000 feet, as the Times points out.
But parents of these kids are still trying to make do on commercial airlines. Take one family featured, Lianne and Joshua Mandelbaum, whose son has a deadly peanut allergy. They “never step on an airplane without six vials of injectable epinephrine and a bottle of liquid Benadryl.” And I thought taking the baby out of our stroller to get through security was a pain. Here’s their standard boarding procedure: “Before Joshua even leaves the airport waiting area, his mother asks to board the plane early to wipe down the seats, tray tables and windowpanes in their row. She also requests the flight attendants make an announcement asking other passengers to refrain from consuming products with nuts.”
And before any eye rolling starts, consider the next sentence: “This is a common practice among people with nut allergies, as a study in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports.”
So what’s the problem? Just wipe it all down and get on the plane. Here is the problem: Not all airlines, or flight crews, will allow them to do it. There’s no rule, no mandate across all airlines. So on a recent flight this same family was not permitted to come aboard ahead of time, resulting in the 8-year-old bursting into tears and screaming, “I don’t want to die on a plane!” The fed up flight attendant finally told them them that if the snacks were such a threat, they just shouldn’t board. Which they didn’t.
This story is the perfect storm. It’s two totally toxic experiences fused into one: airline travel plus peanut allergies.
There’s just something about peanut allergies that drives people crazy. It’s a strangely resistant message but the fact is, there are kids with peanut allergies today. Potentially fatal allergies. So why do people who don’t suffer from allergies get so annoyed by the kids who do? My theory is that these allergies didn’t exist when we were kids. We didn’t have seatbelts either. If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, mom’s arm was enough. There were no bike helmets, too. In fact, many moms might not have even been home when we all piled off the bus. Now we’re all worried about a few peanuts? Why can’t kids today be a little tougher?
All that leaves many of us Gen X parents on one of two sides: You understand that food allergies are real or you think they’re “allergies,” something coddling parents are making up to get attention, to make their little Jaysons, Taelors and Leesas more special. And it really irks you.
But if we’re being honest, it’s also as simple as human nature. There’s something “wrong” with this kid, he can’t keep up with the day-to-day behavior that we expect of kids. Anyone different, just consider anyone with a disability, has been historically looked down upon in society—at best. And now that kid, the one with “allergies” is interfering with our RIGHTS. Even if the right in question is a PB&J, it feels threatening.
This dovetails perfectly with all that bad behavior in the sky. If airline travel is the barometer of societal behavior, we’re in trouble. People are wearing pajamas, getting drunk (and arrested), talking non-stop, kicking seats, reclining during meals and snoring too.
So when airline peanuts of all things are suddenly threatened, it feels like another notch on the “Me, Me, Me” belt—another example of how American culture seems to have become more selfish and less understanding. How else could we explain the bizarre attachment to tiny bags of salty peanuts? Who cares if they serve something else on planes? I assure you weary travelers, getting pretzels instead of peanuts is not going to be the worst thing that happens to you on that flight.
But what if we’re wrong about all of this? What if everything, if everyone, wasn’t so bad? Would we all have to be so annoyed by each other? There are amazing stories happening out there, of perfect strangers going out of their way to help each other, and last week’s example proves that in spades (Bat Kid). I’m no anthropologist but I do wonder if the stories we tell each other, about each other, are more powerful than reality.
Because here’s where we are: Food allergies are real. People who have them aren’t jerks and they’re not trying to get extra attention. They’re just trying to avoid having their throats swell shut. If that means one less bag of peanuts next time I board a hot and crowded plane, fine by me.
A New Pretzel Fan in Seat 11A
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