The Peanut Protest

Everyone is talking about this story. CNN covered it, MSNBC, The Today Show, Fox News, and countless daily newspapers, blogs and other news outlets. It’s the perfect recipe for a story with legs (in the newsroom this is what we label a story that runs off and takes on its own life); an innocent child with a disability, crazed and loud parents lining up the street outside an elementary school with big signs saying “where does it end?” and yelling “what about our rights?”, the school superintendent explaining that they are following the law in their protective measures, the food allergy doctor expert giving the facts about food allergies and then throw in the anchor/interviewer who seems agitated by the story and later discloses she has a child with a food allergy. Then there’s that whole online troll community, who literally wait at their keyboards for the next hot topic story and start typing horrible, insensitive and ridiculous comments (you know the ones, where they write vile and cruel comments online but would never ever have the guts to say it to your face? Creeps).

So many of my fellow food allergy bloggers have done a beautiful job of commenting on this story, and shared great perspectives on a story that hits so close to home for all of us. For me, the whole story is senseless and unfortunate. There was a real opportunity here to teach love, empathy and compassion for fellow students that aren’t exactly like them. That moment was lost, and instead was replaced with petty anger and the motivation to protest an innocent little girl’s legally mandated health accommodations. I cringed when I heard soundbites such as “Where’s our rights? Where does it stop? This takes too much time out the educational part of our kids’ day? That child should be homeschooled!” These parents are misguided in their comments. I’m not even that upset that they don’t get it. What pisses me off more is that they don’t seem to CARE to get “it”. Because if they really wanted to know what this food allergy thing was all about, they would do their research, read the statistics and come to the conclusion that food allergies are a real disability with no cure.

I would like to think that the parents in the Florida school talked to the teachers and administrators, visited the FAAN website, and really tried to understand why this sweet little 6-year-old girl needs special accommodations in her school and classroom. Maybe they did, I don’t know. But what I do know is that they chose to take whatever information they had, and decide the best solution in keeping the food allergic girl safe was to protest like crazy. They protested hand washing and mouth rinsing. They protested the elimination of snacks. They made big poster boards for the world to see. They got riled up on camera. It’s all good stuff for the newsroom. But it’s bad news for our already heavy hearts. This issue is much closer to us than what the soundbites are saying. It’s hard to watch and even harder to process logically. Because there is no logic in this protest. It is just a wasteland of a story.

I will say this, I think in some ways the parents who protested so loudly on this issue did the rest of us a big favor. The media heavily covered it, got great experts on to give the facts and good advice on allergies, and friends emailed and called me to talk about this story. This is a great opportunity to educate others and raise awareness. People are talking about it, and that’s a very good thing. I hope the little girl in Florida isn’t too traumatized by all the media attention. She’s so young and vulnerable, and I hope those pesky parents back off and do their protesting in private, leaving their signs at home. She didn’t deserve any of that nonsense, and no child ever should have to face that kind of scrutiny.

Finally, I wanted to pass along an email a good friend of mine sent to her family members after a child in her daughter’s class suffered a severe reaction during a school field trip, and didn’t have their medication. I think it serves as a good reminder that you can never be vigilant enough….

I was in Springfield yesterday on a 5th grade field trip with Laney when one of her classmates had a allergic reaction to peanut butter. He is 11yrs. old and has never had a bad reaction before. His mom did not have her epipen with her. He was sitting next to a boy that had peanut butter and they think he somehow touched his hand or the table and was exposed. He started out with hives and then started coughing and his throat was closing up. We called 911 and they were there within minutes. I went in the ambulance to the hospital with the mom and child and they were able to get him the epipen, oxygen, etc… in time.

As you can imagine it was a very scary experience for everyone involved. I send this to you as a reminder that we need to carry Maddie’s epipen with us at all times, no exceptions. Yes, the chances of it happening to her are extremely rare but I would never want to be in that situation without it.

I asked him, after he was feeling better, what it felt like and he actually said he thought he was going to die or suffocate.. It was really sad and the fear in his eyes is not something easily forgotten.

Finally, everyone was hesitant to call 911, thinking that the benedryl he was given would kick in. Never wait, every second counts in these situation.

 

Dairy and Egg Free Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs, and a few housekeeping notes….

I’ve recently had a lot of requests for a dairy and egg free meatball recipe and am happy to finally get around to sharing my family’s favorite. You know me, I want easy, no-big-deal type recipes and this one fits the bill. It is so easy yet healthy and delicious. I can make this entire dinner start to finish in under 30 minutes, with kids yanking at my leg and others screaming for homework help. In other words, it doesn’t get any easier than this and your family will love it. Also, you can easily make the sauce and meatballs ahead of time and freeze.

A couple of tips:

  • use dark meat ground turkey because the lean stuff tastes dry.
  • omit the grated veggies and just use grated onion in the sauce if you don’t have veggies on hand. I simply like sneaking in veggies when possible.
  • use GF pasta and GF panko crumbs if you need to (kinnikinnick brand carries a GF panko)
  • I like to bake my meatballs for two reasons, reduce the fat in frying and it is faster and easier to bake them in the oven and add to sauce later.
  • I like to serve dairy free garlic bread with this dish: DF baguette, cut in half and sliced lengthwise. Melt 2 T. DF margarine and add 3-4 minced garlic cloves. Brush on both cut sides of bread, wrap in foil and bake in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes. Unwrap, position bread to open face and set broiler on high. Broil to toast lightly, 1-2 minutes and KEEP AN EYE ON IT!
  • This spaghetti and meatball recipe can be used to make leftover meatball sub sandwiches the next night. MY personal favorite!!

Finally, a few housekeeping notes. It seems as if I have had more than the usual negative comments on my blog recently. I don’t like the negative tone and I don’t like wasting my time addressing insensitive remarks. So if you choose to leave this type of comment here, think again. I won’t read it and I won’t address it. My blog was created nearly three years ago as a forum to share my favorite recipes and offer my personal stories regarding our struggles and even triumphs regarding the world of food allergies. I didn’t start this blog to be controversial, a know-it-all or even an alarmist. I LOVE the positive and loving messages so many of you give to me in your comments and emails. Words cannot express how much they have meant to me and how it has kept me going on the REALLY tough days of advocating and writing. Your positive energy has been a true blessing and I am so grateful. For those of you that troll around and talk smack…different story. If you want to stir the pot, go write to Joel Stein or something. I have no interest in addressing ridiculous and negative comments. Also, please keep in mind that all my recipe postings are provided here for FREE because I truly enjoy creating them and love to give them to all the food allergy mama’s out there who simply want to bake and cook great food for their families. No, I am not a chef, I did not go to culinary school, I am not a nutritionist, I am not a doctor or allergist. I am simply a mom whose passions include my family, great food and working to educate about food allergies. That’s the bottom line.

DAIRY AND EGG FREE SPAGHETTI AND TURKEY MEATBALLS

For Sauce:

1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small onion, peeled and gated

1 c. grated, peeled veggies (I like a combination of carrots and zucchini) simply omit if your kids aren’t thrilled with the veggies)

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Organic with Basil)

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce (Muir Glen)

1 3/4 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning

1/4 tsp. dried Thyme

1 T. fresh Italian parsley (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

F0r Meatballs:

1 lb. dark meat ground turkey

3/4 c. panko crumbs

1 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning

1/4 tsp. dried Thyme

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper

2 T. water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the meatball ingredients until mixed together. Use your hands to roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place on parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until no longer pink.

Meanwhile, heat a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium high heat for about a minute. Add olive oil and grate onion and/or veggies directly into pot. Add seasonings, and salt and pepper to taste and saute about five minutes or until onion is translucent. Add canned tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes (during the time the meatballs cook).

Heat a big pot of water to boiling and cook pasta according to package directions. Add cooked meatballs to sauce and simmer for five additional minutes. Drain pasta and pour into a big bowl, adding meatball/sauce mixture to spaghetti. Serve with crusty bread, garlic bread and a salad.

Knowing when to take a step back…

The past several weeks have been a time of reflection for me, as I have seen the good and the bad of speaking up about our children’s food allergies. Sometimes people are receptive and willing to listen to our challenges and how to keep our FA children safe, but sometimes it’s like talking to a brick wall. I suppose that’s the case with most things in life, but when you are talking about your child’s life, their safety and well being, it takes on a whole meaning.

There are times to speak up, and times to back down. Two recent incidents come to mind. In one case, my 8-year-old FA son John looked really sad when I came to pick him up from his school Valentine’s Day party. I asked him what was wrong, and he pulled out a Valentine he had received from a fellow classmate that had a personal message written to him stating “I would have given candy but you have too many food allergies”. Of course, the logical part of me could have said to John not to read too much into it, that perhaps this child didn’t intend to single him or his allergies out on Valentine’s Day. And I did in fact, say this about 20 minutes later. But in that very moment, my blood was boiling in anger not at that child, but at our school principal and school district. I felt the urge to march into our principal’s office and show her the Valentine, and explain to her that this is what happens when a school district doesn’t take ownership of the food and treat policy at school. The uneccessary burden of developing a food policy falls on the shoulders of the FA child’s parent. THEY are the ones who get sneers and jabs, and their children get singled out in the classroom for “having too many allergies”. In this particular case, I held the school responsible for this type of backlash. And in that moment, I wanted our school’s principal to look at John in the eyes and explain to him why he would be subject to this kind of behavior, because I was done explaining it.

I walked into the principal’s office with my children in tow and handed her the Valentine. I asked her to explain why we still have no food policy and why my son must put up with this. Maybe the children in my son’s classroom assumed there was no candy allowed because of John. I believe the principal was surprised at my reaction, and there was a minute of uncomfortable silence among all of us. But she reassured me that this is not appropriate behavior and it will be addressed. In regard to the food in the classroom issue, the principal and superintendent argued these are two separate issues.

On the walk home, I talked everything over with John, letting him know that his classmate most likely didn’t mean ill will, and perhaps he misunderstood the tone of what he was writing (I’m always trying to teach my kids to give people the benefit of the doubt and that there’s always two sides to a story). But it’s OK to be hurt and upset, and that we’d talk it over with the child’s parents and all would be fine. And it was. The mom was so sweet, so apologetic and I really do believe this child didn’t mean anything by it. In the end, I believe it was important to seize the moment of frustration and hurt, and bring it into the principal’s office to address. I think our schools need to work harder at being accountable toward our children, and worry less about possible parental backlash. School should be a safe haven for children, they shouldn’t worry about being discriminated against, excluded or ridiculed. They shouldn’t feel anxious because unneccessary treats and food are brought into the classroom that could potentially put their lives at risk. For some reason, this basic need of keeping food out of classrooms is always a thorny issue for some parents and teachers, and I’ll never understand why. Isn’t a child’s safety a priority over excess treats in the classroom? Perhaps people honestly don’t think it’s a real issue, or that it isn’t life-threatening. Our school district’s advisory council is currently reviewing its best practices policy regarding food in the classroom K-4, and if the Food Policy is approved, then they will meet again to review 5-8. Yawn. I’ve been waiting several months already, and will continue to wait.

There are also moments in which I realized that arguments won’t be won and perspectives won’t be shifted. Recently I had this type of moment of when talking about food allergies with a fellow parent. This person wanted me to know that she didn’t see the big deal of having food in the classroom, and that most parents she talks to, including those with allergies didn’t see the need to keep food out of the classroom. There was a bit of back and forth on the subject, but ultimately I just left it at that it is a complicated issue, with two sides for sure, but in the end, if it is a matter of life or death for a child, I think we can all agree that the risk isn’t worth the freedom to eat whatever you want in the classroom, and I made sure to point out I mean the CLASSROOM, not the LUNCHROOM. There is a distinct difference. But beyond that I kept my mouth shut. I knew we weren’t going to get any further on the subject and that is totally fine too.

As food allergy parents it’s OK if we don’t convince every parent, teacher, chef, child, administrator, flight attendant etc that food allergies are deadly, and to take some of the burden off our own shoulders. As long as we take steps to ensure our children’s personal safety, and continue to peacefully and logically educate where we can, then that’s good enough. We aren’t going to change the world, but we can help to raise people’s level of consciousness about the world around them, and to perhaps try be more empathetic, understanding and accommodating. At the very least, every FA parent can rest assured that their passion and diligence is seen by their children, and truly helps to shape them into the loving and caring children they already are.