There is nothing in our society more emotional than the subject of food. Just ask any mother to be...the battle between breast and bottle usurps more conversations and internet boards than any other newborn topic. Then there is the question of when to introduce solids (You're a bad mom if you intro too early. An even worse one if you starve your poor darling by introducing 'too late'. And the standards keep changing.) Then there are religious dietary restrictions. Health nuts. Food allergies. Food intolerances. Behavior disorders responding to dietary intervention. Pesticides, salicylates, MSG, preservatives, sugar and transfats.
However...although many of these may bring about a spike in blood pressure, or a bona fide shouting match...the most explosive issue in PTA meetings across America can be the issue surrounding a simple Peanut Butter sandwich.
It's simple. It's easy. It's tasty. It's deadly to a select few.
And that's what adults can't even wrap their brains around.
It scares me to think what kids can do. That even at their most malicious, the elementary school kids who pick up on their parents' annoyance with a potential peanut butter ban or their classmates obvious avoidance of anything peanut related, won't realize the potential cost of exposure. They may think they're being funny by shoving a granola bar under an allergy sufferer's nose, or smearing peanut butter on someone's arm. They may know it's mean. But teasing, in their brains, is designed to demonstrate the futility of an irrational fear. There's no room in their for the possibility that a fear of food could possibly be rational.
What really scares me are the potential consequences. Not just for the victim, but the attacker.
Imagine that you're 8 years old. You hate pink. You passionately hate pink. Your friend's favorite color is pink, and she happens to wear a pink baseball cap to school one day. "Wear it!" she says, and you shake your head.
This evolves into a battle of wills, and at some point she jumps up and pops it on your head...you brush it off, glare at her, the teacher tells you both to knock it off, she giggles uncomfortably and you later make up.
Now imagine you're the "bully" with the pink cap. And your friend says she doesn't want to wear it. After insisting that it's pretty, it'll look nice, it won't clash with her iron-red hair, you pop it on her head...and she knocks it off, falls down and starts gasping for breath. An ambulance arrives and she's rushed to the hospital, unconscious.
Obviously, you're at fault for forcing the cap over her head. You knew she didn't like pink, didn't want to wear the cap, and you refused to accept her wishes. But you didn't comprehend that putting a cap on her head could kill her.
It's the same thing with food allergies. For the vast majority of kids, food is simply an aesthetic experience. They may not like certain textures or temperatures, or flavors. But they express their unique opinions and that's that. Most adults experience childhood opinions simply as an extension of their sense of selves...kids express opinions and in their limited lifespan sense that whether they get a red or green lollipop is a matter of life and death; they want to live...they want a red one like their best friend or they'll be doomed to dorky green forever. (This is what spawned the infamous "Get what you get and don't throw a fit" saying)
Unfortunately, food allergic kids get lumped in the same category as the doomed dorks...the ones who are picky, won't eat crusts or colors or soggy crackers. The ones who recoil from plantlike objects on their plate.
It's a hard situation. No one can fault the tuna fish lover for sticking their tongue out at the picky eater or waving their odorous sandwich under the nose of someone who's pretending to gag. As long as both parties are having relative fun, it's relatively harmless.
But what about a kid who is fearful of peanut butter sandwiches...because they have an epi pen sequestered in their belt? Or because they've recently tested positive for peanuts as an allergen and their parents are in the process of ascertaining how serious the allergy is? Their fear is real, based on symptomatic consequences, not aesthetics.
How is a yard duty to know the difference between one kid screaming "No, keep that sandwich away!" because it's gross and they make people laugh by reacting, and another screaming "No, keep it away" out of real fear? The fact is they can't. At this point in time, the severity and far reaching implications of food allergy are just too abstract for most people.
Food allergies shouldn't relegate a kid to a lifelong bubble. A child with food restrictions is still a child, first and foremost. They deserve to live life to the fullest of their ability, and even the ADA protects that right.
Which is why the new trend of Food Bullies is so disturbing. Neither the bully nor the victim are sure how to define it. Even witnesses might not process, immediately, the dangers of what's going on. But, it impacts a child's sense of safety. It threatens certain children's safety, and perhaps their lives.
My kids are lucky. If faced with a food bully, they will be annoyed. Frustrated, their feelings possibly hurt. Penguin assures me that the worst bullies she sees are substitute teachers, who tell her that milk is important and she will get very sick if she keeps refusing to drink it. I'm not sure if this makes me pleased, or sad. Since the behavior is obviously judgemental, but not necessarily bullying. And there's not much I can do (other than calling the office each time it happens to express my displeasure. Which I do. I don't think it's happened in awhile, it's just made a deep impact.) Anyways...my kids will survive food bullies.
But not every parent can literally say the same.
Not every bully is intentional, and that thought is just as scary.
I will continue to teach my kids the importance of tolerance, and accepting that something specific might be important to one person for reasons that we simply can't comprehend but should respect.