I think most people agree that life-threatening allergies, or any allergies, are scary. They are scariest when the child is young and dependent but continues to be scary as the child grows and venture out into the world, sometimes on his own. Children with allergies have a special need of sorts, but in today’s society are somewhat protected in most public places like schools, or activity centres. The protection however is limited, as we all know. For parents with kids who suffer from nut allergies, for example, food dangers prevail through their entire childhood and beyond. One must maintain a vigilant eye at places like the rink or playground which are not necessarily designated as nut-free.
Point is, families with allergies adhere to a life of rules specific to their needs (just as families with a child in a wheelchair, or visual impairment, adapt to their own specific set of rules).
We are fortunate, in our immediate family, that no allergies or even sensitivities exist. But I have a niece who has a severe egg and tree-nut allergy (so all nuts except peanuts). In her 11 years of life she has had the unfortunate experience of reacting severely enough to some hidden food item in a product that warranted a night in the hospital, and not just once, several times. Her school is nut free, but not egg free (although to my knowledge her reactions did not happen at school). Most packaged products contain some form of egg white (which contains several amino acids, any of which could result in an allergic reaction). She has had to learn to live with the risk, and understand how to use an epi-pen, from Kindergarten age onwards.
My kids know about this and see the kids at their school who clearly have some type of food or related allergy. There is a Celiac boy in Sonja’s class, who cannot consume any kind of gluten. There is another boy who is allergic to sesame seeds (his mom told me she was surprised at just how many products contain sesame seeds upon finding out her son’s allergy diagnosis). There are children at that school who are diabetic. What I’m saying is, my non-allergic children are very aware of the dangers some kids live with on a daily basis, and are alert to their special circumstances whenever they eat around them.
Sometimes, I will bring a nut-containing granola bar to pick-up to eat on the way home from school. Both kids refuse to even open the wrapper until we have cleared the school yard gates. Same thing at the rink: Ben likes the nut-containing granola bars after hockey, for the protein and filling nature of the nuts in particular, but will not open the wrapper until he’s out of the dressing room in order to protect the boy who has a ‘mild’ nut allergy.
This is all fine and dandy, and I appreciate their concern.
I read an article by a lovely woman on Yummy Mummy Club who has first-hand experience with a serious and debilitating nut allergy in her young son. Alexandria is an advocate for all things allergy related, and regularly shares her experiences and tips on the internet. One of her latest posts talks about Halloween and the candy her children will bring home, many of which will contain nuts.
She describes what happens to the candy her boy can’t eat. They inspect and sort it (which as a non-allergy family mimics what we do, too, only for different reasons). But at our house, instead of removing the nut-containing candy, we remove the ones that I feel are the most nutritionally damaging (like anything Twizzler, for example. I analyzed a strawberry flavoured Twizzler candy many years ago and was stumped at just what I allowed my then 3 year old to put into his body. YUCK. You can read about it here.)
Aside note: I happen to know that Annie at PhD in Parenting refuses to purchase or hand out anything by Nestle (she hands out chips instead to the trick or treating kids). Ever notice how much product contains the Nestle logo? This has nothing to do with allergies, but with principle. It kind of reinforces just how complicated it has become to hand out safe (!), packaged, allergy-friendly food during a holiday that probably has lost its key intent. (Princess and superhero costumes? What happened to witches and ghosts? But that’s another day’s rant.)
The point I’m trying to make is this: on Halloween we hand out all kinds of different candy to all the kids that come to the door. There are on average about 200 trick or treaters in our high-density, big city neighbourhood. That’s a lot of candy! Here’s the thing: in all the years we’ve done Halloween, not once has anyone every stated that their child is allergic to nuts and could they please select a different candy.
My question is this (to you, Alexandria, or anyone else who experiences this): Why would no one mention an allergy? I find this particularly baffling in the case of younger children who are still accompanied by their parents or older siblings. Is there a fear that the person handing out the candy will take offense?
I am here to say that I would not take offense at all. The whole excitement of collecting Halloween candy is to be able to consume some of it, and if all the candy has nuts in it, the allergic child will experience the opposite of excitement. As a parent, I am not okay with that. I want him to have a candy he can enjoy…
But really the challenges don’t begin and end with nut allergies. I cringe at the amount of glucose and chemicals, or worse, artificial colour in most candy. It’s hard to look the other way even when there is no immediate, adverse allergic reaction. Like with the Twizzers: I don’t feel good if my kid consumes a red food-coloured fake food containing tar on a daily basis just because he collected that piece of candy while trick or treating. But will I allow him to eat it? Well…here’s the thing: I may bribe him with an extra nut candy bar if he gives up a Twizzer-type candy. Or sometimes I simply just state my opinion and leave the choice up to him. (When they were younger I just sorted the crappier stuff out; this doesn’t work with the candy-hogging-school-aged children quite as well).)
Still…we send the kids out. Call it tradition, or follow the mainstream. Whatever…they think it’s fun and who am I to stand in the way of fun? (Says the mom who will sneak a peanut-containing candy when the kids are at school…)
Ultimately I believe we’re all trying to keep the big picture in mind. Like sorting and rationing the candy for the various reasons and perhaps composting the ones we don’t want to, or can, consume ourselves. After all, Halloween is partly about the candy, isn’t it?