We were at a friend’s barbecue a few months ago, and the hostess politely begged me to let her give Elle a cupcake.
I was, of course, hesitant. This well-meaning friend would not be dealing with the effects of an over-frostinged little girl in an hour or so, but since she so wanted to spoil Elle with a gourmet bakery cupcake nearly the size of her little toddler head, I said go ahead. Why not? Over-zealous parents are so irritating, anyway!
Oh, but how horrified was I, midway through my daughter’s first cupcake-eating binge, to hear my well-meaning friend announce: “Elle loves this peanut butter cupcake!”
PEANUT BUTTER! I tipped out of my folding chair, nearly knocking Aunt Dena over in my panic to reach my child and the criminal cupcake before her.
“NEVER give peanut butter to a child without asking first!” I nearly screamed, snatching away the half-devoured culprit and in the process transforming from cool, able-to-hang-with-non-parents-and-not-be-annoying-parent to totally obnoxious, parent-with-issues.
Luckily, this friend was understanding and still chooses to hang out with me, despite the fact that I may seem to her to be a peanut butter alarmist. And she’ll never give my kid peanut butter again, that’s for sure.
Indeed, that jolly little peanut, the star of so many childhood lunches, has become a childhood food foe for many parents like me. A local preschool has labeled itself a “peanut-free facility,” and there are tables in Telluride’s School cafeterias that are designated “no peanut zones.”
Peanuts aren’t taking the heat on account of being over-processed or excessively sugared, like so many other foods on health-conscious parents’ list of kids’ menu no-nos. They’re loaded with good fats and cancer-inhibiting phytosterol, plus healthy doses of vitamin E, B vitamins, and protein. Of course, some of that good stuff gets diluted if the peanuts we’re talking about are mixed with preservatives and high fructose corn syrup to make the butter so many kids know and love, sandwiched between a few slices of white bread and dressed with a big smear of artificially colored and sweetened jelly… but I digress.
Peanuts have been getting a bad rap because of the alarming increase in potentially life-threatening peanut allergies that have cropped up among our nation’s child population.
From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergies increased 18 percent among children under age 18. The prevalence of peanut allergies doubled in the five years from 1997 to 2002, according to research reported in the December 2003 Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. More than three million people in the United States report being allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or both, and peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-related death in the country.
What is perhaps equally worrisome is the fact that researchers don’t really know why it’s happening.
The no-peanut trend isn’t new to this family: We’ve been a no-peanut household for years, having been well-conditioned to fear the mighty peanut. My cousin is one of those few million with a severe peanut allergy, severe enough to send him into anaphylactic shock and nearly to the grave – twice.
Having a real, severe food allergy is more menacing than I think most non-allergic people know. I grew up with a mother who, I was warned from a very young age, would almost surely quit breathing if a wayward bit of seafood accidentally landed in her mouth. Going out to dinner with her, or my cousin Brian, is a little scary. It was, in fact, at a restaurant that Brian most recently nearly took his last breaths, after a waitress assured him his cheesecake had no nuts. (Brian no longer eats cheesecake.)
In a society obsessed with glycemic indexes and no-calorie substitutes, we get bored with talk of who’s not eating what now and why. I would imagine the girls at the Coffee Cowboy sometimes feel the urge to slip a small dose of real coffee, milk, or sugar into that 100th Sugarfree Vanilla Soy Decaf Latte of the morning.
We may forget the real reasons why some people don’t eat certain things, what with no-carb, all-meat, no-gluten crazes painting the country’s food landscape. Parents terrified of things like peanut butter may, at the outset, seem radically over-zealous about what their kids put in their mouths – and in my case, probably are a little too concerned. Luckily, Elle had no signs of an allergic reaction following her peanut butter cupcake run-in. However, I’m still not in any rush to start making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Elle’s lunchbox. We’ll wait until well after her second birthday, the time that most allergy specialists recommend to wait before testing highly allergenic foods in kids with a family history of food allergies. In the meantime, I’m on high alert for peanuts hiding under covert covers – like gourmet cupcakes. (Who’s ever heard of a peanut butter cupcake, anyway?)