Inconvenient food; inconvenient children.

This is not about broccoli. Well, not specifically…

Children are messy. Dribble, snotty noses and projectile vomits are part’n’parcel of the little darlings. Children are also amazing time-absorbers — I still haven’t worked out how it takes half an hour to walk from the front door to the car in the driveway. And yet, as doting parents and carers, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We love them to bits and do our best to protect and teach them about life, from the very moment they’re born, preparing them for their greatest adventure of leaving the nest — one day. It’s possible you’ve even speculated about that day, perhaps during a passionate Mount Everest moment of a tantrum-melt-down in the toddler years. Thankfully, the darling sweethearts don’t remain three years old forever! And while there are huge differences between a one-year-old and an eight-year-old, they do have one very important thing in common: children need our protection.

This is a brief journey exploring some conversational snippets about the inconvenient reality of food allergies among children.

“All cheeses?”

Cheese is such a unique and versatile food. Full of calcium goodness for developing strong bones, and available in a huge range of flavours and textures. Then there’s the convenience factor of pre-sliced cheese, for slapping on a sandwich during the morning madness of making healthy school lunches! Well okay, not all cheese is suitable for sliced packaging, but did you know that cheese is a dairy product? “All cheeses?” Yes, ‘all cheeses’.

Assumed knowledge can be deadly.

If you had any doubts about that, consider that the average five-year-old may not know how cheese is made, or that the supermarket stocks over twenty varieties of cheese with names as equally amazing as their flavours, or that cheese could be an unsuspected ingredient to any processed food item.

Asking a five-year-old who is highly allergic to all dairy products, “Can you eat this?” is much like asking a five-year-old, “Can you cross the road?” They are both deadly potentials and that responsibility shouldn’t be placed with them.

“He’s not going to eat it.”

As a primary school student, I was warned not to draw on my hands with lead pencil, to avoid developing lead poisoning. Bewildered as to what it all meant, I complied, but only because pencil didn’t write on skin very well anyway.

According to an Australian Environment Protection Authority document, published in 2003,

Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic to the human body when breathed, eaten or absorbed. It is particularly harmful to young children.

Residents of Flint, Michigan USA can attest to this, as a result of grotesque official incompetence, subjecting the town to a heavily contaminated water supply between April 2014 and October 2015.

Comparing toxic heavy metals to a food allergy may seem like I’m comparing chalk and cheese — yes, all cheeses and for what it’s worth, with all chalks of life.

However, in the same way that toxins can be absorbed into the body via the skin, for some children an allergen just touching their skin is enough to initiate an allergic reaction.

Being told what the allergens were made our task of managing the risks a whole lot easier. Allergic to egg? Simple, don’t eat egg! So simple in fact, that the concept was easy enough to teach to a child.

Wizdy Diner — Educational food allergy game, by LifeGuard Games, Inc. Click to download and play. Free!

But then we discovered, as with many things in life, it wasn’t just that simple!

In our highly commercialised society, Easter in Australia is not complete without a visit from the Easter Bunny and a whole lotta CHOCOLATE!!!

Bunny ears, Easter egg baskets, highly creative Easter hats and the Hat Parade!!! Such an exciting and incredibly cute time, and then some lucky six-year-old wins a chocolate Easter rabbit!

With great excitement and enthusiasm, the child hugs it so very tightly, that soon enough the chocolate melts, oozing beyond the thin foil wrapping, and finds its way to the bare limbs beyond — and is absorbed into the skin.

Suddenly, all things cute becomes all things itchy, swollen, red and runny. Excitement gives way to frantic rush for an anti-death antidote.

Sometimes the matter of eating it isn’t the concern.

“Why should my kids miss out, they’re not allergic to it!”

Yes, I agree! But let’s also consider the converse: should another child die because of your child’s actions?

Whoa, what?! As I mentioned, some things just aren’t that simple. Let’s consider this in a calm and friendly manner with a typical kiddy scenario.

Your imaginary school child, Maryanne, hurriedly eats a peanut butter sandwich for lunch because she’s super keen to play with her friends. While she’s still chewing down the last of her sandwich, she throws her lunch box at her bag as she runs off to play. Maryanne has some peanut butter smeared across her cheek, and some on her palm from holding the sandwich. During play, Maryanne feels something on her cheek and brushes it off with the back of her hand and keeps playing. Unwittingly, Maryanne transfers traces of peanut butter onto toys and play equipment.

Maryanne’s favourite friend Sammy is playing with her. Sammy is allergic to peanuts. Maryanne and other playmates witness Sammy having an anaphylactic reaction, which is far more horrifying than a scary monster movie, because this is real, and it’s happening to their little friend.

Transfer of allergens can be that simple, that innocent, and that devastating.

Transfer of allergens is not always obvious.

Sabrina’s story.

In 2003, a thirteen-year-old Canadian high school student suffered an anaphylactic reaction after eating hot potato chips (fries). Tragically, she didn’t survive.

Sabrina Shannon was allergic to dairy, soy and peanut. Sabrina verified that the chips were void of these ingredients before eating them. The coroner found that Sabrina’s reaction was triggered by the presence of dairy protein, as a result of cross-contamination via the tongs used to serve Sabrina’s chips from the cafeteria.

In 2005 a law was introduced in Ontario, Canada, which became known as “Sabrina’s Law”, resulting in safer school environments for children with anaphylactic allergies.

In 2016, Sabrina would be twenty-six years old.

“What can I do about it?”

Three simple things everybody can do, starting now:

  • be open minded
  • wash hands
  • help keep our kids safe.

While only one of these points is hands-on, the other two are crucial for success here.

Please, be open to accepting that food allergies are real, and the risk of death is real. Be open to hearing the concerns of a parent or carer. Be open to minor changes that could avoid unnecessary suffering.

Please help keep our kids safe, whether in the smaller school-yard community or beyond, and whether in regard to food allergies, bullying, crossing the road or minimising the spread of disease.

And please, wash hands and teach your kids to wash their hands properly.

Washing hands after handling food is a very simple and highly effective preventative action that can easily be introduced at any stage of social interaction. We’ve all seen — or had! — that snotty faced or chesty coughing kid that just makes you think, “ewww!” as you instinctively recoil, trying to avoid getting any of that on you!

Children — all children — may be messy and at times inconvenient, but they are also a precious miracle of life. Let’s protect them.