The Thames Valley school district in London, Ontario, has not only banned peanut butter and peanut-based products. Students are also not allowed to bring peanut butter substitutes because, says the district, it’s too hard to tell one from the other. As Thames Valley District school board director Bill Tucker wrote in a recent memo to parents:
“any products considered to be a peanut butter replacement are no more appropriate in our schools than regular peanut butter.”
Parents have been asked to “avoid using peanut butter and peanut butter alternatives because of the difficulty in being able to distinguish alternatives from the real thing.”
Trying to solve the eternal conundrum of packing a lunch for a child that will actually be eaten, parents are (understandably) not happy at the new restrictions (and all the more so as the school district made its decision based on one parent’s complaint, according to the London Free Press website). Parents using soy butter or other peanut butter substitutes had been clearly labeling their child’s sandwiches as made with “pea-butter” and “NO NUTS,” but Tucker contends that “labels are useless in the chaos of an elementary school lunch hour.”
The Thames Valley school district memo specially mentioned WowButter, which makes a soy-based butter that is said to taste “just like peanut butter.” The company has been promoting a detailed program instructing parents how to label children’s lunches:
On the first day of school, WowButter parents send a prepared letter to the child’s teacher indicating their intention to pack the product in school lunches. From then on, every sandwich bag or container carried by the child is affixed with a “100% peanut and nut free” label provided by the company.
The company ships across North America, but so far, London is the only school district to raise hackles over the issue, said Mr. Mahon. “This is the frustrating part; we have hundreds of schools across Canada who have requested free samples and information … they’ve chosen the education route,” said Mr. [Scott] Mahon [of WowButter]. “The Thames Valley School Board has chosen to not educate and restrict – it just doesn’t make any sense.”
London-area schools were the first in North America to ban peanut butter and peanut products in the 1990s and many school districts throughout Canada and the US have followed suit. Nearly 2 percent of children in Canada face significant health risks if exposed to peanuts; in the US, 4 out of 10 children have some sort of food allergy.
What if a child is intolerant to wheat or dairy products? If school districts were to consider banning foods with wheat and dairy products, options for what students can eat would be drastically limited to foods children notoriously push aside, such as salads.
Have bans on what students can bring in school lunches gone too far?
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Photo of a soy nut butter topped rice cake by livelihood