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Safety Nuts

Safety Nuts

Goober peas, pig nuts, monkey nuts, ground nuts, or just plain peanuts, whatever you want to call them; the lowly peanut is both the most egalitarian nut, as well as the most feared. While peanuts are cheap, accessible, and satisfying, they are also one of the most common food allergy culprits, affecting one in two hundred people. For some with severe peanut allergies, even the most insignificant contact can trigger severe reactions that can be fatal.

Peanuts, as much enjoyment the other 99.5 percent of the population derives from them, are no laughing matter.

Just last year, Kroger, the supermarket chain, was forced to recall countless tubs of Kroger Deluxe Chocolate Paradise Ice Cream (sold in over 17 states) as the ice cream may contain tree nuts (strange to think that no one can be certain in this day and age) and wasn’t labeled accordingly. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a proposal severely limiting the customary distribution of packages of peanuts on airplane flights. “DOT believes that a severe peanut allergy counts as a disability — and federal law prohibits air carriers from discriminating against individuals with a disability,” according to a DOT sponsored website. The DOT outlined three distinct options: banning airlines from serving peanuts; banning them only on flights where a person with a peanut allergy requests it ahead of time; or requiring a peanut-free “buffer zone” around an allergy sufferer if they ask ahead of time (many public schools already ban peanut butter and peanut-based foods out of concern for students whom suffer from nut allergies).

The motivation for these draconian measures stems from a place of relative good: an attempt to protect those with moderate to severe peanut allergies. However, some at American Department of Agriculture’s Food Allergy Research Group in New Orleans believes that the source of many of these extreme and deadly peanut allergies are a collection of distinct proteins found in the nuts. Researchers studied 900 varieties of peanut, looking for naturally occurring mutations which left them with lower levels of the dangerous proteins. Out of this research came a “low-risk” peanut with significantly reduced levels of the allergy-causing proteins that could be massed produced. This development has the potential to bring hope, and a little bit of security, for those who live day to day in fear of what lies beyond the nutshell.

Ice cream bans, peanut-free zones, and genetically modified peanuts, all to safeguard a fraction of the population? Is this altruism and self-sacrifice or is it extreme measures that infringe on the rights of the majority? Is the peanut worth fighting for (I am sure the peanut lobby would think so) or should we keep them locked up, heavily regulated, and far away from those whom they would do harm? Feel free to weigh in.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

88 comments

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8:02AM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

Interesting debate. Can sympathize with Kara C when her pregnant friend was told off by a lady for eating peanuts in a public place, being angrily chastised by this woman as an allergic person could die because of her. Certainly some resentment felt that a minority with a life threatening allergy now has much control over the lives of the non-allergic majority because of safety issues. Kara C said that non-allergic people "can't spend their whole lives in bubble wrap because of a minority."
Cindy B also points out that people with such allergies are difficult to relate to when they breathe the air near another person who has eaten peanuts and it is enough to make them violently ill or kill them. She mentioned if a child of hers was so violently allergic to a common food she would home school the child. In real life however not everyone can afford to quit their jobs to home school their children or can afford to pay others to do this.
I can't even begin to imagine why Teresa considers herself "fortunate" to be allergic to all nuts and how she believes that nuts are all contaminated by parasites.

8:02AM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

Others argue that peanuts must be banned on aircraft as it is an enclosed space and medical assistance is going to be too little too late after the plane lands as Epi Pens (Epinephrine autoinjectors ) are something that buys a bit of time before medical treatment is required. Some will die before they can get off the plane even with an Epi Pen.
Certainly anaphylactic shock is something few of us can relate to as it kills without immediate medical intervention. Most of us with allergies get mildly or violently sick but don't face death because of it. I am allergic to shell fish and get violently sick, always vomit. I don't eat it anymore. Certainly uncomfortable but it isn't going to kill me. Am allergic to penicillin so can't use that but doubt it will kill me. Had a few hives from it as a child but doctors refuse to let me try it out as an adult "just in case." While I am allergic to the 16-year-old blind cat that owns me I have no idea as to when I became allergic to cats, having had them in my life even when a baby. Never have I been without a cat in my life and I intend to keep it that way.
Am now allergic to tree and grass pollen...birch, maple (allergic to the pollen of the symbol in my national flag, the red Canadian maple leaf). Love beautiful birch trees. Spend my time taking photos on rural roads full of...grasses, trees while not to mention my neighbourhood is filled with these same trees

8:01AM PDT on Aug 8, 2012

and grasses. Have no desire to live in a glass bubble so I ignore my allergies. I have the luxury of being able to, they won't kill me . Some others have commented about how selfish people are because they can't eat their peanut snack at school, angered that people are so selfish as their snack can kill others.
Never heard of kids being so allergic to peanuts when I was a kid going to school beginning in the early 1960s, one wonders how this relatively recent life threatening allergy come about to peanuts? It's difficult to ban peanuts everywhere in public where people gather, it can be easily enforced at schools and airlines but not the beach, parks and other places. Others are as badly allergic to eggs, bees to name a few and can also die if exposed. One can recall the Spock saying in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan when he said that: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Many of those with loved ones facing deadly peanut allergies would rephrase that to say: "The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many."
Certainly we all face a dilemma as society comes to terms with trying to deal with the fatal peanut allergy.

1:21AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

Thanks for the article.

2:56PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

hmmm...

5:28PM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Thanks for this great article.

2:52AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

I am so glad I am not alergic to nuts. I've heard stories about kids being alergic to them. I can't image being a kid and not being able to have a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich!!!

5:35PM PDT on Mar 18, 2012

Hmmm NUTS!

12:17AM PST on Mar 5, 2012

Thanks for the article.

1:23PM PST on Mar 2, 2012

It doesn't take a lot of effort to keep peanuts out of places where they are most likely to cause serious problems. And product recalls are appropriate if a food contains things it didn't claim to contain. Also, peanuts aren't nuts, they are legumes. People who have peanut allergies are only allergic to nuts if they also happen to have a nut allergy (since you can have multiple allergies). Just as people allergic to nuts can eat peanuts, unless they also have a peanut allergy.

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