The Future of the Embattled Peanut
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 this past week, 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.