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The Future of the Embattled Peanut

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.

Read more: Allergies, Children, Family, Following Food, Food, , , , , , ,

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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.

56 comments

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5:23PM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Thanks for the article.

5:26AM PDT on Mar 14, 2011

Thanks for the article.

7:03PM PDT on Mar 13, 2011

Genetically modifying peanuts to prevent allergies? I thought gm products were supposed to be bad and scary? (I wouldn't mind if the cats could be modified to not shed anymore...)

4:30PM PST on Mar 8, 2011

Very interesting..Thanks

3:48PM PST on Mar 7, 2011

Interesting, thanks.

9:17AM PST on Dec 5, 2010

Agree with Read, some people think that peanuts are the same as tree nuts. I don't eat peanuts 'cos I don't like them, but hubby loves PB on toast with chopped garlic!
Had a neighbour who refused to allow her boy to try nuts, just 'in case.'

2:42PM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

I love PB and ate all of my life until recently. Now I don't feel well after eating it. I think it could be fungal growth on the outsides of the tender peanut shell. Have you ever tried to wash a PB jar out ? If it is Skippy or some other un natural brand then you will be surprised how much soap and shaking you have to do. It is just gross and can just imagine what it must be clinging to inside me. e w w w

12:43AM PDT on Jul 18, 2010

Article is slightly confusing and jumps from one problem (allergies) to something else entirely, but either way it's a bemusing and interesting read. Thanks for posting.

7:32AM PDT on Jul 6, 2010

Wow people, do you really feel the lack of peanuts/nuts during your flight will alter your travel experience significantly? How do you think you would enjoy your experience when someone has a fatal allergic reaction mid-flight?
Although Epi-pens are helpful and should be carried by the allergy sufferer or his or her caregiver, often repeated doses are required to save a person's life. That means my little boy could end up requiring more than two injections and immediate medical care to keep him ALIVE.
There is absolutely NO NEED for airlines to serve any type of nut during a flight, it is simply not worth the risk. A child can potentially outgrow both peanut and tree nut allergies, the key is preventing exposure as each time they are exposed, the allergic reaction can become worse. My son vomited after eating peanut butter and since we have confirmed his allergy, we have prevented any further contact. We take our own baked goods to birthday parties, we inspect treats given by friends and family and we shop very carefully. There are some great peanut/tree nut free peanut butter alternatives out there. We love a product called Sunbutter, made from sunflower seeds, safe to
send in school lunches and a good source of protein and healthy fats. Most of the butters and tahini are unfortunately processed in facilities that also process peanuts/tree nuts.
I think airlines are smart to ban the serving of life threatening snacks during flights. And I am glad our school banned all

5:43AM PDT on Jul 6, 2010

I agree with Dan W. It is the responsibility of the person with the allergy to avoid it not for society to ban peanuts.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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