Nuts as Lethal Weapons

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Joel Stein one wrote a great piece in the LA Times that I am sure had him on the receiving end of thousands of hate mails.

Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, “No! Stop! Don’t rub my head with peanut butter!”

Yes, a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock, and all their teachers should be warned, handed EpiPens and given a really expensive gift at Christmas. But unless you’re a character on “Heroes,” genes don’t mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007. And genes certainly don’t cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies, when 4% do. Yuppiedom does.

Indeed, why are nut allergies such a recent sensation? Perhaps society mutates fast enough to produce a massive increase in hysterical, helicopter parenting? See Lenore Skenazy on this. But the hysteria is not just for the kids – adults are also hopping on the “I’m allergic to everything” bandwagon, from nuts to latex to seafood to body perfumes. For those of us in corporate America, allergy “warning signs” are the normal wallpaper throughout the office. Everybody is allergic to everything, so nothing is allowed on any floor.

The questioning of these allergies has brought forth some interesting commentary. See the New York Times: “Are Nut Bans Promoting Hysteria?” Also see Time: “Have Americans Gone Nuts Over Allergies?” This  snippet nicely reveals the gist of the article.

Five years ago, at a San Francisco elementary school, a nurse stood by to ensure that the children scrubbed their hands as they arrived, while their packed lunches were confiscated and searched for nut products. The measures were a precaution to protect a 5-year-old boy at the school who had a severe nut allergy.

In 2006 a town in Connecticut felled three hickory trees more than 60 feet high after a resident learned that the trees leaning over her property produced nuts and complained that they posed a threat to her grandson, who had nut allergies. (Read TIME’s top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2008.)

Recently, a Massachusetts school district evacuated a school bus full of 10-year-olds after a stray peanut was found on the floor.

Dr. Robert Wood, chief of the Pediatric Allergy and Immunology department at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center is quoted as such: “It’s an unfortunate situation,” says Wood, “if a family with an inaccurate perception of the allergy leads a child to believe that a Snickers bar from 50 feet away is a lethal weapon.”

6:28 am on September 21, 2013