Opinion

Food allergies no laughing matter

They walk among you. You may not be able to tell at first or even second glance, but they’re your classmates, your professors, your roommates and your friends.

They’re people with food allergies.

You’ll recognize them when their eyes swell, their faces break out in hives or when their throats close. Anaphylactic shock is horrifying for bystanders, but imagine the knowledge that your own throat is closing. That’s the risk that those with allergies deal with every day.  Each year, 150-200deaths in the US are attributed to allergic reactions to food.

Food allergies are a pain for those afflicted: obnoxious, terrifying, potentially deadly and also terribly misunderstood and underestimated. When those of us with allergies insist that we can’t have wheat, nuts or gluten, we’re not kidding around. That bit of peanut butter on your toast or the onion in your salad could kill someone. Some are even prevented from flying due to the fact that some passenger somewhere on the plane can be stashing peanuts.

By in large, people find it difficult to be considerate to these allergies, protesting rules about children bringing peanut butter in summer camps with dozens of allergic children.  In Canada, it’s common practice to regulate food items consumed in an educational or public facility to ensure that everyone has a safe environment.  Here, it is a battle to have one allergen free area in the kitchen or tables – just one station.  Isn’t it a law to provide handicap doors and stalls for those with a physical disability? Eating is just as necessary as using a restroom or walking through a doorway, but those with this type of disability are shoved to the wayside.

Dining services seems to have a hard time grasping that fact. Students’ allergies, which range from the common (nuts, for instance) to the obscure (onions and scallions), can be triggered just by having the culprit nearby. Afflicted students have asked Chartwells to be vigilant regarding the dangers of cross-contamination; still, using the same utensils to make every meal at a dining hall station can throw an onion into an omelet and kill someone. It’s not really so hard to switch tongs or change gloves when making a sandwich.   In very sensitive cases, the residue of an allergen on a table, like that peanut butter you wiped on the seat, can send them into a reaction without even consuming the food.  It’s not being picky or overreacting.  Would you eat in a facility that processed arsenic alongside your food?

We didn’t think so.

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October 25, 2009

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