Perhaps the justifiable concern over the salmonella contamination in commercial peanut butter makes this a good time to address the wholly unjustified hysteria over faux allergies to peanuts, especially in children.
As someone who grew up on peanut butter and continues to consume it regularly, I am happy to bring you Salon's thorough debunking of the "peanuts will kill your children!" fear campaign.
In 2005, a 15-year old Canadian teenager named Christina Desforges kissed her boyfriend and died. Her death, reported around the world, was initially blamed on peanuts. Desforges was allergic to peanuts and her boyfriend had eaten peanut-butter toast hours before their deadly smooch.
Sudden death due to an allergic reaction to food is known as anaphylaxis. When you eat peanuts (or some offending food), you break out in hives, your face swells and your larynx constricts until you can no longer breathe, all in a matter of minutes.
Shocking. Tragic. Scary.
Desforges' story is the kind that has moved anxious parents, politicians and school board members to join a crusade against peanuts. Several states have passed laws mandating public schools be "peanut-free zones," and parents now hover over food labels with Draconian vigilance, checking and double-checking them for signs of peanuts. Could that knife that just cut the birthday cake have been in the vicinity of peanut butter?
Peanut-allergy panic has spread across the nation. In a recent essay, Harvard physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis relates an incident in which a peanut was spotted on the floor of a school bus, "whereupon the bus was evacuated and cleaned (I am tempted to say decontaminated), even though it was full of 10 year olds who, unlike 2 year olds, could actually be told not to eat off the floor."
But on closer examination, food allergies are not the epidemic we've been led to believe. FAAN's advocacy may have helped to create rules and laws that are based less on sound science than on a significant misrepresentation of facts. Ironically, by accepting these facts, we may be increasing our risk of developing food allergies.
Facts ought to be stubborn. In the past, Munoz-Furlong has stated that one child dying from an allergic is too many. But Harvard doctor Christakis, again, puts things into perspective. "There are no doubt thousands of parents who rid their cupboards of peanut butter but not of guns," he writes, comparing the alleged 150 children and adults who died from peanut allergies to the 1,300 who die from gun accidents each year. He goes on to note that 2,000 kids drown each year. Indeed, the most common cause of death in kids is accidents. "More children assuredly die walking or being driven to school each year than die from nut allergies," Christakis writes.
And what about Christina Desforges, the young girl who received the kiss from the peanut-contaminated lips of her boyfriend? She suffered from asthma and died of a severe asthma attack, likely triggered by smoke. A coroner reported that on the night she collapsed she had smoked marijuana and spent hours at a party where people were smoking pot and tobacco.
Read the whole thing.