Peanut Butter: The new bully on the block

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Who doesn’t like peanut butter? It’s probably one of the only substances that is satisfying for hungry kids and hung over adults. You can just eat it with a spoon, and there’s your caloric intake for the day. The only person I knew who didn’t like peanut butter was my high school boyfriend. He didn’t try the stuff until he was sixteen, and he blamed this anti-American culinary sentiment on the fact that he was German. I don’t know what that had to do with anything, but he often excused his weirdness in this way: “Sorry, I’m German.” Anyway, a month and a half ago, peanut butter almost killed my son.

When a baby turns one, it becomes acceptable to diversify his diet a little bit while keeping an eye on possible allergic reactions. After two days of putting it off due to some (undoubtedly psychic) hesitation, I gave Dante a little bit of soft peanut butter on toast. I made some for myself as well.

Emergency Room (Photo via Wikipedia)
Emergency Room
(Photo via Wikipedia)

Since eggs didn’t prove to be problematic when I introduced them at nine or ten months, and every other solid food went over without much of a racket, I assumed that we had nothing to worry about. Still, I watched his spastic baby-eating closer than usual.

When his cheeks began to turn red, I assumed it was just because he had scratched himself an hour earlier. When his nose started to run and began sneezing, I wondered if he was just coming down with a cold. As Dante inhaled the toast, I thought better of giving him any more in case a real allergic reaction was in the works.

A minute later, he was getting fussy and scratching at his increasingly red face. By this point, the instinctual but otherwise dim part of my maternal subconscious began to sound alarms to the more decision capable regions of my brain. But these regions are often uppity, favoring deductive logic over gut plowing instinct. I thought it best to get a wet cloth and wipe off his face in case he was having a mild contact reaction. In the minute it took me to wet a rag and return, Dante’s face was redder—and splotchy. This wasn’t right.

I called my pediatrician right away, and was told that I needed to get to the closest emergency room (this was the third time in under a year that I heard these very words from him).  I hectically found my way to our local hospital, sick with fear, cheering at Dante to keep him awake (he chose this most optimal time to become unsettlingly quiet in his car seat).  An unnecessary ten minutes was added to the drive because the hospital’s parking situation is confusing as hell. I ended up illegally parking my car right behind a cop and hauling arse into the E.R. Thankfully no one was in my way as I checked my son in, because most of the other patients were rather old, and wouldn’t have taken well to being shoved.

After a hearty round of various drugs and drops, we were released—Dante, reaction-free, and me, physiologically aged an extra five years. I guess we’re a peanut free family, now. At home, I threw away everything in our kitchen that contained or advocated nuts.

EpiPens (Photo by Virginia Petrucci)
(Photo by Virginia Petrucci)

Two weeks later, we got the results from our follow up appointment with a pediatric allergist. Dante is, in fact, highly allergic to peanuts, as well as cats. We were prescribed a generous amount of epi-pens, which have been strategically placed around the house, in the car, at his daycare, and in his diaper bag. Everywhere we go, an epi-pen follows us.

In the western world, one in thirteen children under the age of eighteen has a food allergy of some sort, and the prevalence of these allergies has increased by fifty percent from 1997 to 2011 (1) And, contrary to popular optimism, only twenty percent of children will fully grow out of their allergies (according to our doctor). This warrants research and problem solving that I am passionate about suggesting someone else figure out.

Technically, a peanut is not a nut but a legume, along with its estranged cousin, the lentil (if someone would kindly fill me in as to how to properly pronounce “legume”, I would be most grateful; even our allergist pronounced it two different ways during one conversation). The eight main food allergens are milk (gross, we aren’t a bovine family), eggs (all good), peanuts (jerks), tree nuts (best to avoid for awhile just in case), shellfish (creepy and unnecessary! Don’t look at me while I eat you!), soy (we’re more than good) wheat (fine), and fish (mercury/Fukushima)1 It is no coincidence that a partial anagram of these items is PESTS.

While the ordeal was terrifying and exhausting for both of us, the timing couldn’t have been better: we were in the process of trying to find him a day care, and hadn’t even been considering a nut-free place. Once we knew that peanuts are jerks, we had to really narrow our search until we found somewhere that would accommodate Dante’s food allergy.

Dante and the Cat (Photo by Virginia Petrucci)
Dante and the Cat
(Photo by Virginia Petrucci)

I can live without peanut butter, and any packaged food that “may have been processed in a facility containing nuts” is probably bad for me anyway. I’ve even switched my almond milk to rice milk. None of this is truly problematic until we have to find an elementary school that is nut free.

Right around the time when we were daycare hunting, we had also been considering taking in our former pet cat. He had been rooming down the hall with a reclusive neighbor (she took him in when Dante was born and our cat decided to be as much of a jerk as the peanuts), but I figured that now Dante is older, the two would get along better. Again, perfect timing with the discovery of his allergy. However, I have always fancied myself a cat lady in the making, and now I will have to re-work this personal fantasy a bit. Thanks, kid, I guess we’re dog people now. I say we name our firs puppy Peanut.

1. Food Allergy Facts and Stats