Banning Peanut Butter Substitutes Is Not The Answer
In a society when peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish are banned from school lunches, I was deeply distressed to see John O’Connor, Manager of Upper Canada District School Board Health, Safety and Risk Management add a new food item to the list: peanut butter substitutes.
Principle Dean Fournier, of R. Tait McKenzie Public School in Almonte, advised parents of the ban in the November 2011 newsletter.
PEANUT BUTTER SUBSTITUTES NOT PERMITTED
We have received emails concerning peanut butter substitute products such as Wowbutter. This is a reminder that these products taste, smell and look like peanut butter and there is no way to distinguish it from peanut butter. For these reasons, substitute products are not allowed in the school.
My 5 year old son, Duncan, is a finicky eater. Provide him with a thermos of homemade curry, soup, meatballs or leftover pasta, and he is a happy boy. Regrettably, in order to avoid mealtime boredom and stretch our grocery budget, sandwiches are part of the regular rotation. When I include a cheddar cheese or meat sandwich, it inevitably returns home nibbled or uneaten. In contrast, a WOW Butter, SunButter or Pea Butter sandwich is always devoured. For this parent, any protein rich food is a welcome staple in our household.
While the Upper Canada District School Board seems to have trouble distinguishing the difference between peanut butter and the substitutes on the market, I am happy to report there are distinct variances in taste and smell. Simply put, soy, sunflower seeds and peas lack peanut oil scent. I recognize not everyone can detect the difference, and verbal confirmation by my five year old is not sufficient. Therefore, to avoid unwarranted concern, Duncan’s Laptop Lunch features a prominent, dated label, indicating what was used to make his sandwich. Granted this action takes a few extra seconds when preparing a lunch, but for the safety of students with allergies, I feel it worthwhile.
The prohibition of peanut butter substitutes on the basis of “no way to distinguish it from peanut butter” is naïve. Any parent who willingly pays $3.99 to $8.99 for a peanut butter substitute clearly demonstrates they are educated, and has the integrity to avoid putting a peanut or tree nut allergy child at risk. According to Sabrina’s Law, the exposure of food allergens need to be reduced, not eliminated. Peanut substitutes are an excellent means to support the objective.
As such, why does the USDSB not take this opportunity to educate parents and students about these substitutes? Quality nutrition leads to improved cognitive development and academic performance. Instead of barring another protein source, now is the time to open a dialogue with parents and students about the alternatives to peanut butter, and explain the importance of using a “school safe” label with lunches.
Ultimately, I find it hard to believe parents are willfully negligent, and must question why the UCDSB distrusts parents. If parental certification about inclusions in a child’s lunch is no longer respected or sufficient, perhaps the board should consider supplying healthy lunches and snacks on a daily basis. Until lunches are provided, or the Ontario Government establishes a law mandating food exclusions, I will continue to provide my children with balanced meals. If this means packing a labelled soy, sunflower seed or pea butter sandwich or snack, so be it.