about that peanutty kiss of death…

My latest rant comes courtesy of my sister Mollie, whose own blog is very entertaining reading, by the way. Mollie clipped me an article from the Jan 2008 issue of Harper’s Magazine: Everyone’s Gone Nuts- The Exaggerated Threat of Food Allergies, by Meredith Broussard.

Broussard’s article has caused a lot of anger among parents whose children have food allergies, since she argues that “the rash of fatal food allergies is mostly a myth.” According to people living with food allergies, that is just not the case. Broussard does say that “there is no question that food allergies are real,” and I have several mom friends who could give personal vehement support to that statement.

But here’s what struck me about that article. Remember that story about the teenage girl who died after her boyfriend ate a peanut butter sandwich and kissed her? (That story had my mother-in-law so spooked that, after eating a handful of peanuts, she CHANGED HER ENTIRE OUTFIT before holding her grandchild, who DOES NOT HAVE a peanut allergy, by the way. “All I could think of was that poor girl!” she told me later. ) Well, guess what?

In the case of the peanut butter kiss, a coroner later ruled, to no fanfare, that the girl… actually died from an asthma attack.

OK. That was like finding out there was no Easter Bunny. That absolutely COULD NOT BE. But I’ll be damned if Broussard isn’t right. Right on cbsnews.com, there it was– Coroner: Peanut Kiss Didn’t Cause Death.

Here’s my problem with this. When the media whips us into a frenzy, and then it turns out they were wrong, why can’t they say “our bad” with the same bullhorn that they scared us with? If I did a poll (and perhaps I shall) I think I would find that about 80% of mothers had heard about the peanutty kiss of death. And about none percent of those moms would have heard that it was actually untrue. How are we supposed to keep our heads on straight when there is no voice of reason to balance out the fearmongering?

COULD an extremely peanut-allergic person die by being exposed through a kiss? Perhaps. But, apparently, this poor girl didn’t, since her boyfriend had ingested the sandwich nine hours before, and the allergens can only live in saliva for about an hour. We have to look to one another as our voices of reason. So tell your friends. The Jif Reduced Fat smooch was not deadly, after all. And, would you believe it- third grade boys do not have cooties.


I’m adding to this post, after receiving a comment what I was saying “could cost a teenager their life.” Ohhhkayyy, I thought, I’ve touched a nerve here. So I did a little more online research.

The blogosphere, I have found, is alight with commentary on Broussard’s piece, mostly from moms of kids with food allergies, who are ready to storm the offices of Harper’s with pitchforks and torches. There are many, many people taking exception to her suggestion that fatal food allergies are way overstated. I just wanted to clarify my own position on this, which is: I am no expert. I certainly think food allergies are real (and so does Broussard, for that matter). There is a kid in my son’s class who can’t eat dairy, soy, egg, gluten, wheat, nuts, or legumes, which honestly boggles the mind, wondering what could be left for him to consume. I understand that it is a modern epidemic– as to why, I’d like the experts to figure out.

The point I was making is that the famous girl who died from a mere kiss from a boy who had consumed a peanut butter sandwich– didn’t. That’s what the coroner ruled. And no one has contested that. But we didn’t hear about that part of the story, only the sensational, your-children-are-never-safe part. My point is that the media does everything they can to fan the flames and scare us, but does nothing to soothe our jangled nerves, when it turns out they were wrong. I don’t mean to belittle the entire topic of food allergies in our kids. I just want the media to report its dangers– and the dangers of cough syrup, and lead-laden toys, and Crocs, and Bumbo seats– accurately. Hope that clarifies things.