I was raised by my television set… and by a peanut butter sandwich. No really, it’s true.
I basically learned to add from The Price Is Right, to read from Play School, and to appreciate a good cardigan from Sesame Street. And I cannot remember a single school lunch that did not include a peanut butter sandwich.
As I grew into adulthood, I took these two first loves with me. I loved television and I loved peanut butter, enough that through uni I’d eat it off a spoon and consider it a meal.
All of this is to paint a picture for you of how absurd it was that I found myself sitting in an allergist’s office, just two years ago, in my mid-thirties, with two arms full of itchy, red welts, being diagnosed with a life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergy.
(Thankfully there are no TV allergies to speak of.)
“You’re joking,” I said, fully expecting her to have actually been joking. But no. The throat-closing, lip-tingling, stomach-turning incident I had experienced after consuming a handful of nuts was not the fluke that I thought it was. It was real.
That wasn’t an inconvenience. This wasn’t a “Hey, maybe avoid the Pad Thai when dining out.” This was a serious situation that came with rules and regulations about reading labels and “may contain traces” warnings and — the most confusing one — “produced in a facility that may contain nuts” disclaimers and prescriptions for epipens and other various epinephrine devices (one that even talks to you!) should I ever find myself with my throat closing again.
My throat closing. From peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts. Foods I grew up on, foods I loved, now made my throat close.
Just weeks before this I was eating Reese’s Peanut Butter cups with no issue, other than a wee bit of guilt for eating the entire mega-size package. I ate wasabi and soy almonds as my go-to-snack. Peanut M&Ms were my treat of choice at the movies. And let’s not even discuss my unhealthy addiction to Snickers bars.
The allergy and the mum community were abuzz about a new study that pretty well contradicted what we had been taught just a few short years ago. When my babies were little, my mum friends and I were told not to introduce nuts of any kind until our kids were at least a year old — two, if we could possibly help it.
Now experts are saying that if we start introducing our babies to nuts earlier, we may help reduce their risk of developing the allergy.
I can’t help but wonder about this study, and all of the other studies I have read that recommend the opposite entirely: the late introduction of nuts. There are places where nut allergies are not even an issue. When I travelled to Ireland just after my diagnosis, each and every waitress and server and chef and baker I spoke to was shocked to even learn about my nut allergy. “So you can’t eat any nuts at all?” So who is right here? Is anyone right?
I was introduced to peanut butter very early. Our parents’ generation was not told to wait until to give us nuts until we were two. They weren’t cautious about nuts because there was no need to be (except possibly being wary of the choking hazard). Nut allergies just weren’t as prevalent. I don’t remember knowing a single other kid in primary school who had a peanut or tree nut allergy. In fact, I didn’t even know that there was a thing called a tree nut and that peanuts weren’t even nuts at all, but legumes. Our schools and camps were not nut-free. We didn’t have to read labels to look for trace amounts of nuts from factories. And yet, here I am, ALLERGIC.
My three children eat peanut butter sandwiches any time they can, they eat Nutella aplenty at their grandmothers’ houses, and they love munching on handfuls of cashews and almonds. And yet here they are, not allergic.
It’s important that scientists keep learning, studying, testing, and investigating. And it’s important that we keep reading, asking questions and talking about this. But I worry when we see headlines claiming that early exposure could solve nut allergies. Because it’s a theory, it’s not fact. The truth is, it could be so many different factors. It could be environment, it could be hygiene, it could be how peanuts and nuts are grown now as opposed to when I was young.
Maybe some kids will just be allergic to nuts, no matter when you introduce them. And maybe some adults will just find out that they are allergic to nuts at age 34, no matter how many spoons of peanut butter she ate as a uni student. And, um, as a mum.