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Elisabeth Cantor: Amherst nut products ban overlooks socioeconomic reality

To the editor:

One of the perspectives missing when discussing the recent nut ban by Amherst Superintendent Marie Geryk is around economics, specifically socioeconomic status. This may not hold as much gravitas as the health risks posed for kids with nut allergies. And socioeconomic status may not be as compelling an argument as those outlined in a recent letter by a local pediatrician regarding the health benefits of eating nuts on a regular basis.

Yet we need to acknowledge economics, a discussion that is often not considered by people of privilege. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple in the diet for many families (especially those who have finicky eaters at their table). It is one way families that struggle with food insecurity are able to ensure a certain amount of protein in their child’s diet. (One in eight families in western Massachusetts struggles with food insecurity.)

Eating healthy does not come cheap. Many students cannot afford to have sushi or fresh salads (or whatever) in their lunchboxes on a daily basis.

I am not sure if students who are severely allergic would be statistically safer in a “nut-free” school. Certainly many items brought into the school are processed in places where they come into contact with nut products or oils. Do we ban families from packing their child’s lunch to ensure safety? Perhaps it might work for kids with allergies to sit at a separate table, and I say this not to disrespect those who suffer from such life-threatening illnesses or to suggest some sort of punishment. Spending time with other students who also suffer from food allergies, over the course of a 25-minute lunch, might result in a de-facto support group, which might prove to be beneficial while not impacting thousands of other students and their dietary needs.

Let’s not add to the reputation Amherst has for elitism by banning an essential part of the diet for many working-class residents.

Elisabeth Cantor

Northampton

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Amherst school officials still debating nut policy - Should the Amherst-Pelham School Committee have had a bigger say?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

AMHERST — The effort to keep nut products out of Amherst schools to protect allergic children is going well, Superintendent Maria Geryk said this week. “We have heard nothing in the day-to-day functioning of the school that kids or staff are having difficulty,” she said, though she is still receiving letters and questions about the change from community members and … 1

Dr. Anne C. Weaver: Amherst school’s nut product ban fails to account for other ailments

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

AMHERST — I was impressed with the thoughtful and well-written guest column by Renee Ballou, the South Deerfield teen who explained so well what it is like to live with a severe anaphylactic reaction to nuts (Gazette, “Feeling safe, at last, in school,” Nov. 7). What I think people don’t understand is that there are other illnesses that make it … 2

Fortunately for all families in Amherst Maria put a thriving Family Center in place across from her office. The Family Center is designed to aid any and every family in Amherst who needs it in social and economic struggles they may be experiencing. Anyone who can't afford to send appropriate and nutritious lunches in with their kid can apply for free or reduced school lunches, or if you go to the family center, food you need for your child will be given to you for free. No kid in Amherst will go wanting for nutrition on school days between 7:30 and 2:30. Initiatives like the Family Center will counteract the impression some have of Amherst as a bastion of elitism, which is common in any town where there is a huge gap between the residents with advanced degrees living in enormous houses in the woods while others live in small crowded complexes. The "Nut Ban" will have none of the effects that Dr. Cantor describes. Kurt Geryk Amherst

When the westhampton school system decided to ban nuts, my daughter in law and I looked at each other in disbelief! Our 3rd grader took a peanut butter and jelly every single day.. The whole school year. Some times it was just plain peanut butter. His mother tried other kinds of butters, but they were not to his liking. He soon learned to take other foods. This year,5th grade, he is buying school lunches! It is no longer a big deal,we don't even think about it. If it saves one child, it is worth it.. Isn't it?

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