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.