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Lydia Sawyer: Shift on nut products in Amherst schools puts others at risk

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I believe it is necessary to recognize that complaints by parents against the ban are not just rumblings of selfish inconvenience, but are deeply rooted in facts about their children’s health.

As one of many students struggling with a serious condition requiring me to eat well throughout the day, I have had to rely on nuts as a vital component of my recovery. When I caught wind of this newfangled nut ban, the realization dawned on me that it would now be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for me to pack a lunch and snack that would sufficiently allow me to fuel properly.

I know I speak for more than myself when I say that if I cannot eat enough, I risk in the short run becoming dizzy and unfocused, and, in the long run, becoming malnourished.

How is it acceptable or rational to acknowledge one medical condition while ignoring serious ones requiring students to eat nuts in order to get the proper nutrition to survive? These conditions include eating disorders, Crohn’s disease, Celiac and gluten intolerance, not to mention lactose intolerance, which demands that students use milk substitutes, often made with nuts, to get the necessary protein to make it through the day. For students with eating disorders in particular, it is not simply a convenience to bring nuts, but a matter of recovery that may make the difference between lunch being eaten and lunch being thrown away.

While some may say nuts can be eaten during the time not at school, I would argue that you cannot make up for calories not eaten at school — especially at lunch, a crucial time to eat. While there may be “substitutes,” there are not any guaranteed foods that will be familiar enough for someone who already has a hellish time eating every meal.

After talking to students in situations which parallel mine, and hearing panicked reactions from all, it became clear that there was a plethora of kids at not only my school but all of the Amherst area schools who could suffer health consequences from this new policy. There are students who may not speak up loud enough for anyone to know there is a problem, in part because of the stigma associated with their conditions. While it may be hard for students and parents of students with severe nut allergies to understand, other kids have needs beyond convenience, and doctors and parents agree that it is crucial for these young people to consume nut products throughout the day.

I believe there are more students who will suffer from the nut ban than there are students allergic to peanuts who might benefit, the students allergic to all nuts making up an even smaller portion of the party of those helped. If the school district goes to extreme measures, such as banning not only peanuts but all nuts for one illness, awareness must be raised about other debilitating conditions. Because it is so dangerous for some to consume nut products, perhaps everyone who brought nuts could assist in cleaning up, every person agreeing to bring a wipe with which to polish their hands and the area in which they were eating. While this may cause some dissatisfaction on both sides, it would at least create a safer cafeteria for all students. If the goal of the administration is to protect the safety and health of the student body, they may want to reconsider the means to achieve this. I ask those who put this rule in place to consider the consequences of their actions and revisit what they want to accomplish.

Is banning nuts, a super food and savior for many, really the best way to get this done?

Lydia Sawyer of Amherst is a ninth-grader at Amherst Regional High School.

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Legacy Comments4

Lydia, when I read the articles in the paper it seemed clear that there would be opportunities for people with serious medical conditions to present a doctor's note and be accommodated within this new practice. If you are concerned about your health without snacks containing nut ingredients I'd recommend contacting the appropriate people to find out what can be done. It really sounds like the district is trying to work with individuals so that no one is unsafe.

Brava, Lydia, for making your voice heard! It's obvious that this issue is important to you. I was impressed with your generous offer for nut eaters to clean up after themselves, but the fact is that once a nut is exposed to air it's too late for some people with allergies and asthma. (Even though they may look okay to you, they may be having a hidden allergic reaction that leaves them feeling miserable and even more susceptible next time.) Unfortunately, although many nut allergies begin with peanuts, they can easily extend to all tree nuts (without any warning). I was also impressed by your explanation that meals can be hellish for some folks, for whom nibbling or grazing throughout the day can be criticial. Although some your examples were a stretch (e.g. people with gluten and lactose intolerant have many tasty nut free options and the percentage of students with food allergies is staggering), your concern was palpable and made us care too. Would you be willing to put some of your considerable talents to work by coordinating a list of nut free alternatives (e.g. roasted chickpeas and hummus have a rich nutty flavour and are packed with protein) that you and your friends might enjoy? Perhaps your parents, your doctor, and school officials could join in to make this list available throughout the school system to help others too. Just thinking...

Ignore Gary, Lydia, most sensible people do. What you're writing about here is a multi-faceted issue, and I think that you did a better job making your case than some of the other people that have written letters against the nut ban. And Gary, don't you think that inflicting your trolling on a 14 or 15 year-old kid writing about her health and school might be a bit much? Maybe?

Try home schooling and get out of the failed public educational system entirely. If that doesn't satisfy you try other schools like charter schools, online schools or private schools that haven't implemented a nut ban.

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