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An allergen-free birthday cake that wasn't

October 22, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
How far should parents go to accommodate the needs of their child's food allergic classmates? That was the question posed in a column this week in the New York Times.

According to the columnist, last year the mother of a fourth-grader set out to make a birthday cake that every kid in her daughter's class could eat. To satisfy all of the dietary requirements of the kids with various allergies, this mother decided to make a "dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, soy-free and peanut- and nut-free poundcake." I have my doubts that this cake tasted much better than dried up sawdust, but apparently at least one kid in the class had multiple slices.

Unfortunately, the mother's efforts were for naught. One kid in the class still had an allergic reaction because there were garbanzo and fava beans in the gluten-free flour. The solution some of the responders to the column came up with: stop serving food at classroom birthday celebrations altogether. After all, too much food makes those kids fat anyway. Never mind that food is an integral part of many celebrations and that has always been the case at class parties.

I've blogged before on schools that have been declared peanut-free zones to protect kids who go into anaphylaxis at the mere whiff of a peanut, but this story suggests the extremes that can result when there are multiple kids with different allergies in a single classroom. Apparently, the girl in this classroom has classmates who are not only allergic to peanuts, but also to dairy, gluten, eggs, soybeans and tree nuts (and apparently garbanzo and fava beans.) I wonder what the school lunch looks like at that particular school.

I do sympathize with kids who have these allergies. The author of the column described how sad her little girl was when her teacher wouldn't let her pass out birthday cake to her classmates because of her allergies. On the other hand, I think it is completely impossible to remove every allergen from the environment. In today's climate, it seems that too many parents expect their kids' schools to try to do this.

In most cases, unless the kid is so allergic that even being in the same room with the allergen will risk his life, parents can send along an alternate treat that their kids with allergies can eat while the rest of the class is enjoying birthday cake. That's what should have happened here. The other kids should not be asked to eat a cake that tastes like sawdust so that all of the kids with allergies can feel included.


Article Comments



Oct-25-13 5:40 PM

Quite a stretch, PJ, to get your cake quote in there...



Oct-24-13 12:30 PM

Sounds like we are going to have to grill steaks for birthday parties at a younger age.


Oct-24-13 9:10 AM

How much more expensive is the "dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, soy-free and peanut- and nut-free poundcake"? Having shopped in the health food aisle for similar ingredients, I know that the cost is probably double or triple the cost of ordinary cake mix and ingredients like eggs, flour, sugar, etc. Schools that go "peanut free" or allergen free often put restrictions on the snacks that other kids in the class can eat, even in the cafeteria, which also costs more money for a poor family. It also puts a burden on the other families to select food for an allergy their own kids don't have.


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