Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My take on the peanut situation

I'm almost ashamed to say, I have to have a laugh when I hear the news that peanuts are killing people now. Of course, I don't intend to make light of any real death; that wouldn't be right, of course, but having been deadly allergic to peanuts my entire life and seeing how little it's been taken seriously these nearly 30 years, it's not even a surprise to me that this peanut factory or the other was found to be dangerous but they kept on, business as usual. It's like tobacco, people know it's not good but many don't care, they just go on doing it for whatever reason. Now some will say that not everybody is allergic to peanuts. Well guess what? Not everyone who smokes cigarettes will get lung cancer, and not everyone who gets lung cancer got it from cigarettes. So it is the same. More or less.

To me, peanuts are highly toxic; they cause my throat to swell to the point where I can't swallow anything or even breathe. Depending on how much I ingest, I must be injected with a powerful antihistamine (epinephrine) and adrenaline to get it into my system faster. This includes other nuts: pine nuts, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, one or two others I'm missing, and their by-products. Once when I was a kid, before school age, to "see what would happen," my father gave me a peanut. Not the kind you break open that holds two or three, but just one half of one of those inside the shell, like from a jar of Planter's (it was his favorite brand). One half of one. It was tiny. And I threw up all night.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that all ingredients be claimed in order of prevalence in the food. For example, this can of Mountain Dew here lists carbonated water first - so it's mostly carbonated water. The last ingredient is Yellow 5, a food coloring; that's what it has the least of. So allergy products must be claimed as well, but not everything has ingredients available. Such as going out to eat, that's the biggest concern, you have to really be smart about what you order, or ask. And then some people won't care, they'll go off and come back and say that yes they asked, and no that doesn't have peanuts in it. Back to ingredient lists however, some companies will be nice and bold all their allergens. Others have a second ingredient list below which lists common allergens so they can be spotted at a glance. Candy companies like to say products are manufactured on equipment that produces peanut products, which is more of liability protection than anything (but this probably wouldn't hold up in court if brought to trial because of the FDA's requirement that ingredients actually be claimed). And Chik-Fil-A, a chicken restaurant run by the Church (or a church, some branch of Christianity) fries their chicken in peanut oil, but at least they (well, one I went into) tell you on the menu board, so it isn't a surprise.

So why is it, now, after almost 30 years of me being allergic to peanuts, and thousands, maybe millions of others, is it all of a sudden a big surprise that peanuts are making people sick or killing people? Peanuts are dangerous; there's something in them that affects a decent percentage of people, and it's no secret. Nor is it new. Now here's a brilliant idea: a cure for nut allergies. Isn't this something that should have been figured out by now, or is it something that stem cell research or something equally or more advanced is required to have before it can be done? Here's another idea that's more practical and already done: Artificial flavoring. I can have hazelnut coffee and coffee creamer; I can have Southern Pecan coffee creamer because they use artificial flavoring. They taste nutty, but they don't have nuts, so I don't get sick. Obviously you can't have artificially flavored peanuts; that'd just be wacky, and while peanut butter is a good candidate (I'd love to try a PB&J sandwich, see what all the fuss is about) the real thing should still be an option; anything where they need to grind the nuts up real fine to where you can't see or taste them - use the artificial flavoring if it's so important. Not hard (shouldn't be), makes sense, and can save lives.

Of course I don't think or believe that the peanut problems are based on allergies. I know it's a salmonella thing, completely unrelated. The thing is though, we've had a peanut health issue for decades and it's been mostly swept under the rug. But now eight people have died, so far. People are starting to take notice. Stupid people don't do anything until half a dozen people die. Until then it's just "oh well" or whatever.

What's ever more important than saving or preserving life? Oh, right... $$$

No comments: