Saturday, October 31, 2015

What's Got People So Angry About The Teal Pumpkin Project?

Last year our family did the Teal Pumpkin Project for the first time after I heard about it from several of the food-allergy groups that I'm a part of.  If you've been under a rock, you can read about it on FARE's website, but I'm sure, if you use social media or turn on the news, you are at least a little aware of it. Unfortunately, extra media attention has brought out some negativity toward what I thought was just a fun idea.  Click on the comments section of any article about the Teal Pumpkin Project and you will see the trolls in full-force because the idea of making trick-or-treating safer and more inclusive is somehow ruining their Halloween fun.  After reading through a few different comments sections, some general themes emerged, so I want to respond to some of the misconceptions I'm seeing.

Is this some PC crap made up by the same liberals who think every kid needs a trophy? Food allergies affect the population across all political lines.  A parent's voting record does not, in fact, determine whether their child will have food allergies.

Why do parents expect that we start doing this?  Nobody expects it.  When I take my kids trick or treating, we don't see any teal pumpkins out there at all.  I figure either people haven't heard of it, or just don't want to bother.  That's OK.  We get so much candy, there's still a lot my kids can have after we've sorted it all at home.  Maybe we'll see our first one tonight, and in that case, I'll be sure to let the homeowner know we appreciate it.

Why is it my responsibility to take care of other people's kids?  It's not.  Have you ever met a parent of a food-allergic child?  We're huge sticklers about reading labels and examining everything that is going into our kids' mouths.  Don't worry.  We've got this parenting thing covered.

Whatever happened to parents going through their kids' candy like in the old days? That has not changed.  Please show me one place in all the articles about the Teal Pumpkin Project that says parents no longer need to inspect their children's candy.

What if it's just not Halloween for me unless I give out some peanutty goodness in the form of Snickers?  Do it.  Parents of very sensitive allergic kids will check first, and not want their kids to touch even a wrapper, in which case they would decline your candy and move on.  It's not the end of the world for you or them.  And FYI: a lot of parents will let their kids take it, and then pull out those delicious Snickers or Nut Rolls for themselves.

How am I supposed to give out a candy that is safe for everybody?  Well, technically, no candy is safe for everybody. Name an ingredient and I have probably heard of someone who is allergic to it. But most food allergies fall into the categories of: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, seafood, soy, egg, wheat, dairy. There are candies free of these "Top 8" allergens like Dum Dums, Smarties, Skittles, and Starburst, that are considered safe for the majority of kids.  If you're interested in participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, you can give out an allergy-friendly candy or a non-food treat.  There are ideas here.

Why should I have to cater to everybody's special diet?  You don't.  Nobody thinks you are a caterer.  You can hand out whatever you want on your own front porch.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is optional.  In fact, Halloween is optional.

How am I supposed to know which kids have food allergies?  You don't have to know.  You can either offer two separate bowls of candy for kids to choose from, or have a sign posted that there are allergy-safe treats available, or just give every trick-or-treater the same non-food treat.

What if I accidentally use teal in my decorating, but I'm giving out treats with allergens in them?  Will I be sued if a kid dies?  No. Most people hang up a print-out or write on their teal pumpkin to indicate that they are participating, so it should be quite clear.  I believe it's understood that Halloween is an optional activity with some personal risks on the part of trick-or-treaters.  I accept that when I take my kids out, they could trip over cracks in the sidewalk, be knocked over by an enthusiastic dog, see costumes or decorations that scare them, be run over if they run across a street without looking.  We go into this knowing we're going to bring home a bag full of random stuff given to us by strangers, and we will check it carefully.

Why not keep all the allergic kids home on Halloween, if they can't eat most of the candy?  For the same reasons we don't keep them home from school, play dates, parties, and other activities.  Because they can still go out in the world and have fun.  Because not everything has to be about the food.  Because they can enjoy the social interaction and show off their costumes.  Because it's a good opportunity to practice their manners.  Because sorting through candy and reading labels when they get home is a great way to teach them about their own food allergy management.  Because nobody wants to be left out.  Because no kid needs to eat 100 pieces of candy anyway.  Because some families have their kids trade the candy for money or a toy.  Need I go on?

How are these kids going to deal with the real world if they're used to everyone giving them special treats?  Kids with food allergies learn to turn down stuff that other kids eat all the time.  They are used to eating a cupcake brought from home at a birthday party.   They might remember a time when they were exposed to something and had a reaction.  They might know what it's like to rush to the ER, itching, swollen, wheezing, and vomiting.  They've possibly been singled out, teased, excluded, or bullied because of their allergies.  They have to learn at a young age to advocate for themselves.  When they are old enough, they will self-carry their emergency epinephrine, and be prepared to inject themselves, if needed.   It doesn't get much more "real world" than that.

But I heard that some exposure to allergens can actually cure kids with food allergies.  A little peanut in their candy might do them some good.  You're thinking of oral immunotherapy (OIT), done with very, very tiny amounts of allergens under careful management by doctors.  It's not guaranteed to work, and it carries some risks, and while it does sound hopeful for treating some people with allergies, it is not an easy fix for anyone.  It should NEVER be tried at home.  It will most likely cause a reaction or worse.  If you're interested finding out more about current clinical trials in OIT, there's a lot of great information at FARE's website.  But I suspect most people feeling negative about teal pumpkins aren't going to bother reading what actual research has to say.

So why would I want to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project?  To be friendly.  To show compassion.  For good karma.  To put a smile on a kid's face.  To make a parent's night.  To be generous.  To be inclusive. To teach your own kids about being inclusive. To increase awareness.  To show support for families that deal with food allergies.  To give out something different than what your neighbors are giving out.  To generate a little goodwill toward others.  Because it takes little effort beyond what you would normally do for Halloween.

I hope that answers a few of the burning questions.  I can't imagine how the Teal Pumpkin Project is so offensive to some, or why people think it's necessary to go out of their way to leave negative comments about it, especially if they are not personally affected by food allergies.  Haters gonna hate, I guess.  Let's just have a safe, happy Halloween.