Monday, January 16, 2012

Peanut Butter Cheerios

by Kelley Lindberg

The makers of Cheerios have announced a new flavor -- peanut butter -- and it's created quite an uproar in the allergic community. Read the Chicago Tribune article about it here.

I'm a little bit amazed at the sudden furor over this. Yes, there will now be a peanut butter flavor of Cheerios, which means toddlers might be carrying around a peanut butter snack. But the manufacturer has indicated that there will be no cross-contamination with regular Cheerios, and they indicate that they use stringent manufacturing processes that will prevent cross-contamination.

And yet there are apparently a lot of people screaming foul over this.

I'm not sure that's the right response. Here's why:

1. There have been several flavors of Cheerios for years now that have almond ingredients (Honey Nut Cheerios, anyone?), yet those of us with nut allergies in our families have still enjoyed regular Cheerios without fear of contamination. We have learned to eye any Cheerio with suspicion until we see the box it came from, of course, but if we're careful, we're safe. Nothing is changing, except that perhaps people who aren't allergic to almonds, but are allergic to peanuts, have just realized that they have to read labels closely, which they are probably doing anyway. People with milk and wheat allergies have been having to avoid all Cheerios all along.

2. Regular Cheerios aren't changing. If they were suddenly going to eliminate Cheerios as a "safe" food for those with peanut or nut allergies, then there would be room for disappointment, and I'd be the first to be on the phone with the company pointing out that they would be losing a non-trivial percentage of their customers by contaminating all their flavors. But that's not the case. Regular Cheerios will still be safe.

3.  Protesting a new nut flavor in a product line that already contains nut flavors doesn't make much sense, and takes energy away from making real changes where they can do more good.

4. A concern is that kids won't be able to tell the difference between safe Cheerios and non-safe Cheerios in places like preschool. Yes, that's true. But it's been true for years with Honey Nut Cheerios. It's been true for cookies, cakes, crackers, and every other type of snack that kids carry with them. Allergic kids shouldn't ever share food with other kids anyway, and this gives us a teaching moment to revisit that lesson and make sure it's still clear in their sweet little heads.

Yes, this change requires that families with peanut allergies should increase their vigilance when it comes to random Cheerios on the floor. But I really don't think a hysterical reaction will accomplish anything except alienating the allergic community from the non-allergic community, and that is the exact opposite reaction we want. We need for the outside community to support us, not throw up their hands in annoyance when we over-react.

Several years ago, the makers of Pop-Tarts announced they would include milk in all their products. Now that was a change I felt strongly about protesting. While they might not be the healthiest of breakfast products, they were still a milk-free, nut-free, egg-free breakfast and snack option for allergic families, and suddenly they were taking all that away. After much protest (including my own emails and phone calls), they backed down and kept their facilities and recipes milk-free for some flavors. That was a great accomplishment and victory.

This Cheerios debate, however, seems less vital to me, because they are still retaining their nut-free versions. So I'm accepting the fact that some people like peanut flavor (gasp!) and their preference will not adversely affect me in this particular case, because I can still buy my regular flavor with confidence.

So what am I taking away from all this? First, I need to teach my son that there's a new flavor of Cheerios to watch out for, in addition to the other 3 flavors that already had nuts in them. Second, I need to save my indignant and strong response for cases where a manufacturer suddenly contaminates a whole safe line of foods with a new unsafe product. And third, I have to manage my reactions so that I accomplish the most good with the least amount of alienation. Remember that old adage about "honey catches more flies than vinegar"? I've found that a positive approach to correcting problems accomplishes so much more than a negative response. Like I always tell my son, no one will go out of their way to help a whiner, but they just might go out of their way to help a friendly person with a problem.

That's just my two cents' worth. I'm sure there are plenty of other opinions ranging all up and down the spectrum of outrage, but this just doesn't seem like a battle I can afford to fight when there are so many other battles that are.

On we bravely fight...

1 comment:

*Lauren* said...

Amen!!! Why worry about foods that you can't have. They exist and always will. Lets just spend our energy finding foods our children CAN have and stick to it. If you don't see the box it's coming out of, don't touch it. We can't control everything, but we can control ourselves.