Ban on peanut-butter substitutes sticks in parents' craw
A London, Ont., school board has banned peanut butter substitutes simply because they could be confused with their peanut counterparts, angering parents already frustrated by efforts to find an acceptable lunch their kids will eat.
In a recent memo, Thames Valley District school board director Bill Tucker wrote that "any products considered to be a peanut butter replacement are no more appropriate in our schools than regular peanut butter."
Parents were asked to "avoid using peanut butter and peanut butter alternatives because of the difficulty in being able to distinguish alternatives from the real thing."
"There's a lot of upset parents," said Scott Mahon, maker of WowButter, a "safe for school" soy-based spread marketed as tasting "just like peanut butter." Manufactured one hour north of London, WowButter was specifically named in the district-wide memo.
To combat mix-ups with real peanut butter, WowButter promotes an elaborate step-by-step labelling program. On the first day of school, WowButter parents send a prepared letter to the child's teacher indicating their intention to pack the product in school lunches. From then on, every sandwich bag or container carried by the child is affixed with a "100% peanut and nut free" label provided by the company.
The company ships across North America, but so far, London is the only school district to raise hackles over the issue, said Mahon. "This is the frustrating part; we have hundreds of schools across Canada who have requested free samples and information . . . they've chosen the education route," said Mahon. "The Thames Valley School Board has chosen to not educate and restrict — it just doesn't make any sense."
"I write in permanent marker on the baggie the sandwich is in that it is 'pea-butter, contains NO NUTS'. . . I'll be very upset if they tell me I can't use the fake stuff anymore," a commenter named Jane-Ann Hunter wrote on the London Free Press website.
Particularly galling to pro-substitute advocates is the realization that the school board decision was spurred by a complaint from a single parent. "Apparently ONE parent complained and now we must all suffer," wrote Free Press commenter Krista Vogt. "It is tyranny of the minority."
"One parent has ruined a good product for 40,000 kids in the Thames Valley district," said Mahon.
Regardless, Tucker maintains that labels are useless in the chaos of an elementary school lunch hour. "Kids like to talk, they like to mingle, they like to dialogue — so the dynamics of a lunchtime classroom are less controlled than that of a classroom during the school day," said Tucker.
As for parents' vociferous defence of a lunch spread, Mahon attributes it to finicky kids. "You send cheese to school and it gets soggy, you send lunch meat and it gets soft and slimy — and the lunch comes home uneaten," he said. "With WowButter they come home and they've eaten their lunch."
Nearly two per cent of Canadian children are at risk from consuming peanuts. For some, even a whiff of peanut butter on a desk is enough to prompt a reaction.
In the 1990s, London-area schools were among the first in North America to implement school bans on peanut products — a measure that is now common practice across Canada and the United States.
So you think it is ok to ban the pb substitute? Is this taking things too far?