Toxic Egotism

I’m fortunate enough not to have any allergies or intolerances that might kill me. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t just someone else’s problem.

I read an article yesterday that complained about “no food please” rules for school events: the thesis was that children without allergies shouldn’t have to have another pencil instead of some cake merely because one child might be allergic to cake. Their suggested alternative was that parents provide food that their children can eat safely, and children just don’t eat the stuff that would harm them.

I’m aware via my wife’s Guiding of young children who are very clued into their allergies; however, the question isn’t whether there are children who know what to check for and do check first every time; the question is whether it’s fair to place the burden on every five-year-old with allergies to ask every time or risk serious harm.

Although, that isn’t the question either. Certain allergens (such as nuts) can be transferred easily. So, is it fair to place a burden on every five-year-old who can eat a certain potential allergen to remember to wash their hands before they touch anyone else’s plate or cutlery? Children can have a great memory (sometimes inconveniently so) and display moments of insight beyond that of the average adult; however, they can also display intense emotions that cause them to act without thought. Even leaving aside the question of a child who – not comprehending severe harm – thinks it might be funny to rub a peanut on their friend, it isn’t sensible to risk lives on the assumption that no child will get excited and forget for a moment.

This isn’t just an issue for gatherings of children though: allergies and intolerances often remain for the person’s life, meaning the need to balance their health against other people’s freedoms or desires remains too.

For example, the environmental burden of portions of nuts individually packaged in plastic is higher than that of drums of nuts and each customer bringing a refillable container. However, scooping nuts from a hopper also causes a fine mist of nut particulate to waft up, making the air around the hopper potentially allergenic and contaminating other products that would otherwise be free from nuts. So, the entirely commendable desire to reduce plastic packaging needs to be balanced against any increased risk from the solution.

This is one of the reasons why I’m happy to give up a little of my liberty to gain a little security for others.

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