Last month, my two-and-a half-year-old was diagnosed with a nut allergy. She had picked cashews out of a salad, and her eyes had gotten red and “fluffy,” as she calls it. We had her tested, and were introduced into a new world.
We were told to rid our house of nuts. We were told that though our daughter is not allergic to peanuts, we should rid our house of peanuts and peanut butter, peanut granola bars and peanut-butter crackers, ice cream with peanut butter, and peanut butter cups. Why? Because peanuts are processed in plants with other tree nuts, and one never knows when a renegade, devious cashew, with dreams of peanut greatness, may make its way into a peanut delicacy.
This is the point when I began to suspect that today’s allergists are closely related to the rabbis who re-interpreted biblical verses to create modern kashrut. We were told that if we truly loved our daughter, and wanted to really be as safe as possible, we should avoid all foods that say “processed in a plant that also processes tree nuts.” Then we were told — “read all labels, all the time, twice.” Then I was truly convinced that the allergists all worked for the OU — the Orthodox kashrut authority — on their days off.
I went through my fridge. Everything we bought, from hummus to bread to cereals to snacks, said “processed in a plant with tree nuts.” Many labels also said “we practice good segregation policies.” I imagined the walnuts muttering under their breath about racist assembly line workers at Trader Joe’s, and the pecans having a sit-in on the front of the animal-cracker bus. The inconsistent behavior which dictates my personal food choices suddenly seems terribly irresponsible. I am a “mostly” vegetarian, though I eat meat and chicken when I crave protein. We keep a strictly kosher home, but I will eat raw vegetarian food, and sometimes cooked vegetarian food, in places I trust practice good “segregation” policies. Can I be similarly inconsistent about my daughter’s nut allergy? Where should we draw the lines? Do we put our complete trust in the “authorities,” and rid our house entirely of nuts and all products made anywhere near nuts? Or do we create our own compromises, gingerly testing the limits?