Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Children’s venues must be cautious of high-risk allergens

PB&J Café opened inside the Boston Children’s Museum Friday. Although the menu offers a variety of items such as clam chowder, English muffins and hot chocolate, the cafe’s peanut-centric focus has sparked some outrage among parents.

Parents shared their grievances on a Boston Children’s Museum Facebook post, calling the decision “tone deaf” and “outrageous” in the comments. The anger parents are feeling is understandable, but their criticism may be overly harsh for something that is actually very common in public places.

Peanuts are everywhere and pose a constant threat to those who are highly allergic. However, does the commonality of this food item mean that, as a society, we should completely disregard our efforts to create inclusive environments? 

Kara Chen/DFP STAFF

This peanut-loving cafe is not the only place a small child could be exposed to this allergen, but the cafe’s close proximity to a venue that is supposed to be safe for all children is irresponsible. The museum may have innocently overlooked this — seemingly obvious — misstep, but the backlash it is receiving could’ve been prevented.

People who do suffer from severe food allergies have to be extremely cautious when visiting restaurants and other public areas where these allergens could be present. Peanuts in particular are present in many popular dishes, and peanut oil is often used to fry food.

A large problem with this cafe is how it’s marketed. We know the majority of restaurants have peanuts in their food, and it becomes second nature for parents to ask about ingredients before ordering a meal for their child.

However, PB&J Café is marketing peanuts as the focal point of its establishment. Children’s eyes will automatically be drawn to the items containing peanut butter, and we can expect the restaurant will be making a lot of sandwiches with the allergen.

Little children are known to lick their fingers, tend to do a poor job of washing their hands and like to simply touch everything they see. They’re probably more likely to spread peanut butter around the museum, even if food is not allowed near the exhibits.

So, parents have valid reasons to worry about other children not taking the proper measures to ensure a safe environment for peers who are allergic to peanuts.

However, the threat of uncleanly children is always present. As parents of a child who has a severe allergy to peanuts, you need constant vigilance. The risk of this restaurant is obvious, but the risk is always there.

Prior to the cafe being in the museum, families could still pack a peanut butter sandwich to bring in for the day. Parents have to take the responsibility of paying close attention to their child’s needs regardless of whether the threat of peanuts is clear.

And parents know this. They are aware of their duty to protect their child from an allergen that can kill them. This isn’t as simple as saying, “Don’t drink milk because your stomach will hurt.” Rather, it’s, “Don’t breathe the same air as someone who had peanut butter because you could die.”

PB&J Café is a peanut-centered restaurant at a children’s museum. A high-risk allergen is being targeted to the highest-risk population: children. It is unfair to place the burden of protecting a child’s life onto the back of a 5-year-old — they cannot take care of themselves in the same ways adults can.

Boston is also a city built on tourism, which makes the predicament even more difficult and disappointing for travelers who are unaware the cafe will be there.

The museum and restaurant should’ve known these would be substantial problems.

Other dining options are available around the area, but the PB&J Café — despite being independent of the museum — is currently the only option inside the facility. The museum should be more considerate of dietary restrictions and provide more options for eating.

Someone is always going to lose regardless of how inclusive you try to be, but even more so when a restaurant has a specialty menu, as is the case at this cafe. If it would have been a macaroni-and-cheese bar, then all of the lactose intolerant children would be left out as well.

A broader menu means a better chance of accommodating a wide array of diets and even catering to picky eaters.

However, the Boston Children’s Museum and Stonewall Kitchen — the Maine-based food producer that owns PB&J Café — have acknowledged the concerns surrounding the restaurant’s location. 

Opening a cafe geared toward personalized peanut sandwiches next to a children’s museum was a fairly irresponsible decision. However, with the precautions parents already take to protect their children from allergic reactions, along with additional guidelines from the museum, the restaurant can still manage to keep a safe environment for everyone.

One Comment

  1. “…safe for all children…”
    What about other foods that have the potential for a severe reaction? Dairy, soy, shellfish, berries, walnuts, carrots…the list is varied and long. It is not fair to give special attention to the peanut allergy when so many different foods can elicit the same deadly/ anaphylactic reaction. A food ingested may be a healthy snack for one child & deadly for another. Yes- carrots too! A common snack of Cheese doodles (puffs) is hazardous to the child with a milk/dairy allergy as crumbs disperse on clothing & even hair- and in particular- is difficult to completely cleanup. Restricting peanut products is not being safe & inclusive for “all”- it prioritizes. What about the diabetic child? How about including the concerns of the child with Celiac disease? And beware: The unintended consequence of banning a potential allergic food gives a false sense of security whereby people let their guard down to that ingredient.
    What are reasonable responsibilities of a food establishment? Have menu ingredients posted, a team member knowledgeable of supplier info (for “may be processed with…”info) and wipes available for patrons to use as they exit the cafe. A plus would be to have the café staff trained in understanding cross-contamination & a dedicated set of prep utensils/ cutting board etc. for use on request by a food allergy customer.
    What are the reasonable responsibilities of patrons? Being on the alert: vigilant to reading labels, asking questions and hand hygiene is safer for the “all”.