Girl Scouts and food allergies -- from the leaders\' perspective

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 8:33am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

I know there have been some heavy duty Girl Scout discussions here before. Can you help me with another one?

I am asking this on behalf of a friend who is leading a Girl Scout troop in the states. She told me I could post the scenario here. I'm in Canada, and my DD is involved in Girl Guides (not Scouts), and the two things aren't quite the same, so I'm of no help to her but thought you folks could be!

She is organizing a Thinking Day event that involves each troop bringing a food from another country. (That is to say, a food that represents that country. As opposed to going to that country and bringing back their food! LOL) In one of the other troops there is a mom of a PA child who is sending out emails to all the leaders in the service area saying that providing a list of ingredients at the event is not enough and that ALL allergens should not be allowed to be used in any of the dishes. My friend cannot see how that would be possible, considering the wide variety of food that is going to be there.

My friend is the organizer of the food portion of the event. What is her PERSONAL responsibility here? What is the responsibility of the Scouts organization? What is the responsibility of the parent?

So far she has sent a letter to all involved parents asking that peanuts not be used in any dishes and that all ingredients be listed at each table so that parents can decide if their child should eat that dish or not.

The mother is not satisfied with that. She wants a total ban on ALL allergens. The thing is, all this food will be prepared in the homes of the individual parents. Of course it will be impossible for my friend to say that the food is safe and free from ALL allergens. Cross-contamination happens.

The mother is pressuring that the event be made safe for her child. How much more can my friend and the Scouts do? Or do they have to do more than that?

I find it so odd to be on THIS end of this debate. Usually *I* am the pushy parent! But in this case I feel like my friend has done everything SHE can personally do, and now it's up to the parent. But it sounds like this mom expects to be able to have her DD show up to a completely "clean" event and to have everyone else reduce the risks for her.

If it were me, my kid would not be at the event and that's how we would deal with it. I know it's a head-in-sand approach, but I'd rather be safe than dead. I suppose this is, ultimately, a question about exclusion. Or is it? In your opinion, is this child being excluded because of this? What would you want as a parent? What would you be satisfied with? What would you be willing to do or not do? What would you be willing to accept or not accept?

And to the Girl Scout experts here ... what more can she do? Or need she do any more?

Thoughts and opinions GREATLY appreciated!!

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 8:54am
Just Looking's picture
Joined: 09/14/2003 - 09:00

What does she mean, "all allergens"? Just about any food is potentially allergenic!
It makes sense to find out what specific food allergies troop members have and not allowing foods containing those ingredients. It also makes sense to ask parents to send in a complete ingredients list with the finished produt. But it seems silly to outright ban a food that no one in the troop is actually allergic to.
[This message has been edited by Just Looking (edited January 11, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 8:57am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

As I understand it (and she will correct me if I'm wrong because she is watching the progress of this thread) there are NO other girls within the region that have food allergies, as far as she has heard. As I understood it, it was simply a matter of this mother using the other allergens as more weight behind her argument.
*** I edited this post because I did not quite have it right and she DID correct me. Slight change here. [img][/img]
[This message has been edited by teacher (edited January 11, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 9:16am
Naturemom's picture
Joined: 09/30/2004 - 09:00

It would be impossible to make food that contains no allergens. How could a dish be made without milk, soy, eggs, pn, tn, fish, meats, beans, fruits, veg., etc. They would just bring water. Every food is a potential allergen to somebody. I guess there are a few options. 1)Not have a food event. 2)If the parent wants the child to participate, ask that the specific food allergens that they are allergic to be avoided, knowing that it would be impossible to be sure that cross-contamination is not present. Or, 3) skip the event. We are involved 4-H and once a year there is a Favorite Foods Festival where the children make and present foods with table settings, etc. There is no way that this event could be made safe for my ds (I guess it could, but it would not be worth the time, effort, or the altering of everybody elses lives), so we just don't go. No big deal. There are so many other things to do, anyway. Everybody does not do everything.

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 9:22am
becca's picture
Joined: 05/22/2001 - 09:00

This is why we didn't join Daisies. I know I could fight my way through it, but we have so many choices for activities where food is not so often central in badge activities, fundraising and social events. It just seems like one battle after another, going into it, and I chose to avoid that until dd expresses an interest(if she ever does).
Not saying girls shouldn't do it, but there is this big conflict. I think many badges involve food and there is the cookie sale at very least. I choose not to deal with it.
Personally, I think your friend has offerred enough. I do not know what the organization policy is. If there will be no nuts and the child has a nut allergy, and all ingredients will be listed, that seems acceptable. Let the other families worry about the other allergens as they feel they need. I still would not let my dd eat a blessed thing there. All made in others' homes??? No way. Who knows what goes on there. So, since We do not eat community pot luck selections, I usually just ask it be nut free, and we still bring our own food for the children. Dh and I will eat the offerings. becca

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 9:23am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

Thank you for your reply. I am with you ... my kid does not attend activities like this. But this mom is reeeeally pushing for inclusion and not being very nice about it. (Note to self .... being a b**** does not always get you everywhere! I've commented that people like that make it harder for the rest of us PA moms. Grr.)

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 9:32am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

Thanks, becca. [img][/img]
It's nice to hear another PA parent say that was enough. My friend tries really hard to accomodate her friends with allergies and she really doesn't deserve this hassle.
I am hoping someone here will be familiar with the US Girl Scouts policies, because I haven't been able to find them, assuming they exist. Surely this is not a new issue for them. As you say, a LOT of activities involve food and they (the USGS) encourage inclusion. It would be interesting to know how they juxtapose the two.

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 9:34am
Anne Parrish's picture
Joined: 01/06/2000 - 09:00

I am quite involved w/ the Girl Scouts &, at least around here, we have moved away from food as the vehicle for World Thinking Day (the annual GS international event). We have done this primarily to accommodate allergies and to cut down on the mess generated at the school where the event is held.
It sounds to me that your friend has made a good faith effort to handle the issue so I wouldn't worry too much about it if I were in her position. However, I would not let my child eat *anything* at an event like this &, as a result, she would have a terrible time, so I sort of understand what the mom is trying to do for her kid.
For future years, there are tons of other things that can be done for Thinking Day... games from around the world, movies from around the world, holidays from around the world, etc. Maybe your friend could consider those instead.

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 10:21am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

Hi Anne! I'm glad you are here. I was looking at old threads about Girl Scouts and noticed you were a prolific poster on those topics. I'm glad you came to offer your opinion. [img][/img] Thank you. [img][/img]
Interesting how so many of us will just not have our children participate. I guess we have all wisely chosen which battles to fight, eh? [img][/img]

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 10:41am
becca's picture
Joined: 05/22/2001 - 09:00

I am going to go out on a limb here with some analogies or comparisons. I mean, I understand inclusion and disabilities. I do. However, if one were blind, perhaps a film festival might not be the best choice for a good time. There could be accomodations made, like descriptions, and written material(Braille) and other things. I might imagine that *some* kids in wheelchairs just do not feel fully included no matter what accomodations are made to a building and at a dance. So, even though we can insist on, and receive accomodations, there simply are events that might not be the *best choice* for a great time.
There are some things I have just never really persued or enjoyed or done because my vision isn't perfect. I have a very full life and rarely give it a passing thought. Sometimes I worry that if I push to hard in too many places to make it work for dd, she feels conspicuous. We just focus on active things that seem least likey to involve food. We like it that way anyway, from a health point of view. Trying to take the food away from the focus of all fun times.
I *love* Anne Parrish's suggestions. It always seems like a no brainer to come up with non-food alternatives. Searching for art, games, music and such from other countries would certainly involve a more broad exposure to other cultures. However, again and again, we read about these stand-offs!
I am not being critical of your friend, teacher. She is likely just carrying out the piece of the event as it has been for years. Not like she could change it all just this year all at once. But the bigger organizations governing bodies really need to get the food out of everything. The food allergy stories are out there every day now. They need to get it. Lets just let families feed the kids themselves and move onto more fun and active things! becca
[This message has been edited by becca (edited January 11, 2006).]

Posted on: Wed, 01/11/2006 - 10:57am
teacher's picture
Joined: 11/02/2000 - 09:00

becca ... excellent ideas and points, as always!
I know you're not being critical. I know she is reading this thread and I'm sure she will take it the same way. I/we appreciate the ideas, suggestions, and help. [img][/img]
I am not 100% sure, but I believe that the event is not her "baby," but rather she has been assigned to take care of the food, which is why she is taking on this parent. Just have to clarify that she, personally, has not chosen the activity or event. [img][/img]


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