Sorry for the alarmist title, but I thought "New Restaurant at The Arboretum Uses Peanut Oil and Serves Peanuts in the Shell, so Parents of Peanut-Allergy Kids Should Be Careful at the Park" was a little long.

That's about it in a nutshell, a peanut shell.

Fives Guys Burgers and Fries opened recently at The Arboretum, right around the corner from Amy's Ice Cream. For those of you who know The Arboretum area, that's very close to the outside eating area, which is right next to the fountains and the cow sculptures where many kids play.

Five Guys is proud of using peanut oil to fry their food and for serving peanuts in the shell. They say so on their website:

Q: If so many people are allergic to peanuts, why does Five Guys continue to offer them?

A: Over the past 20 years, peanuts have become part of the Five Guys identity. We by no means want to exclude guests from our store, but at the same time we would not want to disappoint our peanut eating guests. We make sure that we have signage on our doors and in our restaurants about the fact that we serve peanuts in bulk containers as we would never want someone to risk their health by coming into our restaurants.

(Five Guys FAQ)

They do have signage in the form of white boxes piled by the windows that state that they serve peanuts and that the peanuts should not be removed from the restaurant. And they are prominent enough that I noticed and read them, but I'm an observant person. (If I were a cat, my curiosity would have done me in by now.) But I wonder how many people will miss or ignore the signage. The same people who smoke in hospitals and park in handicapped spots and let their untrained dogs run leashless in parks.

Our little guy's favorite park has suddenly become a much more dangerous place for him to visit. I guess there was always the chance of families picnicking with peanut butter sandwiches or peanut M&Ms or beef satay. (For all I know there is peanut butter smeared all over the legs of those cow sculptures.)

But it's kind of like having a stagnant pool of water at the edge of the park; it's more likely that you'll be bitten by mosquitoes that way. The odds of peanut exposure have increased to the same levels that we have to worry about when we travel by plane. (They won't serve peanuts on our flight, but left over peanut bits are everywhere. I saw some between my seat and the wall on just my last trip.) Air travel is a peanut-allergic child's parent's nightmare - as is visiting The Arboretum now.

On the other hand, our guard definitely won't be down. We'll be sponging down cows with sanitary wipes. We won't be more than 3 inches behind our child and his exploring fingers, ready to tackle, sanitize, and Benadryl him at a moment's notice. We'll run interference with friendly children, subjecting them to dietary history questions (When was the last time you ate a nut product and when did you last have a thorough bath - with soap?), and covering their little hands with sanitizing foam. (We'll be ready for secret service work after a few trips to the park, and we'll do an amazing job if potential threats are in the form of something small and legume-shaped.)

The Arboretum may no longer be a fun, relaxing, restful (well, as much of those things as it can be with a toddler anyway), but my son should be safe with his extra-vigilant parents by his side.

What about the places that we think are safe? The bead table at the library? The trains at Barnes and Nobles? The swings at the playground? The little girl who likes to give hugs at the grocery store? Shopping carts? The list goes on. Because for a food-allergic kid the world is a mine-field.

Have you checked the list of ingredients on your foods lately? There are nut products hidden in everything, and if not in the food you actually purchased, probably somewhere at the processing plant where that food was made. This makes grocery shopping longer and more tedious, reading those teeny tiny labels for one more thing to avoid.

Do we want nuts eradicated from The Arboretum, the playground, the restaurants, the grocery store? Sure, it would make our lives easier. We could relax and stay maybe four steps behind our inquisitive toddler (There are many dangers beyond his food allergy), but nuts are a good source of protein and tasty. I miss eating my nuts. I love peanut sauces on spring rolls. I love peanut M&Ms and Peanut Butter Cups and Mr. Goodbars.

In fact, those are the candies I usually purchase to hand out at Halloween (hoping no trick-or-treaters show up, and I can have them all to myself). But now I have to rethink Halloween completely. I don't want my kid getting candies he's allergic to. And I don't feel right handing them out anymore. I fear I'm going to become box-of-raisins-lady or fruit-roll-up-woman. But they're healthier, and the kids' dentists and maybe their parents too (if they aren't the primary treat eaters) will thank me. Meanwhile the trick-or-treaters will probably leave a "steaming goody bag" on my porch.

It's not easy to explain in a short meet-and-greet time:

Door opens.
Kids: Trick or treat!
Me: You look adorable. What's that a ghost? A monster? A pumpkin? Wow! Listen, my son is allergic to peanuts and possibly other nuts, and chocolates are produced in factories that handle nuts. And even artificial nut flavoring is made by stripping down peanuts. So long story short, no chocolates here. Please don't leave me any presents on my porch. Happy Halloween!"

I guess I could hand out Skittles or Starbursts. I'll have to check the ingredients and make sure there aren't any hidden ingredients: peanut flour, groundnuts, made on machinery that also processes peanuts. You just never know.

Which is why we are three steps behind our toddler, ready to tackle, sanitize, and Benadryl.

Oh no! Out of the way! I see a green peanut M&M on the sidewalk! Clear the area! Clear the area! Oh wait, it's a leaf. False alarm. I'll just get up from the ground now. Wait! What's that over by the tree? Got to go find out! Look out!

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)


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