Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Shell games.

Yesterday, everyone and their mother was calling or e-mailing, "Hey, did you see today's Globe and Mail? Big story on peanut allergies."

Let me say that it is great to read about 15-year-old Aly Young's crusade to eliminate peanuts from sporting arenas. What an impressive young woman, especially considering she has to deal with peanut-brains like this guy.

In March of 2004, I blogged about my one and only visit to the Air Canada Centre and the discomfort I felt throughout the third period, surrounded as I was by peanut shells and the aroma/stench of the offending legumes. I wrote:
I think it's about time they stop serving peanuts at sporting events. I believe the whole point of the salty snacks is to sell more beer, but pretzels surely can fill that gap. Cutting peanuts out wouldn't significantly bother the non-allergic fans and it would bring plenty of allergic fans in.
Sound reasonable? Good.
Now what we need are a couple of Hockey players with allergies to take the charge. How about Tom Poti, the New York Rangers defenseman, who has severe allergies to nuts, fish and MSG? Or Todd Reirden, defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes, who has a gluten allergy?
And yet a lot of folks -- some like the peanut-brain, most much more intelligent -- don't think it's reasonable. Many people are offended or concerned by the idea of letting the allergic minority determine the unallergic majority's menu options. As the ethicist in the Globe article puts it, “How great should the restriction on liberties be to accommodate the vulnerable?”

These concerns are legitimate, but here's what I say:

1) Sporting arena owners spend millions of dollars making their facilities accessible to the disabled. Here's what the Air Canada Centre does for the disabled according to their website:
The arena is user-friendly, providing one per cent of fixed seating for the disabled and their companions. Accessible seating areas are strategically located throughout the building, providing maximum flexibility and pricing selection. Among other features, all public washrooms are wheelchair accessible with accommodating counter heights and lower urinals with grab bars. Food and beverage service counters are lowered to accessible service heights.
What those with severe peanut allergies -- those who the very smell of peanuts can set off a reaction -- are asking for is much less: to sell some other snack than peanuts. The ACC went out of its way so it wouldn't have to tell wheelchair-bound hockey and basketball fans, "Sorry. You'll have to watch at home on your TV." Why is it more acceptable for them to say this to people with peanut allergies?

2) I'm not sure about Ms. Young, but I am not looking for the government to ban of peanuts in private facilites. The Air Canada Centre and other arenas should voluntarily choose to stop selling peanuts the way airlines have. Why? Because they shouldn't be chasing away hockey fans. And they shouldn't have to wait for the first death to take action.

3) The argument, "Where do we stop -- banning gluten for those allergic to gluten? Banning salty pretzels for those on low-salt diets?" is a red herring. Just the smell of peanuts can set off a reaction in the allergic, which makes it quite different from most every other allergy or food-related condition. Also, for some reason, it is considered socially acceptable for people eating peanuts to throw their shells on the ground. When I went to the A.C.C., I didn't have to just deal with people eating peanuts nearby. I had to deal with peanuts underfoot (by the third period) and tipsy, excited sports fans sputtering peanut particles into the air behind me. I kept my hand over my beer the whole time.

4) To peanut-loving sports fans: What do you go to the game for? The game or the snack? It's not a burden to eat chips or pretzels instead of peanuts. We're talking about a snack choice versus a life-threatening condition here. So, when arenas stop selling peanuts, as they inevitably will as the peanut-allergy generation gets older and starts throwing its purchasing power around, don't be annoyed about it. You're there to watch hockey or basketball, not eat peanuts. Relax.

So, ACC -- why not take the lead and show the rest of the sporting world the way? Listen to Aly Young and stop serving peanuts.

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