Challenges Faced By Families with Allergies
When anyone mentions food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerance it often leads to negative opinions from the uninformed. Some people think gluten-free is a lifestyle or lactose intolerance is a choice. I’m not here to judge what you do or do not eat. What I can tell you is that at the age of one, my family learned the hard way that my son, Jonah, was allergic to peanuts. It’s a real life-threatening allergy that affects our family every day. My son carries an Epi-pen, epinephrine auto-injector, in the event that he accidentally eats something containing peanuts. As a result, when we go out to eat we usually feed him beforehand. In the rare case that we find a place that’s safe to eat, we have to confirm with the waiter and/or chef that there’s no risk of cross contamination.
So what does this have to do with New York City FC? Why am I writing this on the NYCFC Nation website, you might ask? Let me explain. Yankee Stadium, just like every other baseball stadium in the United States sells shelled peanuts. I mean, come on, peanuts and baseball are synonymous. What else are you supposed to do between pitches besides drink a few beers and shell some peanuts? And herein lies the problem. Yankee Stadium concessions are geared toward baseball. This means you will find peanuts at almost every concession counter in the stadium. So while I’ve taken my wife and daughter to numerous games over the last few years, my son has never been to a NYCFC match because of safety concerns. This is our choice and ours alone. It may differ from the decisions you make as a family.
Shelled peanuts pose a huge risk for people with a peanut allergy. When someone sitting next to you, behind you, or even a section over cracks open a peanut, the protein from the peanut shells and seed coat (yes that’s the thin fragile coating around the legume itself) can become airborne. Now imagine that protein lands in the drink in your child’s hand, accidentally gets on their body, or is inhaled. A child could develop an itch or rash, hives, or go into anaphylactic shock and stop breathing. The only way to halt anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine and a trip to the emergency room. You may not know, but peanut allergies affect roughly 3% of children under the age of 9 and that number continues to increase every year.
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Professional Sports Teams Step Up
Major League Soccer and other professional sports leagues are beginning to address the needs of children and adults with special needs. This includes people with allergies, physical disabilities, and even autism. MetLife Stadium offers the usual accommodations for the visually or hearing impaired and preferred seating for fans with mobility issues. They even have sensory bags with items like noise-cancelling headphones for fans with sensory issues. In May of 2017 the New York Red Bulls partnered with Autism Awareness to create a permanent sensory room. In this special room families can sit away from noise and energy of the crowd.
Major League Baseball teams have taken the lead in American professional sports accommodating fans with allergies. Some teams like the Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees offer peanut-free suites for some games during the baseball season. The Detroit Tigers designate a section as peanut and nut-free for 3 games. They thoroughly clean the section to remove any trace of nuts and don’t allow entry to the section for anyone with nut products. Similarly, the San Diego Padres have a peanut-controlled day where items containing peanuts are removed from the concession around the designated section. Emergency responders are placed near the section in the event of an allergic reaction.
Room for Improvement
I don’t blame NYCFC, Legends Food Service, or the Yankees for selling peanuts. However, I think it’s time for our club to reevaluate the need to sell them at soccer matches. There are several things these stakeholders could do to accommodate fans, and in particular our youngest fans, with peanut and/or nut allergies. At a minimum, NYCFC could offer a peanut/nut-free suite for all NYCFC games at a reasonable price so all fans, regardless of income, can safely attend a match. Legends Food Services could have information available at concession stands that list ingredients so fans and parents could determine if the food is safe to eat. Going a step further, NYCFC could create peanut & nut-free sections that restrict people from bringing these allergens into those designated sections. The best solution would be to stop selling shelled peanuts and any products containing peanuts at concessions. In the future, when NYCFC gets a stadium of their own, we could even become the first nut-free stadium in the country.
New York City FC has the ability to become a more fan inclusive club. We want people, and especially families, to feel comfortable bringing their children to Yankee Stadium. This can begin with a simple step like partnering with an organization like FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) to develop a plan for providing a safe space within our current stadium for people with peanut and/or nut allergies.
Furthermore, I hope that by bringing awareness of this issue to the attention of the organization, NYCFC will in turn, reevaluate how they can provide those fans with this specific allergy a more positive stadium experience. Hopefully the club will recognize this issue, address it, and you’ll see me at a match with my son next year cheering on our boys in blue.