Yesterday I handed my five year old a rice cake, one of her favorite snacks. As she began munching on it, my eyes lazily and reflexively sought out the ingredient list. Suddenly my heart started beating fast and my hands started to shake. It took a moment for my brain to catch up and realize the words my eyes were reading over and over were: "May Contain Traces of Peanuts."
I stood speechless and unable to move while I watched my daughter chew. First there was a moment of disbelief. I looked at the other side of the package, sure I had read it wrong. I could swear that was not there yesterday, I thought.
I got another package out of the cupboard. Checked the ingredients. No peanut warning. Looked back at the open package, still in my hard. Sure enough, the word "peanuts" jumped out at me.
I'd been buying three or four packages of these rice cakes a week for the last few months, and had read the ingredients many times before. Always they had listed "Organic brown rice, sea salt." That's it. Two ingredients.
I had felt safe feeding them to my kid who has multiple food allergies. I had even stopped reading the label before buying a package.
Now I wondered about the other packages we had consumed - the ones without the peanut warning. Did they contain traces of peanuts too? Or might they? What prompted the manufacturer to add that warning? Did they just add a new peanut butter flavor rice cake to their line? How dare they!
Maybe, I wondered, maybe there is another flavor that is OK. Maybe it was a mistake, there weren't really peanuts in the line. It must have been a misprint.
Five minutes passed and my daughter did not have a visible reaction. I began to breathe normally again. I threw away the both packages and wiped down the counter with hot soapy water. A sudden, intense wave of sadness swept over me. I wished I didn't have to worry about food ingredients. I felt utterly exhausted.
Sitting down to recover, I realized that in the past five minutes I had gone through all five of the stages of grief:
- Denial (It can't be true!)
- Anger (How dare they? I trusted them!)
- Bargaining (Maybe there's another flavor that's OK?)
- Depression/Sadness (I wish I didn't have to worry about ingredients.)
- Acceptance (Clean up the kitchen and get on with life already.)
No wonder I was exhausted.
Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth, MD. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1997. (Orig. pub. 1969)