I picked my daughter up from school yesterday and she was wearing a different shirt. A shirt I'd never seen before. I asked what had happened and she told me there had been a mayonnaise explosion in the lunch room that had hit her in the back, but, as she said: "It's OK because it only had vegetable oil in it."
"Vegetable oil is soybean oil," I said.
She burst into tears. "I knew it! I knew I was allergic to it but no one would believe me!" And the story came out. How the lunch aide hadn't believed her but had read the ingredients anyway. And hadn't seen any soy in the ingredient list, so had decided the mayonnaise was fine.
Part of the unique challenge of soy allergies is that, despite soy being a big 8 allergen, the food allergy labeling law (FALCPA) has a special exception for soybean oil and soy lecithin. Manufacturers do not have to provide an allergen warning or even list these ingredients in "plain English" as required for other common allergens.
Some studies have found that most people with soy allergies can tolerate the small amounts of soy protein that remain in processed soy oil. But not everyone can. Similar studies have found that refined peanut oil is safe for people with peanut allergies, but there is no exception in the labeling law for certain peanut ingredients. I can only speculate on the politics behind that ruling.
Our story ends well. My daughter ended up with a contact reaction, but nothing more serious. I was proud that our role play practice paid off and she insisted on seeing the school nurse, even after being told the food was OK for her. The Emergency Action Plan we wrote wasn't implemented exactly how it should have been (I didn't get a phone call) but she did get a clean shirt and a check up. And everyone involved learned something from the incident.
What haunts me though is that all the adults involved in this situation had the best of intentions and yet were unable to keep my daughter safe because of this legal loophole.
FALCPA is not enough. It has too many exceptions and only covers 8 of the thousands of foods that are potential allergens.
We have the right as consumers to know what we are putting into (or on) our bodies. Every ingredient of every food needs to be disclosed, and it needs to be listed for what it is. No more "modified food starch" or "natural flavorings." No "vegetable oil" with pictures of lettuce and tomatoes on the label. Tell us what is really in our food, and then we can decide if we really want to eat it.
Every ingredient of every food. A radical idea? Or one whose time has come?