The Shmooze

'Got Nut Allergies? Get Off My Plane!'

By Masha Leon

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Addressing the 650 guests — mostly mothers of young and teenage children with food allergies — at the Food Allergy Research & Education Spring Luncheon at Cipriani 42nd Street, allergic-to-nuts WABC-TV Anchor Lori Stokes spoke of “the dramatic rise in the number of children with life-threatening food allergies” and her anguish that her 19-year old allergic daughter Nicolette— now at Georgetown — “might come in contact with a crumb from an almond or Brazil nut!”

Karen Leon
Lianne Mandelbaum

What galvanized the audience was honoree Lianne Mandelbaum’s narrative and call to action vis-a-vis the [mis] treatment of allergic passengers by the airline industry. Her youngest son Josh has been diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. Awaiting a flight, a family nearby was eating nuts and she alerted them to her son’s plight. “I was shocked to see their kids throw nuts in the air, crushing them on the floor and laughing!” She then asked a flight official— and multiple employees up the line — for a brief announcement that there was a child on board with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. “All refused my request…and the last one said, “If you think he ‘s going to die — don’t get on the plane!”

There was a communal gasp in the room.

“That’s the moment that flicked on the switch,” said Mandelbaum (whose name translates as almond tree!) “There were no guidelines in place [on airlines] to protect children and adults with food allergies… I was equally shocked to learn that there was a high level of discrimination against people with severe allergies and was determined to speak up, educate and create change.”

A native of South Africa who came to the U.S. at age 10, and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from SUNY Albany with an MS in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Mandelbaum cautioned: “One day your son or daughter may have to take a flight to college…travel for work…and may fly on an airline that has no allergen policy in place…What makes it so different from accommodating a child or adult in a wheelchair?

“And why this consistent rudeness?” asked Mandelbaum, who founded wwwNonutraveler.com (her motto is “Good things come to those who wait. Great things come to those who act.”).

FARE CEO John Lehr welcomed the assemblage and Dr. Hugh Sampson, Director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, detailed some of the research being done. Josh Mandelbaum is currently involved in a peanut desensitization study. His reactions may one day provide answers, medication and possibly prevention of life-threatening reactions to peanuts and other allergens. It was announced that FARE has put in place a College Food Allergy Program to help colleges and universities adopt comprehensive food management policies for all aspects of college life.

All left with goody bags stuffed with delicious nut-egg-gluten (and other allergen)-free, cookies, doughnuts, candy, snacks, cakes and jellybeans.


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