My grandmother’s “Peanut Parties” were the best. She would set us kids on the porch with a huge tub of locally-grown peanuts to shell. When we were done, we got to come in and eat ice cream topped with peanut butter and the whole peanuts we had just cleaned. It was amazing!
She would have loved to know that September 13th is National Peanut Day.
In North Carolina, peanuts are big business; we are in the top five states for peanut export worldwide, and the revenue brings in over $12 million annually.
Just as important, the legume is important to social and cultural foodways here. Though originally grown by Incan communities of Peru, the peanut made its way to Africa before finding its way back to the American South with enslaved people. It became a major staple in homes — both as a food product and, thanks to George Washington Carver, many other products.
I own my unabashed worship of this humble legume, but I also understand the complications and dangers for those who have allergies. Having worked with children for over 20 years — and having experienced a scare with a peanut-exposed infant in my care — I know the risks first-hand.
Peanut sensitivity is one of the most common food allergies, affecting over 400,000 North Carolinians. And the population is growing: between 1997 and 2010, the number of people with peanut sensitivity has increased by over 50%. Effects can range from skin reactions to death. People with severe vulnerability may not even need to eat peanuts to experience a reaction, which is why peanuts are banned in most schools and other places where children gather.
There is hope, though. New research findings show that early exposure to peanuts may actually help prevent the development of allergic reactions. By identifying those children who may be at-risk due to family history, eczema, or other food allergies, researchers are able to implement a plan to “inoculate” them against later allergic reactions.
For those who have already developed an allergy, the Food Allergy Research and Education organization has a grant program that funds research and programming aimed at desensitization. Wesley Burks, MD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is conducting clinical trials for peanut immunotherapy – with promising results.
My hope is that all North Carolinians can one day celebrate National Peanut Day with me with some Durham-based Big Spoon Roasters nut butters. Or join me at Dublin, NC’s annual Peanut Festival on September 19th.
And hey, if you can’t — or for some crazy reason just don’t like peanuts — the next day, Monday, September 14th, is National Cream-Filled Donuts Day. Yum.