Boston Children’s Museum caught a mountain of flak over the weekend after announcing on its Facebook page that specialty foods brand Stonewall Kitchen has opened a cafe specializing in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on museum premises. Hundreds of angry parents commented on the post, accusing the museum of creating an unsafe space for children with peanut allergies.
“As a family with a child suffering from peanut and tree nut allergies, and a long time supporter of the Children’s Museum, this is so disappointing,” commented one parent. “More and more children are diagnosed with life threatening peanut allergies each year. This is definitely a move in the wrong direction. As a leading institution in Boston, you should be MORE inclusive, but instead you’re excluding thousands of kids, their families, and their memberships. Shame on you.”
In an attempt at damage control, the Children’s Museum thanked the throngs of concerned commenters for their posts and said that “the safety and wellbeing of all children is our top priority and we want to address your comments.” The Children’s Museum was also careful to clarify that Stonewall Kitchen is “an independent company, and separate from the museum space.”
After receiving a hefty supply of backlash of its own after posting the news of its opening on its Facebook page, Stonewall Kitchen released a statement, which reads in part:
We appreciate your concerns about allergens at our recently-opened Stonewall Kitchen Café. The health and safety of our guests, especially children, is our primary priority. Please be assured that we genuinely understand the gravity that this allergen poses for some children (and adults) and are diligent to follow all regulations and protocols to keep people safe. As a food and restaurant company regulated by the FDA and numerous other agencies, we manufacture and serve products with nearly every major allergen, so we are acutely aware of the risks associated with allergens.
The statement goes on to emphasize that the store is a “separate entity” and “completely separate business” from the museum, merely leasing the space. Additionally, Stonewall Kitchen notes, the museum previously leased the space to Au Bon Pain and McDonald’s, “which also feature numerous allergens in their menu.”
Stonewall Kitchen’s statement goes on to describe the path from the museum into the cafe — a “brown bag” lunch area “which does not exclude peanut butter or other allergens on the premises, similar to other cafeterias” — and notes that museum visitors do not need to pass through the lunch area or the cafe.
Stonewall Kitchen doubles down in the rest of its statement, noting that it serves other allergens, too: “For example, we serve clam chowder in the Cafe, which contains shellfish, and sell milk which is of course a dairy allergen.”
“Alternatives” are available, though, “for those desiring sandwiches, including almond butter or jam-only options.”
A common fear among commenters on both posts is that all it takes is one kid to spread peanut butter from the cafe or the brown bag lunch area onto surfaces in the museum to make the space dangerous, and potentially deadly, for a child with peanut allergies. People with peanut allergies do not necessarily need to ingest peanut proteins to experience a reaction — contact with the skin can cause an allergic reaction in some cases, too.
Stonewall Kitchen’s statement was greeted with nearly as much disdain as its opening announcement, with one commenter posting, “Your response is completely tone deaf and shows a complete lack of knowledge about food allergies and contamination. You have always been one of my favorite brands but if this is how you respond to an outcry of parents trying to keep their kids safe and now not being able to visit one of their favorite places, I just can’t support you any more. I’m shocked and saddened by how uneducated and callous your response is.”
While the museum tried (unsuccessfully) to distance itself from Stonewall Kitchen — they’re independent entities, after all! — commenters weren’t having it.
“It’s a space that YOU are leasing to a PB shop that directly connects to your CHILDREN’s MUSEUM,” commented one person. “Having some allergens and allowing people to bring their own food into that space is very different from leasing a space to a peanut butter restaurant as a primary offering.”
As it stands, the new Stonewall Kitchen “peanut butter restaurant” remains open inside — but completely, entirely, and utterly independent from, remember? — the Boston Children’s Museum.
• Food Fight at the Children’s Museum: Parents of Kids With Peanut Allergies Outraged Over New PB&J-Focused Cafe [Uhub]
• Stonewall Kitchen [Official Site]
• Boston Children’s Museum [Official Site]