I’m fed up. Just this week I watched as life-threatening food allergies were used for entertainment in not one but two productions; the first was a show, the second was a movie. It is estimated that over 9 million people saw the cold open of last week’s SNL where Mr. Peanut admitted to roasting in hell because he “took out a lot of first graders with peanut allergies.” Since when is it funny to joke about dead or sick children?
And millions more have seen the Korean film “Parasite,” nominated in six Oscar categories, including best picture and director. The movie was spectacular but that’s not the point. In three distinct scenes, the actors set out to hurt a character who has a severe allergy to peaches; she ended up dead about ⅔ of the way through the movie. Again, this depravity passing as entertainment is beneath us, and I don't just mean the backyard makeshift grave the woman's body was dumped into.
My husband and I watched in horror, not because it was a scary movie, which it was, but because we know how terrifying it is to experience anaphylaxis, as our daughter has 11 times. And we just helped our daughter survive the attacks, she is the one who actually experienced it. It felt wrong for us to watch food allergies be used for cheap laughs or blatant abuse. It is wrong. There wasn’t anything humorous about it at all. And us squirmy and uncomfortable and angry as this made us feel, we couldn't imagine how our daughter would react to these scenes. Well, we kinda could - she would feel horrible and continue to see herself as a victim. We want something better for our family and the millions of people who are directly affected by food allergies every day.
For the 26 million American adults suffering from life-threatening food allergies, or the 5.6 million US children, this is not just a math problem. It’s a complex socio-medical phenomenon that has no solutions. For every joke or trick involving food allergies, there are fears of copycat acts. We are up in arms about violent video games resulting in an increase in domestic violence, mass shootings and mental illness. But what about movies and shows that make jokes out of our kids’ disabilities?
Food allergy bullying is a real thing. One in 13 American children have a food allergy, and nearly a third of those say they have been bullied because of those allergies, some of which can be life-threatening, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Food Allergy Research & Education. About a third of children with food allergies said they had been bullied because of the allergy, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Children reported that their classmates and peers teased them, threw food or waved it in their faces, excluded or threatened them based on the allergy, and performed other acts of bullying.
As a result of food allergy bullying, some kids have died. More kids have been charged with aggravated assault or expelled from school. I've read the stories.... kids put pineapple on their hands before hi-fiving a fellow student. Kids wiped a food allergen on their teacher's desk. Kids slapped a slice of cheese on a classmate's neck (he died). Luckily most don't die but the increase in taunts and threats serve to elevate the anxiety and fear that goes along with having food allergies. There is so much risk involved with allergic children and adults just being around their allergens, not to mention having them purposely put near them or underfoot to get a laugh or some revenge.
Aren’t we better than this? With millions already at risk in their own schools and homes, do we really need millions more laughing at us and our kids? Getting ideas for how to harm someone? Laughing at first-graders who died? I don’t think so.
So for all the times that our daughter has been rushed to the hospital after injecting herself with epinephrine, and for all the other millions of kids who have done the same, and for all the families who have lost someone to food allergies, I am standing up and speaking out. The true horror is that allergies continue to rise and there is no cure. There is nothing funny about kids being hurt by their food allergens.
Food allergies should not be used for entertainment value. Can't we trade in the EpiPen for a ballpoint pen and start writing some new jokes and scripts that aren’t so incredibly offensive to the millions of food allergy sufferers? There are more of us than them, let’s use our collective voices to raise awareness that these jokes are not funny, can be harmful and at a minimum makes so many of us feel helpless and anxious.
If you, too, are FED UP with food allergy bullying and violence passing as humor in our TV shows and movies, please share this article on your social media pages. Maybe someone will see it who can make a difference in 1 person's life.