In the past few months, food allergies have been in the news so frequently I think it warrants some discussion. The two major events that I’m going to discuss with you deal with instances of bullying. Food allergy bullying impacts 33% of children and teens with food allergies and despite most bullies’ intentions, it is never merely a prank. If it is universally agreed that it is incredibly irresponsible to rub cyanide on another person, why do people think it is alright to rub allergens onto a person with allergies? Nevertheless, too many people suffer from food allergy bullying in real life and on the big screen.
Last December, in my home state of Pennsylvania, three girls sent a girl with food allergies to the hospital in a case of food allergy bullying. The victim was known to be allergic to pineapple, and the bullies decided to rub the allergen on their hands and high-five the girl during lunch at Butler Intermediate High School. After the incident, the victim was rushed to the local hospital and eventually recovered. The girl who did the high-fiving is accused of with felony aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy, and her two friends are charged with criminal conspiracy. Now, any form of bullying is a horrible way to make others feel bad about themselves and their shortcomings, but this particular type is just over the edge. The bullies are facing serious consequences in both the school setting and the legal setting.
And this type of bullying is portrayed and even glorified in the media. Just this month, the movie “Peter Rabbit” uses food allergy bullying as a plot point, despite claiming to be an innocent children’s movie. In the movie, the protagonists have an ongoing feud with Mr. McGregor where they continue to attack each other. The attack that comes into question occurs when Peter Rabbit and his friends decide to throw blackberries at Mr. McGregor because they know that he is allergic to them. McGregor then goes into anaphylactic shock and must use epinephrine to recover. In the way that it is framed, the movie makes it seem as though it is perfectly acceptable to engage in food allergy bullying because the heroes of the movie perform the life-threatening form of attack. This has caused many people in the food allergy community to boycott the movie because of the positive light it puts on the form of bullying. FARE commented that “while we have made major strides in helping the general public understand that food allergies are a serious public health issue, we are taken backwards when a movie, television show or comedian chooses to make food allergy the butt of a joke and gets laughs out of it”. Some argue that this response is a little overdramatic because it is just a movie, but I believe their level of response and media coverage is needed for food allergy advocacy.
After the backlash and a boycott from the food allergy community, Sony Pictures and the filmmakers of “Peter Rabbit” responded by saying “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue and we truly apologize”. And in response to this, FARE stated “We are appreciative that Sony Pictures issued an apology for the Peter Rabbit scene. But we call on all filmmakers and screenwriters to work with food allergy advocates to treat food allergies responsibly, realistically and sensitively in entertainment media”.
If you are an allergic teen, it is very important that you know how to stand up against food allergy bullying, and know the facts about your allergies so that you are not taken advantage of. Being able to confront bullies with knowledge can help keep you safe and teach others about the severity of allergies in the community. I highly recommend the resources on Teen Food Allergies and Anti-Bullying if you are suffering from any issues related to that.