What the Parent of a Child With Food Allergies Wants You to Know


Everyone is buzzing about the scene in the new “Peter Rabbit” movie where the villain, Tom McGregor, who has a known food allergy to blackberries, is intentionally attacked with them by the other characters. There is a close up of his face as he clenches his throat, struggles to inject himself with an epi-pen and collapses from anaphylaxis. The bunnies cheer! Hooray! The villain is taken down, and the audience…

laughs?

Meanwhile, people with food allergies everywhere gasp because we know a line has been crossed. We gasp because our minds go to the unthinkable and we imagine our loved ones struggling for air that way. We see our loved ones looking up at the big screen and imagining themselves that way.

At first I thought, what can I possibly say that other outraged, food allergy parents haven’t already? But then I heard a local radio station saying the scene was no big deal. It made me realize I do have more to say because the world still doesn’t get it! And we need every voice to shout out collectively:

Food allergies are not a choice, people! 
They are not some trendy fad devised to inconvenience your life by asking you to pack something other than a peanut butter sandwich for your kid’s lunch. It is about life and death.

The world wants to know why we are offended. Why we can’t relax a little and simply enjoy the movie. “What’s the big deal?” “It’s only food.”  “One blackberry.” “This generation is too sensitive. Always offended by everything.”

The world says their kids “know the difference between movies and real life,” and that we “aren’t villains in a fictitious cartoon movie who can be defeated by a blackberry, anyway.” “So, stop whining and watch the movie. Or, don’t take your kids to see it and the problem is solved.”

No, the problem isn’t even close to being solved.

It’s hard enough trying to convince other parents, other adults, that my son’s situation isn’t a game. That yes, I am sure he cannot have even one bite. It is a big deal if he’s sitting next to the wrong foods at lunchtime, and no, you really cannot bring nuts into my home. And now, this movie is talking to young, impressionable minds, saying food allergies are a way to get back at someone you don’t like.

But, you’re right. One part is true. My son is not a cartoon.

He is a human being, with one fragile life to live, and what they are showing on the screen is 100 percent accurate. The smallest trace of food absolutely can mean life or death for him. And that is something I think about every single day.

I prepare for, caution against, and hope we never have to experience it. Every single day.

It affects everything we do, every place we go, everything we touch, every person we come into contact with. And all it takes is a single bite of the wrong food. The tiniest smear of PB&J leftover on an unwiped lunch table. Recycled cabin air on an airplane. An undeclared allergen on a food label. Accidental contamination at a food processing plant. Cross-contaminated gloves or tongs in a restaurant. A misinformed or incorrect reassurance from someone we trust. A handshake. A french kiss. The ill intent of another person.

Sometimes, the initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are unclear, which is horrifying to think about when you know each second counts against you. There are only minutes to administer an Epi-Pen before the outcome turns deadly. And in some cases, the epinephrine is administered and it isn’t enough to stop what comes next.

What then?

There are nausea and vomiting. The heartbeat quickens. The body goes into shock. Blood pressure drops suddenly. The airways narrow. The body is blocked from breathing. And the person dies.

Tell me, what is funny about any of that?

Would you be laughing if it was your son or your daughter? Your wife or husband? Your mother or father?

No. 

And these families aren’t laughing either (thank you, nonutsmomsgroup for putting together this list).

I want you to know a few statistics from FARE:

One in 13 children has a food allergy.

One in three kids is bullied because of allergies. Just recently, several school-aged girls devised a trick against their food allergic classmate. Knowing she was severely allergic to pineapples, they secretly sneaked a fruit cup into the school, rubbed their hands in the juice and purposely high-fived her, causing a reaction.

Every three minutes someone is sent to the hospital with an anaphylactic reaction.

Benadryl will not stop an anaphylactic reaction — only mask it.

200 people die a year due to food allergic reactions.

A growing number of adults are developing allergies after the age of 18.

Let us educate everyone so they know why food allergies should be taken seriously. One bite can hurt. It is life or death. The numbers are climbing, and everyone should be questioning why.

But more than that, what about a lesson on being empathic? What about letting food allergic people, or even just people, know their lives do matter and they are more than some punchline in a joke.

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