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When a Meme Compared Food Allergies to Vaccinations

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Lately, there has been an increase in news about vaccinations and the debate surrounding them. Whether or not to vaccinate your child has gone from a practice every parent must conform to in order to enroll their children in schools, to a choice they make for themselves.

Having a food allergy is not a choice.

I have seen multiple memes floating around the internet in the past couple of weeks but none really got to me like this one did.

I am the first one to get a “joke.” I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade and people are free to post whatever brings them joy. Usually I give ignorant posts like this a sideways glance and continue scrolling. Before having a child with food allergies, I too believed food allergies were a choice, an intolerance or just a way for people to lose weight/avoid food they don’t like. And I understand how angry the vaccination debate makes people! That being said — this meme presents a statement that is like comparing apples to oranges. In no way, shape or form is vaccinating your children anything like a child having a peanut allergy.

I am so beyond tired of hearing jokes made at the expense of kids who have been diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies. I remember watching “Peter Rabbit” with Olivia a couple months back. She loved watching the bunnies and animals playing with each other, and the playful banter that transposed between McGreggor and Peter Rabbit. But halfway through the movie, the villain states he has a life-threatening food allergy to blackberries. The rabbits go off on how people use food allergies as a crutch and insinuate they are made up. They make a joke about the entire ordeal. To make matters worse, they later use McGregor’s blackberry allergy against him by shooting one into his mouth, which causes him to go into anaphylaxis while he struggles to use his EpiPen. When McGregor doesn’t die from ingesting his allergen, the rabbit is upset. Not only does this make light of life-threatening food allergies, but it makes them a complete joke!

Now I bring up this specific example because it was the first time since becoming an allergy mom that I saw the media use food allergies against someone. Similar to a gun or a knife, someone’s known food allergy was used to kill them. Since then I have seen similar stories plastered on billboards or portrayed in other children’s movies as a way to hurt others. Then, I go on Facebook this week and can’t avoid this ignorant post.

No food allergy parent was given a choice when their kids were born. There was no form to fill out or anywhere you could talk out the pros and cons of your child living with a life-threatening food allergy. Our kids walk around surrounded by the very item that could kill them — in sandwiches, in cakes and cookies, and then all over monkey bars and swing sets. They live in constant fear — not because anyone made a choice, but because they have a disability!

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The anxiety food allergy parents face on a daily basis is not a choice. The fear they face when their child wants to attend a sleepover or eat lunch at someone’s house is not a choice. Thinking about the danger that comes with their first kiss and whether or not they will be sure to read every single label when they start preparing their own meals is not a choice.

Simple, everyday occurrences that everyone takes for granted are a huge source of anxiety for food allergy parents and I’ll just say it again — no one chooses to live this way. All of the missed experiences are not a choice. The amount of times you don’t send your son or daughter to the birthday party because it’s covered in peanut butter cupcakes, or the school trip you can’t attend because they will be providing food and it’s just not safe. The amount of holidays you have to forgo because Grandma doesn’t understand your food allergies and decides to make pecan pie for dessert and use the same knife to give your son his dessert. No one chooses to miss out on life’s moments.

And no, the hundreds of extra dollars a year we spend on groceries to be sure our daughter has enough safe snacks to eat is not something we chose. Next time you’re at the grocery store, compare what it costs to buy a package of Kraft mac and cheese to what a package of Daiya mac and cheese costs. Compare what snacks and food that are “top 8 allergen free” cost compared to any other snacks that kids without disabilities have the opportunity to eat. Spending all of our money on special food instead of activities, sports or vacations is definitely not a choice we made. And finally, the threat of a food allergy killing my daughter at any moment — while I watch other kids play without a care in the world — is not something I would have chosen. Not in my wildest dreams.

To all the readers who may think I’m being sensitive — I understand you feel that way. Before having a child with food allergies I would have felt the same way. But I hope by sharing how I feel about this meme, I can change some of your minds about how we deal with real situations. Whether or not this meme was supposed to be funny, it signals out my child who by no fault of her own was born with a life-threatening disability — one that has altered her life and ours.

Do not make fun of what she and so many other children and adults go through on a daily basis to make your point. Support and love each other. Despite seeing this awful meme, my daughter ate her special mac and cheese and laughed hysterically at CoCoMelon all day. She went down the slide at the park, followed by a quick wipe of the hands to prevent any issues, and she played hide and seek with her mom and dad all night. Memes like this won’t hurt her now — but they will hurt others. Let’s be better. And by the time she is old enough to understand insensitive comments like these, let’s hope our world is a place where these comments no longer exist. In the mean time, just keep advocating.

Follow this journey on Just Keep Patching.

Getty image via Lisovskaya

Originally published: February 11, 2019
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