Peter Rabbit the movie hit theaters earlier this month. Based on the classic story by acclaimed author Beatrix Potter, the movie is marketed as a family comedy about the adventures of a mischievous rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s attempts to keep the little rascal out of his garden. Before you hop to the theater this Easter season or plan to rent the movie later, you should know why one scene caused such an uproar that #boycottpeterrabbit trended on social media, Sony Pictures issued an apology and FARE (the Food Allergy Research & Education organization) responded with its own official statement.
Many people aren’t celebrating this version of the timeless tale because of its insensitive depiction of food allergies in one scene. Specifically, Peter Rabbit flings blackberries into Mr. McGregor’s mouth, knowing that he is allergic to the food. Mr. McGregor eats one and subsequently struggles to breath and reach for epinephrine before administering it, thereby improving his condition.
Here’s why moms like me aren’t laughing:
- Food allergies are no joke. Food allergy is a potentially life-threatening disease. It is NOT a dietary preference or intolerance. In the U.S., a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER every three minutes. Even a trace amount of food ingested – or touched – can cause a life-threatening reaction. Classic cartoons are notorious for using slapstick comedy in games of cat and mouse, but this modern take goes too far by mocking a serious medical condition.
- Food allergy is an epidemic. Food allergy affects 15 million Americans, including nearly 6 million children or roughly 2 in every classroom. The growing prevalence demands awareness, education and empathy to create a safer, more inclusive community. When Hollywood makes light of food allergies, it derails such efforts and can put people with food allergies at greater risk by contributing to misunderstanding of the condition.
- The scene’s depiction of anaphylaxis can be misleading. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction. Symptoms can vary and include trouble breathing due to airway closure, swelling, rash, hives, rapid and weak pulse, nausea and vomiting. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis, but once injected the patient must seek medical care, and even then it can still be deadly. A second dose may be needed, and delays in receiving epinephrine can result in death.
- Food allergy bullying is real. According to a recent study, more than one third of children and teens with food allergies reported being bullied specifically because of their food allergies – usually by classmates. Food allergy bullying is associated with a lower quality of life and distress in both children and their parents. Intentionally exposing someone to a known food allergen can result in criminal charges. There should be zero tolerance for bullying of any form.
- Children, especially those with food allergies, may find the scene disturbing. If adult viewers know about this scene in advance, they can prepare to discuss it with children or avoid watching it altogether. Moms like me live in fear every day that we could face a life-threatening situation like this as a result of accidental ingestion of a food allergen, cross-contamination or an act of bullying. The character may be fictional, but the risk is real.
It seems the silver lining in this is the continued conversation about food allergies encouraging everyone to get the facts.
For more information on food allergy bullying, visit www.foodallergy.org/its-not-a-joke.
In Northeast Ohio, Connecting For Kids offers expert presentations and links to resources on bullying, among various other children’s issues.
If you want your child’s school or camp in Northeast Ohio to learn more about food allergies, please direct them to this free Community School Education & Training Program presented by NEOFAN and University Hospital Rainbow Babies & Children’s.
Author’s Note: The views represented here are my own. For food allergy medical advice, always consult a physician.