Food Allergies in the Media
Although the media can be used in positive ways to educate others about living with food allergies, I have noticed recently that through various shows and social media apps, the media drastically undermines the life-threatening reactions that those with allergies may experience.
Using stereotypes to create characters that appear weak, shows often portray allergies as something to be laughed about. One example that comes to mind is the character Bill from the show “Freaks and Geeks”. In one episode, after claiming that he has a serious peanut allergy, several bullies decide to sneak some peanuts into his lunch as a joke, only to send Bill to the hospital on a stretcher hooked up to an oxygen mask. On top of this, the character Bill himself is the classic school nerd archetype. He is scrawny, wears glasses, and is not popular.
So what does a scene like this subconsciously tell us? Character stereotypes in the media plant the idea in our heads that the people who have allergies are weak, scrawny, unpopular, and are making up their symptoms in the first place to get attention. I once saw a Tik Tok where a girl claimed that people with peanut allergies are just picky eaters whose parents never gave them a pb&j when they were younger. Not only this, but the media plants the idea into our heads that it is okay to bully and laugh at people with food allergies. Allergies have turned into one huge joke. Take Michael Scott, from The Office, who once said: “You know what? If I were allergic to dairy I think I’d kill myself”.
These messages in the media go beyond our screens, though, and into the real world. One time, at a birthday party, I accidentally ate a hamburger that contained egg (one of my allergens). As my reaction began, one of my closest friend’s first impulse was to laugh. I was annoyed at the time, but looking back I realize this laughter may have been partly due to the messages she has received from our world. The media doesn’t tend to the severity of allergic reactions, and it suggests that it is okay to laugh at those who experience them. After my friend realized how serious the situation was, she apologized. I forgave her, but I will never forget how representative that moment was of how the world portrays food allergic teens.
We food allergic teens are not making up our symptoms. Our reactions should be treated with respect and awareness. We are not weak, and we do not fit into one single character archetype. We are so diverse, with varied interests and hobbies. Most importantly, we do not deserve to be laughed at. It is time the media recognizes us for who we are and starts taking us seriously.