The new kids’ movie, “Peter Rabbit,” has come under fire after its release on Feb. 9, not because the silly movie based on Beatrix Potter’s classic stories doesn’t seem much like the source material, but because it’s being accused of taking food allergies too lightly.
There’s a scene in the movie in which Peter and his bunny pals pelt blackberries at Mr. McGregor, who has a severe blackberry allergy that is severe enough to require him to administer his EpiPen.
Following the movie’s release, the organization Kids with Food Allergies posted a warning about the scene on its Facebook Page. Soon thereafter, the Twitter hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit started picking up steam, prompting Sony Pictures to apologize for making light of food allergies.
People on Twitter were quick to voice their opinions, with a strong mix of feelings.
The boycotters were saying:
Others felt it wasn’t worth a boycott:
I’m already seen as a ‘helicopter mom…’
The outcry over the scene has me, the mother of a child with severe food allergies, feeling conflicted.
On the one hand, I’m hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. I’ve been advocating on behalf of food allergy awareness for the past decade, ever since my daughter’s first allergic reaction landed us in the emergency room.
Part of that advocacy is extremely heightened vigilance in the form of questioning ingredients at every family party, class party and birthday party we attend.
Because of the need to question everything all the time, I’m already seen as somewhat of a helicopter mom. I just don’t like also being seen as a mom who can’t take a joke.
On the other hand, I hate that people don’t take food allergies seriously enough. Too many people don’t think they’re real, or think parents exaggerate their severity. And movies that treat allergic reactions as a punch line just contribute to that problem.
Milwaukee mom Karen Kovochich, whose son is allergic to tree nuts, agrees.
She notes that people already don’t seem to understand food allergies.
“People have to acknowledge that this is a real thing,” Kovochich said. “We’re not making this up.”
Joking about food allergies is insensitive
In addition to the lack of appreciation of the severity of food allergies, joking about the subject can also be seen as insensitive, both to parents who have to deal with the fear of their children having an allergic reaction and to the children themselves.
“Nowadays, when allergies are so prevalent, to make a joke of that is extremely insensitive,” Kovochich said.
“How scary is that for someone like my child, who has had an allergic reaction and is scared of having one in the future, to have to watch that when he thinks he’s going to a movie to be entertained?”
My husband, Jonathan, had the same thought. He points out that a joke about food allergies is a joke about, not necessarily a disease, but a health condition.
He asks, “Would making a joke about cancer be funny?”
My final conclusion is that it seems to many of us in the food allergy community that Sony Pictures was correct in its apology that the “Peter Rabbit” scene doesn’t take allergies seriously.
“Food allergies are very serious,” my daughter Alex reiterates. “People might not realize how serious they can be. People won’t take them seriously if these jokes continue to happen.”