Food allergies are not funny


It seems that adults need to be reminded and educated of the dangers life-threatening food allergies possess. If you think taunting people that have life-threatening food allergies occur only with very young children, you would be sadly mistaken. Case in point, comedian Jimmy Fallon’s in his recent sketch “Masculine Man Masks Commercial” states that his character’s masks “don’t have to make you look like a big sissy with a shellfish allergy.”

It is no wonder why kids and adults are embarrassed and bullied due to food allergies. When he makes light of this kind of situation, Fallon puts my child and others like him at risk by perpetuating the myth that food allergies are not serious.

It was not funny when my young child begged me not to let him die as his throat was closing upon exposure to his poison, peanut. He clutched his throat, and he was so very frightened. Seeing the light slowly fade from his eyes did not inspire laughter from me. No one asks for this condition. No one.

Caroline Moassessi recently interviewed me for an upcoming Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Team (FAACT) podcast. She asked me as an advocate who collects testimonials of food allergy passengers, if a particular story sits with me. I recounted a family who, upon disclosing their young child’s peanut allergy, was asked to leave the plane. The next day they flew and chose to conceal the child’s peanut allergy.

If children are taught to hide a food allergy (a legitimate medical condition) for fear of removal from the plane, one day, when traveling alone, they may make the same decision and be exposed to their allergen. The situation could turn fatal, especially since the staff would not be aware that anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) was happening, and of the critical need to quickly give epinephrine. This is a real consequence of making light of life-threatening food allergies.

Many in the food allergy community believe that responding to such negativity or expressing extreme distress in response to such skits encourages comedians with such dialogue. In my opinion, silence does not work. Dismissing this as “only comedy” normalizes this abuse.

If we do not raise objections to this kind of comedy, we are teaching those around us that food allergies can be funny. It is no that surprise that data indicates kids and adults are anxious, embarrassed, and bullied due to food allergies. When we make light of anaphylaxis, we perpetuate the misleading stigma regarding food allergies.

It has been my steadfast belief that in educating the greater public on the potential severity of food allergies, we will reach a point where it will be taboo to make these kinds of “jokes” publicly. I hope for a day that it is simply unacceptable to joke about food allergies. Clearly, we are not there yet.

Lianne Mandelbaum is founder, the No Nut Traveler, and can be reached on Twitter @nonuttraveler.

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