Food Allergy Portrayal in the Media

June 5, 2020

One thing that has always stood out to me in having food allergies is the way that it is portrayed in movies and television. Through the years of watching loads of TV and movies, I as well as others have realized that food allergies are often portrayed in a negative light. Kids with food allergies are viewed as high maintenance, nerdy, and often the target of a joke.

One instance that I can recall relates to the Disney Channel TV show Jessie, where the topic of Celiac Disease (another food-related medical condition) was brought up. A character, who was made out to be an annoying and “weird” person had Celiac Disease, yet other characters threw pancakes at him as he cried out “Gluten!” Obviously, this portrayal of Celiac Disease as a minor inconvenience and a joke to tease other characters is not something kids should be thinking and applying to their everyday life. Luckily, after a petition was signed, the episode was removed. It brings to light just how dangerously inaccurate food intolerances are portrayed!

Another example that sticks with me is from the TV show Freaks and Geeks, where a bully tricks a character, Bill, and puts his allergen in his lunch. Bill is then rushed to the hospital as he experiences anaphylaxis, while the bully claims, “I thought he was faking it, he’s always lying about stuff like that. I never knew he was really allergic, I swear.” This portrayal is especially dangerous, subconsciously teaching viewers that tricking someone with food allergies is “just a prank” and okay. Viewers watch as a character with food allergies life is threatened all for the sake of a joke.

In general, the media tends to view food allergies as something that “nerdy” characters have that others use as a prank. Though some may argue that it is used for the sake of comedy in a plot line, what happens when a young kid watches as his friend experiences an allergic reaction and recalls the TV episode where it was treated like a joke? What happens when an ill-informed teacher watches her student going into anaphylaxis and can only think of the moment from a movie where no one did anything? What about when a young kid is too afraid to tell the host of a party that she has a food allergy, worried that her peers would think she is a nerd? A negative portrayal of a serious, life-threatening condition is not just inaccurate and disrespecting to those with food allergies, but it can also be deadly.

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