Food Allergies Are Not Funny

I have a 3-year-old son with food allergies, peanut among them.

Smurfs 2 opened today across the U.S. and the film wasted no time joking about food allergies, peanut specifically — jokes about something that can be fatal…in a movie geared toward children, those most at risk.

A 2011 study revealed that “40% of kids with food allergies experience severe symptoms such as wheezing and anaphylaxis, which is characterized by difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure.”

“I don’t think people quite understand food allergy,” says study researcher Ruchi S. Gupta, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “It could be something that’s life-threatening. It could cause death.”

The study found that food allergies were highest in preschoolers, peaking between 3 to 5 years of age.

Teenagers, however, particularly boys, were most likely to experience severe, life-threatening reactions.

Food allergies are not funny. We send snacks to school with our son because 95 percent of the time he can’t have what his classmates are having. At birthday parties, he gets a snack from us instead of cake. At restaurants, we talk to the chef about what is in their hamburgers and buns. Why? BECAUSE HE COULD DIE IF WE DON’T. We are vigilant, as are many parents, but sometimes even that isn’t enough. If people don’t deal with food allergies and/or are uneducated about them, they tend to underestimate the seriousness and potential consequences of an allergic reaction. More education is necessary.

My wife sent the following to Sony Pictures:

It is really disappointing and appalling that Sony Pictures chose to include a scene that makes fun of a child’s allergic reaction to peanuts in Smurfs 2. I can’t even begin to imagine how this scene made it through so many levels of approval and that no one in their right mind thought it was inappropriate enough to cut the scene (never mind that it should never have been written or shot to begin with).

I think the story about 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi who died last week from a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter while she was attending Camp Sacramento with her family is a tragic enough reminder that NO ONE should EVER make fun of food allergies, especially a company with such a high profile like Sony Pictures.

I was at an advanced screening of Smurfs 2 with my family and my husband and I were both shocked by the scene, while we sat next to our 3-year-old peanut allergic son and seven-year-old son who is always concerned and diligent about what his little brother eats. 

How can we expect teachers, friends, caregivers & strangers to take his peanut allergy seriously when Sony Pictures includes a scene mocking an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, a potentially fatal reaction, for cheap laughs????

Well said.

Food allergies are scary and can be deadly. They’re definitely not funny.

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Comments

  1. Thank you, well said …

    Both of my kids have food allergies (daughter – dairy/melon; son – wheat/peanut!)

    My son a few years ago had a food reaction which required an epi pen shot and we spent four hours in the ER … on Christmas Eve!

    Not funny at all.

    Both of them were really looking forward to seeing this movie, when I told my daughter about the scene she said “that’s just mean, Dad”

    I first saw a post about this from the Food Allergy Research & Education facebook page and I passed it along to my kids’ pediatrician and allergist via social media.

    Again, thank you for the blog about it!

  2. Thank you. I thought the “joke?” about the peanut allergy was thoughtless, cruel, and potentially dangerous, given the movie’s target audience of young children. Shame on Sony Pictures.

  3. I, too, have two children with life-threatening food allergies: daughter-milk & tree nuts; son-peanuts & tree nuts. It took my husband & I SO much time and effort to convince family members that it is a LIFE OR DEATH situation (they believed that we were over-reacting/ exaggerating). It’s a shame that there are still those out there that are ignorant to the true danger and the fear that parents experience every day in their daily lives just to keep their children safe.

  4. Steve Smith says:

    I think the scene showed how careful the family was to make sure that the environment was clear of any potential harm, and then the step-dad came in clueless and fed all the children the corndog fried in peanut oil. I don’t think they were making fun of the allergy. I think they were making fun at the idiotic step-dad. My brother is not only a pediatrician, but his daughter (my niece) has a sever peanut allergy. My brother sent me one of the articles written about this movie this morning and he was not disappointed, ashamed or anything else with Sony. We happen to know the little boy who played the ‘peanut kid” and my brother was laughing at the over the top reaction. We need to sit back and ask ourselves if Sony Pictures really wanted to offend the world by using this as a platform? I really doubt it! we have so many other huge issues in our crumbling society that we should be focusing on, while at the same time as taking care of our children with each of their individual needs as best we can.

    • In my opinion, from the start of the scene, this movie was making fun of today’s parents, implying that we are all just so over the top, over protective, and hyper about our kids with food allergies. Carrying in the cake saying its gluten free peanut free vegan made with love, etc, is NOT what I saw as just “making sure” everyone could eat this cake. It was a way to get people to nod in agreement and roll their eyes at all of the “crazy” parents out there, to get laughs out of a serious health crisis in our society. Parents and their kids did not ask for this increase in food allergies, and I certainly don’t expect a family movie to try to get cheap laughs out if it.

      • I agree, Ellen. I saw NPH’s whole schtick about the cake as a crack on hysterical parents of food-allergic kids.

      • As the parent of a peanut allergic child who almost lost his life to an anaphylactic reaction
        , I will continue to get “crazy” and be “over the top”, hyper and over protective because my child’s life depends on it in a world filled with people who just don’t give a sh*t.

    • First off I haven’t seen the movie , I can’t comment on it.
      But even if this scene is not bullying a food allergic child it is instilling fear in the allergic children who watch it; that they can’t even trust people they thought they could. Trust me they don’t need any help with that.
      Secondly, your last sentence talks about “taking care if a crumbling society and also taking care of our children as best we can.” An allergic parents motto is not to do our “best” but we have to be perfect. If we aren’t then our kids die. So for me educating our “crumbling society” to be sensitive, not bully, not inflict fear, and not purposefully or accidentally kill my child with multiple anaphylaxis food allergies is the most important thing. what is more important than a human life in our “crumbling society?”

      • Christina says:

        I haven’t seen the movie either. But I love what you say here. My son is very allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs. As parents we do have to be perfect.

    • Christina says:

      I have to disagree with your comment that there are other things we should be focusing on. People need to be educated about food allergies. That is exactly what we should be focusing on.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great letter

  6. Anonymous says:

    As Joan Rivers once said to a heckler, “Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with things.” Can’t we apply the masks of comedy and tragedy to most situations in our lives?

    I didn’t see the scene as ridicule for either the parents of the child with the allergy or the child himself. In fact, I think the scene went out its way to show how the family holding the birthday party went out of their way to be inclusive of all the children’s needs. It wasn’t the parents of the child being portrayed as being pushy and whiny, which is a stereotype that we’ve often seen. The list of things we need to be aware of these days has grown, and I think that’s where the eye-rolling moment more aptly fits. It’s exhausting to have to keep these things in mind, and perhaps that’s where parents of children with allergies can identify with in the scene.

    Someone mentioned that this could qualify as a learning moment, and I think that’s the better reaction. The stepfather in the scene represented people who are unaware of the seriousness of the situation. The character was referred to as the “Corndog King,” and as someone who works in the food industry, he should have been more aware of allergies. The scene showed the parents and other partygoers acting promptly. I didn’t see any comedic or slapstick actions involved in dealing with the serious situation, nor was the child shown reacting to the corndog. Plus, there’s a follow up scene that mentions that the child received proper care and was recovering.

    I don’t think that the filmmakers intended to anger, shock, or alienate any members of their audience. I think they only wanted to take something that is very prevalent in our everyday lives that most people can identify with and put a slight funny spin on it. I can see how the scene can be a little too real for some people.

    Maybe the best statement is: Although the birthday party scene in “Smurfs 2” was played for comedic effects, the situation portrayed is a very serious one.

    I really think this scene could be used to educate a lot of people if used in the proper context and not a moment of division.

  7. Food allergies are different from child to child. When a child can die from the smallest about of nut protein in something it is serious. Whoever thinks a parent is hysterical trying to protect the child needs to rethink what they are saying.

  8. I took my six year old daughter (severe peanut allergy) to this movie last night. After that scene she looked at me and said “That is not funny. I want to leave NOW”. She was very upset the rest of the night. It is traumatic enough for these kids to have to worry about what they eat all the time, without being made into a joke. 😦 Disappointing.

  9. Tony Cook says:

    Thank you!