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The Challenge of Food Allergy Inclusion in Media and TV
by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Years ago, people hardly heard anything about food allergies on television or radio. We didn’t read about them in the daily newspaper either. Parents, physicians, and other caregivers became more vocal as it became evident this group of people were not in a bubble alone—millions of others were affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis. Social media provided an even larger platform for family members, caregivers, and allies to go into warp speed as advocates. Social media offered a way to connect with others, share ideas, and even push for legislation with the backing of each other.
We have trailblazing advocates in support groups across the United States, charity events to raise awareness and funds for research, changes in laws to help protect those in our community, and a plethora of allergen-friendly foods. The world has heard our voices. Interestingly, the media and screen writers have heard us too. Some have been impacted directly by food allergies. Others have written food allergies into their jokes or unflattering stories on television or the big screen.
I remember the first time I heard a comedian making fun of food allergies. I was horrified. After dealing with anaphylaxis in my own family, I know the fear, guilt, and responsibility we feel living with food allergies. I couldn’t believe someone thought it was funny to talk about a person’s face swelling up, hives popping up all over, or having trouble breathing. Who would ever joke about something that could take a person’s life? And who would make a joke as if using epinephrine is like popping a soda top and just moving on? Seeing other advocates upset helped me realize my outrage was not unwarranted. Others may have felt we were taking it too seriously, but the truth is that it is serious!
So how do we navigate a world where the health condition we must manage is the brunt of jokes or misunderstood? Here are a few things we can do to use the media for good.
- Speak up when jokes are made by contacting show writers and studio executives to express your concern in a positive, healthy way.
- Have real conversations with your family so they can educate others on the severity of food allergies.
- Help others see that food allergies do not discriminate—they can impact anyone regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, social economic class, or age.
- Continue to educate yourself on new research, including information on disparities.
- Speak with your physicians about ways they can increase awareness about food allergies in all communities.
- Join charity events and support initiatives like FAACT’s Teal Ghost at Walmart.
- Work with local and online support groups to raise awareness.
- Volunteer at local schools to help with teacher education days and bring printouts from research-based websites.
- Help others who think food allergies are ok to poke fun at by educating them on the dangers of not being cautious when someone has a food allergy.
We may never get people fully on board, but we can certainly sway some of them in the direction of understanding. We’ve come a long way from people thinking food allergies aren’t possible. Continue pushing for healthier ways to look at food allergies and show grace to those who are simply ignorant of our plight as you educate them. And most importantly, remain vigilant and stay safe!