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'Peter Rabbit' Movie Delivers Potentially Harmful Joke

What to know before you go

Published on: February 12, 2018

Peter-Rabbit

The cutesy new animated film "Peter Rabbit" is loaded with a spectacular cast, slapstick humor and, oh yeah, a storyline about purposefully attacking a character with his known food allergen. The story turns frightening fast, as the character goes into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock and is forced to administer an EpiPen to save his life.

This scene is controversial for a couple of reasons. One, it uses a potentially deadly medical condition as a ha-ha funny joke and two, it depicts something that some kids with food allergies have experienced in real life: food allergy bullying. Food allergy bullying can be life-threatening (and happens to nearly one-third of kids with food allergies!).

None of this is okay. It not only minimizes the realities of those who live with food allergies and can contribute to the bullying culture, but it can be distressing for kids to watch — especially if they've gone through the stress of experiencing anaphylaxis and the use of an EpiPen.  

Understandably, parents and experts around the country have condemned this particular plot line. “Depicting a character being attacked intentionally with his food allergen in order to trigger anaphylaxis is alarming,” says Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “With 6 million kids living with potentially life-threatening food allergies across America, anaphylaxis is not funny.”

The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (a division of AAFA) has issued a warning for parents and their young charges with food allergies, and although Sony Pictures has since apologized for this severe error in judgment, I have to wonder: Is this enough?

I know it's difficult to understand food allergies if you or your kids don't suffer from them. It may seem like no big deal, or like everyone is making it up. But it is a big deal, and it can actually be a huge, scary deal.

My family was introduced to food allergies when my second child was in preschool. He ate peanut butter crackers for a snack and broke out into hives on his face. We were clueless back then and even though he was thankfully fine, we had him go through a full spectrum of food allergy testing, got an EpiPen script, and learned the ins and outs of product labels.

Since then, we've had two more kids with food allergies join the family. We're now 14 years in to reading food labels and carrying those essential rescue meds, but we've had a few unhappy surprises despite our experience — including the time my daughter ate candy at a friend's house that had pecans in it. She had no prior diagnosed food allergies before this and assumed that it would be totally fine to eat the candy. Well it wasn't, and she came home in the middle of an anaphylactic reaction that was probably one of the scariest things I've experienced as a parent. Seeing my teenager drooling, flushing bright pink, struggling to breathe and looking at me with terror in her eyes was something I'll never forget.

Thankfully, we had a happy ending with her. But having gone through 14 years worth of food allergies in my kids, I will never understand how or why such a terrible joke made its way through the story-making process to the big screen.

If you're going to take your kids to see "Peter Rabbit," talk to them about this scene. Make sure they know that allergies aren't a joke and that someone can die if they decide to play this kind of "joke" on them. Lives may depend on it.

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