Peter Rabbit and The Tale of the Allergy Bullying

It’s not often that food allergies make headlines, but this week there have been articles in as unlikely sources as Vanity Fair.  In case, you have missed it, I’ll summarise.  A film, based on the Beatrix Potter books, has been released this week.  It has caused a furore because part of the plot involves Peter Rabbit deliberately pelting a boy with blackberries because Peter knows that the child is allergic to them.  Luckily, the boy uses his Epipen and survives.  I should say that I have not seen the film because I hate the frenetic pace of the TV series.  The film doesn’t exactly sound like comedy gold, but is the outcry justified?

Last year, thirteen year old, dairy allergic Karanbir Cheema died after allegedly having cheese forced on him at school.  This must have been devastating for his family, and it was only too easy for me to imagine this happening to the Allergy Brothers.  I hope that the perpetrator simply didn’t realise what they were doing, because, in our experience, that is pretty common.

It’s been quite sad to discover how little knowledge some people have about food allergies and how uninterested some people are in keeping the Allergy Brothers safe.  When Allergy Big was a toddler, playdates with his best friend became very difficult.  Despite knowing that he had food allergies, his friend’s Mum would give her little boy snacks, containing Allergy Big’s allergens,  when he was visiting our house.  Toddlers are not tidy eaters and he would toddle about leaving behind a trail of crumbs and dribble.  I would have to watch like a hawk, putting any contaminated toys out of Allergy Big’s reach.  Afterwards, I would have to thoroughly clean them, before the toys could be returned to Allergy Big.  It just became impossible to maintain this long-standing friendship, which was very sad, but Allergy Big’s safety was much more important.

Sometimes, people just show a lack of knowledge.  When the Allergy Brothers were about four and two years old, a family friend happily told us about her first pregnancy.  We were delighted for her, but quite disturbed when she followed it up be saying “what did you eat when you were pregnant, because I don’t want my kids to have food allergies like yours?”  I managed to resist saying my first answer “mainly kebabs and Stella!”  I didn’t really know how to reply though.  I am fairly certain that allergies of the magnitude and range of the Allergy Brothers’ aren’t caused by the fact I had a hankering for lime pickle during my pregnancy.

But does playground allergy bullying happen?  In our experience, yes.  Before I share our experience, I want to make it clear that I don’t believe that it was deliberate bullying or the young child involved understood what they were doing.  A child at the Allergy Brothers’ school started storing their lunch yoghurt in their cheeks and then, when they were released into the playground, they spat the yoghurt over the Allergy Brothers.  I am pretty sure that it started accidently with yoghurt spraying on one of the Allergy Brothers when the yoghurt pot lid was removed.  The young child involved possibly enjoyed their dramatic responses to this, and so repeated this by spitting yoghurt on them.  We are very grateful that the Allergy Brothers’ school dealt with this straight away, when we made them aware of it after the second day of it happening.  We have never had a repeat of this type of incident, but it made me really aware of just how vulnerable the Allergy Brothers are.

So does the Peter Rabbit film matter?  Yes and no.  Children’s cartoons involve all sorts of outlandish behaviour that we wouldn’t expect children to copy.  However, there is so much misinformation and disinterest in keeping people with allergies safe in society in general, that anything that adds to this has got to be a bad thing.

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