Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Smurfing Food Allergies?

While I have written guest blog pieces for other blogs, I have not previously considered posting someone else's words here.  This blog is, after all, about my Overachieving Bunch!  But every so often, someone will explain my thoughts and feelings even better than I can for myself.  

Today's post is written by one of the friends that I referenced in my recent post about walking the line between reasonable accommodations that allow allergic kids to live and those that are more about making adults feel better than anything else.  Sandra is the mother of two children, including a 9 year old with an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts.  She is often the example that I look to when I need a balanced perspective so (naturally!) I had to talk to her when I started seeing calls to boycott The Smurfs 2.  Here's what she has to say on the subject.

Sandra and her daughter,
living without fear of peanut allergy
Living with two tweens, I sort of expected The Smurfs 2 to make a commotion. The first is one of our favorites, so the second was on our must see list. I did not know that the film would be making a splash in the allergy community. In retrospect, I’m glad I did not know because it allowed me to view the film without bias. 
First let’s understand what has caused the ruckus. There is a scene early in the film where the main characters, Patrick and Grace (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays), are throwing a birthday party for their 4 year old son, Blue. It’s established that there are some specific dietary needs, and that Patrick and Grace are doing all they can to address them properly. Enter Patrick’s step-father, Victor. Patrick seems to perceive Victor as a sort of bumbling embarrassment who always messes things up. Enter food allergies. Victor begins to hand out corn dogs to the party guests. One set of parents asks if the corn dog has peanuts. Victor responds that it doesn’t. Once the boy begins to bite into the dog, Victor continues that it’d be silly to include peanuts in the recipe since the whole thing is fried in peanut oil. 
I waited. What now? Is this the joke? My daughter nestled down into my arm and whispered “Is he going to have a reaction?” On screen the adults fly into action. Grace grabs the phone. I took it to be that she was calling 911. In the following scene, Patrick is on the phone with the boy’s parents. He clearly addresses two key points – the boy had a reaction that included hives and swelling in his throat. The boy is now fine, having been treated in a timely and proper manner. It’s Victor again who doesn’t quite get it. He says something to the effect of “at least it wasn’t life threatening.” Patrick’s response, while not verbal, conveys the message that the reaction was life threatening and Victor is again clueless. 
Some are calling the film out for "making light" of allergies. Not all of them have seen the film.  Having helped my daughter manage her food allergies for 7 years, I have seen many cringe worthy allergy references in entertainment vehicles. This was not one of those. This was a scene that showed one adult who clearly did not understand the severity of food allergies and it showed other adults who did, in fact, “get it.” Not only that, it showed a realistic response, albeit medication and trip to the ER was not included in the content itself. The call was being placed for medical care, however, and the severe reaction was referenced. 
This raises several points I think we all can learn from.

  1. Including reference to allergies in media can be used as a vehicle to raise awareness. There were audible gasps in the theater today when the words “peanut oil” were uttered. People got it. Not all of them, but enough of them to make the point to the rest. Perhaps the next time one of them is asked “Is there peanuts in this?” the people who saw this will remember to think beyond the actual nut. Maybe when someone says “Is there milk in this” There’s a second thought of “Does cheese count?”  
  2. Including reference to allergies in media can open dialogue. As my daughter nestled into my arm and wondered about the young boy, I took advantage of the teaching moment.  “They responded as they should. If it's fried, ask about the oil -lesson learned. Right?” I said to her. And she nodded. Hours later, that scene is far from her mind. She’s off rattling about all the things that made her laugh.
  3. Kids like to see themselves in their toys, books, films and tv shows. When Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs came out, my daughter loved Sam Sparks for one simple reason. “She’s me!” Yes. Exactly. Red hair? Check. Smart chick? Check. Glasses? Check. Food allergies? Check. When American Girl introduced an allergy lunch kit last year, my daughter was ecstatic. Her look-almost-alike doll already had a pair of glasses. Now she could have her own auto-injector. Of course, she also adores the newest American Girl, Girl of the Year because Saige has blue eyes, red hair, likes to ride horses, gets stage fright and is a budding artist. Check. Check. Check. And check.

    Having food allergic characters in films is not a bad thing as long as it’s handled in a respectful manner. It shows us all that normal, everyday kids have food allergies. They also go to birthday parties and become weather reporters with an adventurous streak.

    With Sandra's experience and opinion, and knowing that she is my allergy mom alter ego, I am very glad that I chose to withhold judgment.  And I think that I will be taking the boys to see The Smurfs 2, because I like to support those that make the effort to realistically show what life is like for families with foods allergies. 


    1. I didn't like it. I thought NPH's schtick about how the cake was made was a crack at "hysterical" parents whose kids have allergies. I didn't think it was respectful of food allergies in the least. Just my opinion but I was Smurfappointed.

      1. I agree! I found it rude and offensive. The offensive part was when he brought in the cake and listed off what it was "free" of, as if parents these days are so annoying and overprotective with their kids and their neediness. They tried to save face I guess by taking the peanut allergy seriously (after "haha" there was peanut oil in it). I don't go to family movies to be offended.

      2. I completely agree! They set it up by making fun of overprotective parents. And I also think they tried to save face with the later scene where he says the kid is ok. It almost seemed like an afterthought to put that scene in to save face.

    2. KC, I respect your point of view, even if I don't completely agree. Some of what NPH lists about the special cake, if I recall, had little to do with "needs" and more to do with lifestyle choices - organic and vegan, for example. Was it a joke? Probably. I didn't take offense, however, I can understand why some would. Nor did I think it was simply about allergies. The part that *was* specific to allergies did express a sense of urgency and seriousness. The simple fact that Grace moves to call for medical help is much more you'd usually see and expressed exactly how serious a reaction can be.

    3. His reference wasn't about food allergies, but rather about parents who are ridiculous about what their children eat, to the point where they won't let their children enjoy a birthday party.

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    5. You have a good point, Kendra. While others may not think that a simple allergy can be treated, it can be life threatening as well. Just make sure that you know your limit, and that you take some meds that counter the effect of the allergen beforehand so that you can enjoy your cravings.


      1. I'm not sure that I follow, Diane.

        I do not advocate for allergic individuals to premedicate themselves so they can knowingly consume an allergen that they are craving. While I know many people that do this and generally have been lucky to get away with it, I also know others that have nearly lost their lives this way.

        If you would, please direct me to whatever words I have posted that have led you to believe that I would condone this practice so I can issue a clarification.

        Thanks a bunch!



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