Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nickmom, Bake Sales and Food Allergy Portrayal in the Media

We aren't the first ones to
really, really hate this show...
So I'm trying to get incensed and dig up some outrage over the whole Nickmom allergy video. (The video has already been taken down or I'd link it for you.) But I'm just not feeling it, even after a couple of Red Bulls, despite how good a tirade would probably be for my web traffic.

I watched the video this morning before work so I don't remember everything, but the gist of it seemed to be that the extra demands of FA-aware bake sales stress the moms of non-allergic kids out. There was a table for "milk-free" and one for "peanut-free", etc. etc.

While I was watching it, I thought to myself "What an awesome school! Wouldn't it be great if that were REALLY the way a bake sale went?

Which leads me to ask the question: why was this video so very offensive to allergic moms?

Assuming nirvana was actually reached and the school/PTA/after-school group actually accommodated us and made separate tables at a bake sale for allergens, it probably would be pretty stressful for other moms to figure out. Just restricting peanut foods in the classroom or lunchroom has caused a backlash with some parents. As I've posted before, a national study showed that 50% of Americans think food allergy concerns are blown out of proportion.

Backlash...without the laugh track
So...Nickmom took an issue that we know is polarizing and exaggerated it for humor. That's pretty much the formula for cutting-edge comedy these days. Dozens of television shows (including the ones I wrote about in the very first month of this blog) have done the same thing. It wasn't very funny...but it also shouldn't have been surprising.

It's great that Nickmom has already taken the video down. However, removing the video doesn't change the thinking of the young man who wrote the video. It doesn't change the thinking of the moms who related to it and laughed at it. The video is the symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

If we want Hollywood to portray food allergies realistically and sympathetically, not as a plot device for laughs or as a means to further divide a country that's already divided over food allergies, we have to change the heart and minds of the people who find the video funny in the first place. I think that's happening naturally to some degree (just as it did with AIDS, another disease that suffered from a social stigma) because more and more people know a child with allergies. But I also think the strident tone of some of the FA moms who posted comments works against us.

I concluded a couple of things after thinking about this for a while:

The pictures of the kids after allergic reactions are far more powerful than any words. There's nothing polarizing about a little baby face all swollen with hives, or a toddler in a crib at the hospital with an IV. We tell our kids to "use their words", but as adults, we need to use our pictures more. The stridency of our words can work against us; the pictures are the compelling message.

Dads need to speak up. I saw one dad comment on the site. His comment was very measured, very well done, and it got the most "likes" of any I saw. Why are our children's fathers not out there speaking for their kids? Let's ask them to do more.

I would love to see the energy from today, and those powerful images, preserved on a web page called something like "The Faces of Food Allergy." Anyone have the energy to make that happen? Perhaps the FARE group will make it a campaign someday.

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  1. I agree with your point that the video is a symptom of the "disease", but it also contributed to the problem by supporting negative stereotypes of food allergy moms. They were portrayed as making unreasonable demands on others (eg dye-free food because one of them read on the internet that food dye causes acne) and ruining the bake sale for everyone by allowing only "flavor free" items.

  2. A Mum in Australia has made a video you might like to watch. Ignoring the spelling errors, it shows some of those faces of our allergic children, as an awareness campaign:

  3. It would be nice to see FARE do a food allergy awareness TV commercial. It would also be great to have celebrity advocates whose lives have been touched by food allergies be part of a public awareness and education campaign (on TV and elsewhere), just as some did for the Autism Speaks campaign. Celebrity voices have a huge impact on the public.

  4. As a food allergy dad, i was thinking about starting a blog as well... more voices always help!

  5. I hope you'll do it, Russell! I would love to read Dad blogs on FA. There are so few out there and it's such a valuable perspective.


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