Allergy 101: ABC, Mickey Mouse & My Food Allergy
WHAT IF MY Food ALLERGY WAS A REAL, LIVE PERSON?
AND WHAT IF I COULD meet him weekly & talk ABOUT WHAT HE’S TAUGHT ME OVER THE YEARS?
I’m studying in a conference room at Huntsman Hall and Mr. A, my allergy, is staring at his cell phone laughing loudly.
“What are you watching on your cell?” I ask.
“Ha-ha-HA! Roseanne is funny,” he says. “I keep watching that episode over and over!”
I shrug off his comment.
He continues: “Making fun of allergies on national TV. YES!” He pumps his hands in the air.
“I didn’t see the episode,” I say. “But I read about it.”
“So funny,” he adds. “And I LOVED reading the comments online. The food allergy community was so mad. And the other side was like, ‘Get over it, softies!’”
“Some of the exchanges were heated,” I say.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” he asks, his tone turning serious. “Doesn’t it make you mad that this continues to happen?”
“Of course,” I admit. “But over the years, Mr. A, you’ve inadvertently taught me how to have thick skin. If I got upset every time someone said something negative to me, every time I saw a cheap joke on TV, I’d be completely let down. Today’s the perfect example. I could have spent all day getting upset by people making nasty comments minimizing something that could kill me. But why do it? Roseanne loves the publicity. And so does ABC. Do you really think ABC cares?"
Mr. A laughs again. “I think it’s funny because the food allergy people thought their voices were heard after Peter Rabbit. Nope.”
“Thick skin,” I repeat. “And patience. And persistence. I’m going to keep adding my voice working for change.”
“Do you really think anything will change?” he asks.
I look at him directly. “Dr. James R. Baker from FARE asked a question on Twitter right after the episode aired: ‘New Roseanne ended with a joke about taking out a child with peanut allergy. When will the jokes end?’”
Mr. A. laughs. "The jokes will never end.”
“Yes, they will,” I say.
I immediately counter. “The jokes will end when we get enough people to understand why it’s not funny. The jokes will end when we hold the right people accountable.”
He just looks at me. I’m speaking over his head, but I really don’t care.
“It’s not Roseanne who slapped the food allergy community this week,” I explain. “It was Mickey Mouse.”
“Mickey Mouse?” He gives me an odd look.
“Yes,” I continue. “ABC is owned by Disney. You know, Disney Land, Disney World… Mickey Mouse.”
Mr. A sits silent.
I continue: “When you have a food allergy, you could spend every drop of energy arguing with people who don’t understand or don’t care. I can’t waste my time with some Internet troll who sees nothing wrong with laughing in the face of someone who lost a child to a food allergy, or with some apologist who shrugs it off as some edgy joke, or some TV executive who sees little value in my side. So I will have thick skin. And I will have patience. And I will have persistence. And I will continue to hold the right people accountable.”
Mr. A. places his phone on the table. “Do you really think Mickey Mouse is going to apologize to you?”
“Mickey Mouse doesn’t have to apologize to me,” I say. “But he has outstanding chefs working for him who go above and beyond daily for the food allergy community at their theme parks. And he has FA bloggers advocating for him. And he has the food allergy industry’s top organizations whose endorsements add credibility and value to the Disney bottom line. And he has millions of families, just like my own, who have trusted a Disney property and who later bragged about their awesome park experiences. Disney has identified itself as an industry leader. And as an industry leader they just might — might — listen to their chefs and their FA bloggers and FA organizations and FA families who trusted them.”
Mickey owes them the apology.
I look at Mr. A’s phone.
“In the meantime, I’ll be fine. I have thick skin and patience and persistence. And you, well, your cell’s at 2 percent, and I’m not loaning you my charger to watch Roseanne.”
JJ Vulopas is a junior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com.