Food Allergies and Prime Time Television



I either watch way to much television or food allergies are great fodder for network writers. Either way, it seems that I regularly catch a television show or movie that mentions or pokes fun at food allergies. Usually it’s in a very negative and misinforming way.

ABC seems to be the worst offender.

Last year the food allergy community was up in arms when mom Sarah, on ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, packed her daughter Paige a peanut butter sandwich. When Paige said, “but mom, our school is peanut free.” Sarah responds, “tell your teacher it’s Sunbutter.” (Or Soybutter, I forget which.)


Many in the food allergy community felt that the above scene only encouraged what some parents actually do–send their kids to peanut free schools WITH peanut butter sandwiches.

Last night ABC did it again. Within the first fifteen minutes of Grey’s Anatomy, character Christina Yang was met with an overly anxious patient.

She states something along the lines of, “I have lots of allergies. I want to let you know because sometimes doctors seem like they are listening but they really aren’t.” (Good job so far except for the anxious part.)

Yang looks at her and nods with the go ahead look and looks back at the papers in her hand.

The patient goes on to list her “numerous” allergies. Yang looks up with shock/confusion on her face. The patient makes a take notes sign with her hand and Yang hurriedly starts to write down all the allergies.

The patient then tells Yang that she wants a pig valve replacement and not a cows valve because they are much cleaner. She also talks about the blanket and how it has a chemical smell among other things.

In short they paint the patient as an overly health conscious, neurotic, anxious, multiple allergy sufferer lunatic. Yang is upset because she studied the cow valve and now she has to do even more research/work. The patient can’t decide what is right and is a nervous wreck. A large part of the show follows this supposed “crazy” patient and her pig valve vs. cow valve decision.

Ironically the show also follows a young football star who has gotten hurt. To his dismay the injury is not so bad and he can return to the game. He has an overly touching scene with Dr. Shepherd about how he is scared to go back to the game, that it is dangerous and that he has young children now. He wants to be there for his kids. Shepherd tells him to quit and he says he can’t. His reasoning is that his fans are counting on him. That there are other people in the world in more dangerous jobs. That his reputation would be ruined. Everyone is near tears. Solution–give him knee replacement surgery so he can’t ever play again and he agrees.

The way I saw it was that the young rich football star, who was too scared to play and too proud to quit, was seen in a sympathetic light.

The everyday allergy sufferer who needed a heart valve replacement was seen as crazy as a loon.

Some might say, “It’s just a television show. It’s entertainment. It’s fiction.”

My response is, each time a popular television show or movie misrepresents allergies or paints the allergy community in a poor light, it perpetuates the spread of misinformation and ignorance.

Not all allergy sufferers are crazy anxious people, nor is it crazy to ask for accommodations that are needed to keep oneself safe, alive and reaction free.

I am amazed daily that our society would never think to poke fun at those with cancer or autism. It’s not politically correct. But somehow it’s okay to treat those with allergies/food allergies differently. Will this every change?

Have you seen a movie or show that painted allergies in a bad or good way? Share them with us in the comments section below.