Harmless Peter Rabbit movie sparks dark controversy

Modern retelling of the classic Beatrix Potter story

Modern retelling of the classic Beatrix Potter story "Peter Rabbit" has food allergy advocates hopping mad.

From book pages to movie and TV screens, Peter Rabbit has always been a mysterious, but loved character throughout America. Beatrix Potter, the author of the tale, brought to life the character in 1902. On Feb. 9, the classic story was adapted  into a movie, but the release did not go as planned. Once an innocent kid movie, it has now enraged parents around the country about a serious issue: food allergies.

“Peter Rabbit” has been accused of incorporating scenes that bully those with food allergies. In the movie, Mr. McGregor, Peter Rabbit’s enemy, suffers an anaphylaxis reaction. A gang of bunnies feeds the character blackberries, although they are well aware that he is allergic to them. This caused him to lose his breath and he has to stab himself with his EpiPen after his near-death experience.

Parents can’t handle the cruel joke, as well as numerous food allergy organizations such as Asthma and Allergy Network, Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity and Kids with Food Allergies Foundation.

The ‘joke’ also hit home with kids who deal with food allergies.

Sophomore Dara Cimberberg, who is allergic to many citrus foods, said, “I think they went a little too far since they made him stop breathing, but if they didn’t do that, then I don’t think it would’ve been that big of a deal.”

Although the controversy may seem overblown to some, the lack of seriousness of the issue is what the problem is about.

Food allergies are not a joke: according the the Food Allergy Research and Education, about 200,000 people suffer a state of emergency yearly due to allergic reactions. During an anaphylactic reaction, the body’s immune system has a severe reaction. A typical reaction includes the swelling of the throat and loss of air. They can be deadly without the treatment of an epipen.

James Baker, CEO of FARE released the following statement in response to the film: “While we have made major strides in helping the general public understand that food allergies are a serious public health issue, we are taken backwards when a movie, television show or comedian chooses to make food allergy the butt of a joke and gets laughs out of it.”

Time is limited during a reaction, and one only has a few minutes to save a life. The fact that a children’s movie would poke fun at that is alarming when kids should be learning how to prevent such reactions, not cause them.

As a person with a severe peanut allergy since infancy, I have personally experienced many struggles that come with having a food allergy. When I was young, the environment around me, whether it was my home or school, influenced me. My mom taught me everything there is to know about avoiding the possibility of an allergic reaction. She instructed me how to properly read labels and to clean my area in public spaces. I was never exposed to the actual danger of my condition until the age of six.

One day, I went to my grandma’s house for dinner. Around dessert time, we pulled out cookies my grandma bought from the supermarket. We hadn’t thought to check the label because it was a brand we had already been purchasing for years. Little did we know, there were traces of nuts. It took one cookie to trigger a reaction that would alter my perspective of my condition. One tiny particle of a peanut caused me to go into a full anaphylaxis reaction. My throat tightened up and I couldn’t breathe. My dad tried to shove Benadryl down my throat, but I was physically incapable. I was rushed to the Emergency Room where the nurses treated me with an Epipen to stop the reaction. Luckily, the reaction subsided and I was okay. If it weren’t for my Epipen, I wouldn’t be alive today.

Since my experience, I’ve been left with anxiety about a potential reaction. To help combat my anxiety, I’ve joined organizations like FARE and became an ambassador for Spokin, an allergy awareness phone app. I help come up with ideas to combat obstacles for those affected by allergens as well as advertise the app through social media.

FARE also reported that kids with food allergies are twice as likely to be bullied compared to those without a medical condition. With “Peter Rabbit’s” inconsiderate feature on food allergies, they are feeding into a harmful struggle that people with allergies face everyday.  

Sony, the company that produced “Peter Rabbit” has issued an apology for their insensitivity. The statement read, “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s arch nemesis Mr. McGregor being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”

For the future, society as a whole should work on spreading awareness of the severity of food allergic reactions. Bullying will only lead people to treat life-threatening conditions as a joke.