What a day for Celiac Awareness! The web is all a buzz with Gluten Dude’s latest post about a Disney television show plot line where a gluten free character is bullied, mocked and, in my opinion, assaulted. The Disney Channel show “Jessie,” aired an episode guest starring JJ Totah who plays Stuart. Described as a”9-year-old smart wiz boy” by Wikipedia, Stuart encounters some rough moments in the episode because he is gluten free.
In the episode with the controversial scenes about gluten, Stuart is attending a sleepover at his friend’s house only to find that his dietary needs are mocked and undermined. Here is the clip posted by Gluten Dude:
I think it should go without saying that these scenes are abhorrent; however, if things simply go without saying, then I am out of a job! I cannot believe that Disney would target such an incredible community: the Celiac Kid community.
Anyone who has met a Celiac kid will surely have left with a strong and lasting impression. When I led the Celiac Disease Foundation’s youth events at last year’s conference I was blown away by the maturity of these kids. Celiac kids are articulate. They are persistent. They advocate for themselves. They read labels that took me years to master how to decipher. They explain complicated things to grown ups on a regular basis!
Imagine being the one kid at the birthday party who can’t eat the cake. The one kid who is left out of the pizza party that his class won for selling the most magazine subscriptions. The one kid who reads labels on Halloween candy before trading with friends. The one kid who had to ask the waitress questions about an order. Celiac kids are constantly singled out and must learn adapt to complex social situations at a very early age. We are talking about children who may have spent years sick, weak and tired who have finally discovered what it feels like to be strong and healthy but, the cost to their new found health is a brand new life that seems counter to what all their friends at school experience.
We know the Celiac Kid community is fantastic and it isn’t fair of Disney to target such an inspiring group; however, my criticism of Disney goes much further than simply targeting a great group of kids.
Disney is incredibly litigious. They do not care how big or how small you are, if you infringe upon their copyright they will get you. Why? Because they care about what products, what people and what words have the Disney name. They care deeply about the quality of products that say “Disney.” Given this fact, I take extra offense to the absurd display of ignorance and bigotry in their episode of Jessie. Someone at Disney brainstormed the concept, someone wrote the script, someone read the script, edited the script, practiced the script, recited the script, filmed the scripted being read and then edited the film and not once in this process did they stop to think that maybe there was something wrong with the idea of bullying a child with a gluten-related disorder.
A friend, playing devil’s advocate, asked me “Well, CC isn’t the allergy/nerd schtick pretty common for comedy?”
A) No. No it is not.
B) Find an episode of child’s television show post-1995 that has a plot-line where a child with a food allergy is attacked by bullies using the allergen. I promise you, you will not find a show where some low-life bully spreads peanut butter on the peanut-allergy kid’s desk without his knowing. You know why? Because it isn’t funny. There is nothing funny about children being in pain.
The thing that gets to me the most is the part of the episode where a child throws glutinous pancakes at the gluten free character. If someone threw anything glutinous at me on purpose, I would lose it. Honestly, I think that should be considered assault. Kids cannot think it is ok to play with allergens or bully kids using allergens when Celiac Disease or anaphylactic allergies are involved. If it seemed funny on the show, it will not seem funny once it happens at a real school, with real students and real health issues. It is so incredibly irresponsible of Disney to treat food allergies and the like so flippantly.
Disney is a huge huge company. It is going to take more than Gluten Dude’s blog post and CC Gluten Freed’s post to make them truly listen. There is a lot of buzz on Facebook and Twitter and there is an electronic petition going around to get the episode removed from the air but in order to get a reaction we need to make some more noise.
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION by clicking on this link! If you are willing to put in the time, please contact the company directly by clicking this link. After all, it is Celiac Awareness Month and if none of the things on my list of how to best celebrate the month appealed to you, then this may be your way of contributing to the cause!
The Celiac/gluten free community is so connected and passionate. We need to act together to get a sort of Celiac catalyst effect going. May is Celiac Awareness Month and it is time we start spreading some especially given the nature of this issue. This episode is out there and our kids are watching it and forming opinions about the gluten free community and how they should relate to people who are gluten free (or have any other food-restriction, for that matter).
Readers, please don’t feel discouraged or blood-boilingly angry about this! We are so lucky to be a part of such a great community that advocates for itself. We can support each other and, probably most importantly, support and protect our Celiac kids! I know a lot of gluten free moms, dads, aunts and uncles (mine included) that want awareness efforts that specifically help the younger Celiacs live healthy and happy lives!
Please contact Disney about this issue! If you don’t have time to write a full comment then just quote via copy and paste parts of this post or Gluten Dude’s post.