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Abuse from the Peanut Gallery: How Children with Allergies Get Picked On

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There was an episode of the much beloved, but sadly short lived, show Freaks and Geeks, where the endearingly geeky character Bill Haverchuck (played by Martin Starr) falls prey to an especially sadistic and cruel prank by the school bully. While “wedgies” and “debagging” would seem like enough punishment for the terminally geeky, this episode of the show illustrated how a vicious prank can go terribly wrong (as if there is any other way for a vicious prank to go) when aimed at someone with serious food allergies.

Haverchuck, unbeknownst to him, has his sandwiched laced by his tormentor with peanuts; a food that he is horribly allergic. Instead of being turned on to the wonderful crunch of peanuts, Haverchuck is rushed to the hospital and becomes, yet another, victim to grade school bullying.

As with all bullying (and we have heard about a lot of it recently) while it is often shamefully heartless, none of it is all that original. Children (and believe it or not, some adults) will routinely target the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of others as a way to subjugate the defenseless, while making themselves feel more powerful. And this fictionalized account from Freaks and Geeks of allergy bullying reveals a method of torment that is sadly not at all rare.

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Read more: Allergies, Children, Family, Food, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

47 comments

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4:38PM PST on Dec 13, 2011

Thanks for the article.

5:27AM PDT on Mar 14, 2011

Thanks for the article.

4:09PM PST on Mar 7, 2011

It's been said before and with great validity, "kids (and many adults) can be cruel." Something that I think can easily be inherited from their parents.

4:43PM PDT on Nov 2, 2010

It's true. I'm not so much a child anymore, but I discovered that I was gluten intolerant at the ripe age of 22. Even my own brother (14) joked that he was going to "flour" my food to see if I REALLY had an allergy! Some of my friends have joked about doing the same! I can see how this kind of thing could carry over into schools. The problem is that students don't understand the severity and REALITY of food allergies! I mean...it doesn't hurt them!

4:56AM PDT on Oct 18, 2010

Tori W,

You make good points except that it may be unwise to keep allergy confidential. After all, people really want to help you.

For me it was difficult to learn to ask respect for my severe allergy. It was embarrassing to ask for special treatment at restaurants and even in doctor's offices.

The payoff for boldness is that I am alive. By asking, I helped pave the way for others with allergy. I helped people understand.

I am old now and I can look back on a country that grew to understand.

My allergy is egg white (like one in 250 Americans). Through my explanations people have learned that strawberry is a problem for others. Likewise for fish.

Nobody has ever "abused" me. I think that there is a new definition for the term that may not be appropriate.

Eat well. Smile.

10:04PM PDT on Oct 17, 2010

I would love to offer some encouragement to those with allergies, that it will get better and all that. The thing is, it doesn't get better. It can actually get worse, much worse. The thing is that when you are older, you will be an adult dealing with this form of harassment, and you will be able to keep your medical issue confidential. I encourage that as you never know who will use that information to cause you harm.

5:33PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

it seems other kids will pick on any little thing.

5:17PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

Children follow the lead of their parents.

10:33AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

The school district here has responded to peanut allergies by starting to go peanut free. They're gradually spreading the practice to more buildings in the district, and it seems to be working well. There are a few teachers who get cranky about not getting to have peanut butter, but it seems like a great solution that protects the students from allergens and from bullying.

12:49PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Idiots.

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