Carlo, age 17
Top Eight Food Allergens and More
It had been years since I had been bullied for my food allergies, but in that moment all the memories came flooding back to me: “Carlo, get to work, or I’ll come over there and force-feed you a peanut.”
On the outside, I was sitting in English class, writing an essay on Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel’s mother, but inside, I was a frightened and ashamed 10-year-old again, eyes darting, checking and rechecking the food before me, the food I knew was safe.
I was very lucky. I was never physically bullied, and nobody ever tried to make me eat something to which I was allergic. But that doesn’t mean that I was free from being bullied about my food allergies. Rather than a physical approach, though, my bullies preferred a more psychological approach.
The closest I came to ever being in physical danger was when one of my classmates, after an argument, threatened to “poison my drink with dairy.” Needless to say, I wasn’t afraid for my life, but I was still crushed on the inside.
Every day the bullies would come to me, mostly during lunchtime. One of their favorite techniques was to get something they knew I couldn’t eat, and then start exaggeratedly praising it. “This is so good! I can’t believe how amazing this tastes. You totally wish you could have this, Carlo. It must suck to not be able to have this! It’s so, so, so good!” Cue pantomime of savoring every bite.
Another of the bullies’ favorite tactics was to pose hypothetical and clearly outlandish scenarios to me to try and rattle me: submerging me in a vat of peanut butter, me swimming in an ocean full of milk. They wanted to know what would happen. Would I throw up? Would my throat close? Would I die? They asked not because they cared – it’s not as if those situations could have ever happened – rather because they wanted to put that fear in my head, that lingering worry.
But, as time went on, I learned to deal with the bullies. I realized that I am not defined by my food allergies, that there is so much more to me than what foods I can and cannot eat. It certainly helped that, just as I was maturing, so were the bullies. They stopped making fun of people, because they realized that it was wrong.
Today bullying is not an issue for me, both because the bullies stopped and because I realized not only that I shouldn’t listen to stupid things that people say, but also that I know I am more than my allergies.