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Story of the Month

Food Allergy Bullying: The Stakes Are High

My school is has a strict privacy policy for handling circumstances like this but, rest assured, they came up with an inventive strategy to catch the culprit. One of the security team’s suggestions was to “stage” my lunchbox again a few days later under surveillance, and see if there was a repeat. Another good idea was to check out some of the students’ Instagram and Facebook pages to see if there was online chatter.

In the end, the school took a direct route and interviewed the students who were at the tables closest to mine, and a few people in particular, based on my hunches. We did come to a very quiet – and satisfying – conclusion with the student responsible, who agreed that it had been a mistake and a terrible prank that could have had dire consequences. The school nurse also put together a plan for an school assembly focusing on food allergy bullying.

From then on, my circle kept watch over me at lunch, and one buddy even reprimanded me: “Don’t leave your lunchbox anywhere again!” I haven’t, I promise.

I know how lucky I was that nothing worse happened. Although the cookie had been crumbled all over my (until that point) perfect lunchbox, I hadn’t come into direct contact with it. My mother also has food allergies and has taught me since childhood how to be very careful.

Refusing to be Silenced

With me going off to high school next year, my mom always brags about how much of a model daughter I’ve grown up to be, how responsible I am with my allergy, and how I’ve managed it. But let’s face it: not being able to eat a peanut butter cup, or order a Frappuccino with hazelnuts in it or, heck, even eat something without reading the label first is not an easy task. I manage it, though. I speak up, and unfortunately in this case, I was targeted for doing so.

But I will not be silenced. Food allergies are not funny, nor are they something to toy around with. This sort of allergy abuse is a crime.

Despite the challenges, I can’t say that my allergy has gotten me nowhere. My favorite band, Sleeping with Sirens, saw me on the Discovery Channel this fall talking about living with my allergies and invited me as a VIP guest to their concert; they even signed my EpiPen bag.

Plus, I have amazing friends who are very supportive and even read their own food labels before they bring food to school, or before we hang out. So when I told them about me getting bullied and nearly poisoned by someone, they supported and protected me.

I’ve learned that the key is to not feel small and intimidated, but strong and unbreakable. After all, everyone has their own version of “kryptonite”, so why let the bullies weaken your spirit? They only made me stronger, and gave me a louder voice. You are all hearing it right now.

Charlotte Jude Schwartz, 13, is a student in San Francisco and a teen ambassador for the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board (BAAAB).

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