[Latest: Following an outcry from the food allergy community, Uber Eats cut the food allergy depiction from its Super Bowl ad. See the update.]
Food allergies are a punchline in a new Super Bowl commercial for Uber Eats. “There’s peanuts in peanut butter?” A man asks while looking at the label on a jar of peanut butter. He is showing signs of an allergic reaction, with one eye swollen shut and hives sprouting across his face.
Then he says, “Oh, it’s the primary ingredient.”
Using a peanut allergy in an attempt to get laughs in an ad has drawn a sharp rebuke from FARE (Food Allergy & Research Education).
The nonprofit is “surprised and disappointed to see that Uber Eats would use the disease of life-threatening food allergy as humor,” FARE CEO Dr. Sung Poblete said in a statement. “Enough is enough,” she said, noting that the disease can be life-threatening.
In an interview with Allergic Living, Poblete stressed: “We’re asking the entertainment industry to stop using food allergies as a point of humor.”
The commercial, called “Don’t Forget Uber Eats,” doesn’t focus on food allergies, the peanut butter bit just appears amid other interactions showing people forgetting something. For example, the actress Jennifer Aniston fails to recognize her “Friends” co-star David Schwimmer.
“This is going to be one of those ads that so many Americans will see,” Poblete says.
Super Bowl LVIII is projected to reach up to 200 million viewers in the U.S. during on Sunday, February 11, not counting later ad airings.
The commercial launches one month after Órla Baxendale, who had a peanut allergy, lost her life on January 11, after eating a mislabeled cookie. The cookie contained peanuts, but the package did not list the allergen as an ingredient.
Poking fun at a life-threatening allergy while the dancer’s family and friends are still reeling from her tragedy, “is incredibly insensitive,” Poblete says.
Reaching Out to Uber Eats
Allergic Living has for years called out food allergy “humor” as having a negative impact and normalizing joking about a serious medical condition. From Saturday Night Live to movies like Peter Rabbit and Hitch, food allergy jokes are a theme that is played on repeat.
We are disappointed to see so many high profile stars contributing to a commercial that includes a gratuitous swipe at a difficult disease. The ad also features Victoria and David Beckham and singers Usher and Jelly Roll.
Poblete notes that 33 million Americans have food allergies. And many, including children, have experienced severe reactions. Her message to the food allergy community: “We hear you and we will work with the entertainment industry. We will let the food allergy voices be heard.”
She shares the anger and disappointment the food allergy community feels about food allergies being the butt of a joke. But Poblete says a negative response, such as boycotting Uber Eats, is not the answer.
“We don’t need more negativity. We want to raise awareness, and educate,” she says. FARE reached out to Uber Eats, but has so far had no response.
She would like to discuss with the company the topic of how to be allies. For example, what if the company worked with FARE to create a commercial that shows Uber Eats accommodating a customer with food allergies, Poblete suggests.
She points to FARE’s documentary “It’s a Disease, Not a Diet” as one way the entertainment and sports industries could learn about food allergies, and the fact that the disease can be devastating.
Educating the food delivery company about what it’s like to live with a food allergy would help raise awareness, she explains. The Uber Eats commercial could be a teachable moment, Poblete says.
Jokes and Bullying Consequences
Poblete finds the continuing use of people with food allergies as a punchline especially concerning because it teaches children that making fun of people with the disease is acceptable.
“It actually does more harm than we realize,” she says. “It can result in bullying of children with food allergies.
”For example, high school football player Carter Mannon was targeted for his food allergy by his teammates in Lake Travis, Texas, she notes. The athletes put peanut on his cleats and uniform in his football locker. The bullying caused him to break out in hives, and he has suffered taunting since the incident.
“It’s these types of commercials and types of jokes that allows kids to think that there’s not going to be any harm and it’s going to be funny,” Poblete says. “Well, it’s not funny.”
In fact, kids with food allergies are often targeted because of their allergies. A study of youth ages 9 to 15 found that about 1 in 3 kids reported experiencing verbal and physical bullying because of their food allergies.
Poblete says she wants to educate the entertainment industry so that food allergies are not viewed as a reason to mock someone and cause harm.
“We just want to make it safe for everyone,” she says.