The Disney Channel just pulled an episode of their show Jessie that makes fun of a child who refuses to eat gluten. In the show, the kid turns down pancakes, and then has pancakes thrown at him while he squeals "gluten!" and scratches his face. One character says to him: "You call me sweetie again, and you'll be eating some gluten-free knuckles."
As of writing, 2,137 people have signed an online petition on Change.org, which asked the Disney Channel to pull the episode that they say could encourage kids to make fun of celiac disease.
Celiac disease is treated with a gluten-free diet and there are awful repercussions if this diet is not followed. While avoiding gluten is a requirement for some, going gluten-free also happens to be a popular fad diet. It's estimated that 1.8 million people have celiac disease—at the same time that 1.6 million Americans follow a gluten-free diet even though they have not been diagnosed with celiac disease.
In the episode, the other kids don't seem to be making fun of a kid with celiac disease, they're making fun of kid who is making a series of haughty demands. This kid is characterized as frivolous. A "five-page list of dietary requirements" is mentioned in the same breath that his aversion to gluten is introduced. This doesn't really seem like a kid with celiac disease, he seems like a picky food snob—and a lot of people who stupidly choose to be gluten-free have some of the insufferable characteristics that this kid exhibits.
This is not to say that the protestors don't make an important point. They mention that avoiding gluten is frequently greeted with a dismissive attitude. As explained in the Change.org petition, written by the parent of two children with celiac disease, the derision comes from a place of misunderstanding and an association with people who are adhering to a fad diet choice, rather than a necessary diet restriction.
"For my kids, this is real. They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet. They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat. They have watched others, sometimes strangers and sometimes not, act as if their requests are somehow just a trend, just a request of an overanxious parent or a spoiled and coddled child.
Their condition is real, and their feelings are real. They are ostracized for a condition for which they did not ask, and because of which they will spend their entire lives having to make exceptions and special requests, all to keep them healthy and safe. They will often feel excluded or different, because they have to be to avoid serious illness."
The Disney Channel pulled the episode and issued a statement on the show's Facebook page:
"To our viewers, we received your feedback about tonight’s “Jessie” episode which some of you accessed early on Video-on-Demand. We are removing this particular episode from our regular programming schedule and will re-evaluate its references to gluten restrictions in the character’s diet. Please accept our apologies for the upset this episode caused you and your family. We value your feedback and thank you for watching Disney Channel."