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Food Allergies: Fears and Frustrations

Child’s documentary spreads word
By Scott Warner

I was complaining a lot about my food allergies, and my dad asked, “Why don’t you make an educational video about it?” recalls 14-year-old Wilmette resident Jack Yonover, who was diagnosed with tree nut allergies at the age of 10. His first allergic attack had left him nauseated, itching and struggling for breath. He found out that tree nuts, especially cashews and pistachios, can send him into anaphylactic shock. He began carrying an EpiPen with him. He couldn’t stop thinking about how difficult it was to have a food allergy and how little information the public had about those allergies. “People think I’m crazy or they just don’t understand that I can’t eat anything made with nuts or even made near nuts,” Jack said. “I think they sometimes get annoyed with me, and it’s not easy trying to explain to them.”

With the encouragement of his father, urologist Paul Yonover, MD, and a love of filmmaking, Jack began an 18-month odyssey that would lead him to create his “That Bites!” documentary about the fears and frustrations of food allergies. To prepare, Jack took a class at Chicago’s Facets Multimedia film school, and did some heavy research into food allergies. Both his parents supported him and helped set up a Kickstarter campaign to buy the necessary camera and editing equipment. His mother Jill became his social media maven, his younger brother, Mason, worked as a film extra, and his father became his film crew. “As I watched Jack do the editing, I observed that he was finding his own voice,” Dr. Yonover said. “I could see him learn and decide to do things in different ways.”

Jack debuted his 44-minute documentary at the Wilmette Theater in 2015, when he was only 13. Jack does all the narration as the film highlights children with food allergies and the challenges they face as they attend a birthday party, dine in a restaurant or go to a Halloween fest. Jack also interviewed Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, an allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

The soft-spoken teenager has become somewhat of a media darling because of the film. He has been interviewed on WTTW and WGN TV, as well as Chicago’s CBS, ABC and Fox TV affiliates. Jack has also been featured in the Chicago Tribune along with other newspapers. And “That Bites!” has won awards at film festivals across the country. Jack says it has all been for a great cause: to change the way the world understands and perceives food allergies, and to raise money for the non-profit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). And he’s working to get his video into allergists’ offices and shown at schools as a springboard for discussion.

For more information or to obtain a copy of “That Bites,” go to

Food Allergy Facts

Even young kids know a peanut allergy can be life-threatening, but they can’t always rely on food servers to protect them.

“A young boy licks an ice cream cone that was unintentionally contaminated by something he’s allergic to, like nuts or soy. It is a dangerous and scary situation. He has a reaction, he takes Benadryl, he gets injected with an EpiPen, and he gets rushed to the hospital. You may think something like this rarely happens. What most people don’t realize is that something like this happens every three minutes in America.”—from the “That Bites” documentary by then-12-year-old Jack Yonover. Here are some facts about food allergies:

•   Allergy prevalence in the United States increased 50% among children age 17 and younger between 1997 and 2011, according to a 2013 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

•About 80% to 90% of kids outgrow milk and egg allergies; about 20% outgrow peanut allergies, and only about 10% outgrow tree nut allergies, according to Anna Fishbein, MD, allergist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

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