As I packed to go to the 2015 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference (FABlogCon), I felt wearied from being busy and from waves of bad news in the food allergy community. I needed to go to Denver to be inspired by leaders, to be with friends who understand, and to feel empowered by new allergy friendly products, foods, and resources. I had a fabulous time!
Fabulous Insights About Advocacy
Keynote speaker and author of The Unhealthy Truth (affiliate link) Robyn O’Brien, inspired and encouraged us to believe that we can all influence change through food labeling, making smart choices as consumers, and eating clean, healthy foods free from unexpected allergens and chemicals. She said one thing that resonated with me very deeply because there are days when I can barely keep up with my responsibilities as a mom, let alone a wife or an advocate. Here’s a rough paraphrase: Take care of ourselves, take care of our marriages and our families so that we can be strong, be inspired by love, and create change. My interpretation is that my family and I need to be strong emotionally and physically before we can advocate effectively and with love and compassion. Sometimes when people are in a difficult position with unresolved issues with family, health, finances, or anything that is deeply hurting them, they might unproductively advocate from a place of fear or anger when what they need is support and self-care.
My friends Lianne Mandelbaum (No Nut Traveler) and attorney Mary Vargas talked about their work paving the way for a civil rights movement. Lianne advocates for safer airline travel for passengers with nut allergies and she is part of a coalition in support of Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, S.1972 (read press release and then write to your US senator). Mary talked about two food allergy discrimination cases involving an enrichment camp, which I blogged about recently, and another case about workplace harassment and discrimination, which Caroline Moassessi blogged about.
I support their efforts but I am not surprised when not everyone agrees. However, it’s disappointing when a few people living with food allergies express opinions such as S.1972 is not necessary, or they would not ask for accommodations from a camp, or people shouldn’t sue for workplace discrimination. If people with food allergies cannot agree, then how will bystanders know how to respond? We need to have a show of solidarity. According to Mary, we should resolve minor problems collaboratively but stand together to fight the most egregious cases of food allergy related discrimination in order to create a better future for our loved ones. Our call to action is to be a “scaffold” and cheer on those who are trying to do something brave.
Robyn and later Mary mentioned the concept of “scaffolding” in their respective talks. “Scaffolding” is an educational term based on the work of Leo Vygotsky that applies very well in this situation. When one has a child that has to learn something too difficult for his ability, an adult or more capable person will build a “scaffold” around the child by providing support, help, and encouragement so that the child can achieve his goal. In the same way, when we surround a person trying to achieve a difficult task or objective with support, help, and encouragement, they can accomplish what’s considered impossible. Regardless of whether that goal is epinephrine legislation, funding food allergy research, or comprehensive food allergy awareness policy in schools, we all win. So let’s be a part of that scaffold, be a part of this movement in support of better food production and labeling as well as food allergy advocacy for legislation and civil rights.
Act on Your Ideas and Share with Others
If listening to Robyn, Mary, and Lianne weren’t inspiring enough, what else can boost a weary food allergy parent advocate? How about meeting and listening to long time advocates, AllergyMom’s Gina Clowes’ and Allergic Child’s Nicole Smith? These two ladies have blogged, written books, impacted policy and legislation, and have staying power. I know that food allergy awareness is much better now than it was 10 years ago when my son was diagnosed and I think it’s because there were people who had some great ideas, shared them, and laid the groundwork for what we have today. I read Nicole’s book Allie the Allergic Elephant (see her books, affiliate link) to my toddlers to help them understand food allergies in a developmentally appropriate way. Gina was a great help to me during my roughest moments as a food allergy mom. Both of these women have helped me personally at one point or another by putting their ideas into action and sharing their successes to help me and others.
If you didn’t know it already, I am a huge fan of Dr. Nadeau’s food allergy research at Stanford. It all started with a few parents who went to Dr. Nadeau with a plea for help and long story short, Dr. Nadeau’s patients were the first in the world to be desensitized to multiple allergens at the same time. The amazing story was shared in the New York Times’ article The Allergy Buster, which inspired Kim Hall and Elise Bates to launch End Allergies Together (EAT) to raise money to fund food allergy research. Do you see where I’m going with this? You have a great idea you put into action to help people, you share with others about your success, which will inspire another great idea to help others.
- Emergency room physician, Dr. Julie Brown, shared her research on epinephrine and auto-injectors. She shows an extra level of care when she sends care packages of nut free candies to her friends’ children with nut allergies, how sweet!
- Chef Keith Norman from the Southpoint Hotel in Las Vegas made time in his busy schedule to work with the Denver Renaissance Hotel staff to make allergy safe meals for the entire event. He helped meet the needs of 150+ people for one weekend. Hats off to the Renaissance Hotel in Denver!
- I met Betsy Craig from MenuTrinfo who has been training restaurants and other food service businesses about food allergies for many years simply because she felt more training was necessary.
- Zego’s Colleen Kavanaugh decided to make her own healthy nut free, gluten free, vegan snack bars when her children’s schools became nut free.
Fabulous Products by Sponsors
- Don’t Go Nuts, Inglorious Monk Bakery, and PASCHA Chocolates, and Snack Safely are some of my favorite companies founded by food allergy families.
- Companies such as Enjoy Life, Sunbutter, Beanfield Snacks, and Daiya are committed to making their food products free from certain allergens.
- There’s a lot of new technology coming out to help families such as a smart epipen case by Aterica, a gluten sensor by Nima, and a bluetooth enabled ID wristband by AllerGuarder.
Life with food allergies is by no means easy but it is so much better with friends who inspire and encourage. All of us have an inner advocate inside of us that rises up when we need to speak up and act to keep ourselves or our loved one safe. If you have a great idea or a food allergy related success, share it with others to help them, or cheer someone on and be their scaffold.
I had a little idea to start a blog to share my nut free Asian recipes at the first conference in 2013 and many new friends cheered me on, and here we are three years later. I remember meeting some people for the first time 3 years ago and am grateful for how the friendships have deepened over the years as well as meeting new ones. Thank you Sunbutter for hosting the super fun photobooth and many thanks to my dear friends for the laughs and memories. Thank you Jenny & team for putting together a great event.
I hope that you will be inspired to attend FABlogCon or a similar event in the future and find ways to be empowered and successful in navigating your life with food allergies, that you will share your ideas and success, and cheer on others as they do something brave. Thank you for reading, sharing my recipes, and sending me great feedback with your comments, emails and messages. I feel cheered on, thank you for being awesome readers and keeping me going. xoxo
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