Imagine a famished farmer walks in from the field feeling the grumble of their hungry and thirsty stomach. The growl and pangs of hungry are sharp and unforgiving. Dusty and sweaty, the farmer opens the door to her kitchen and lo and behold, a gorgeous platter of just-picked vine ripened deep red luscious tomatoes with bright green fragrant basil lightly sprinkled with freshly ground pepper and sea salt with a tall. A cool glass of ice water is begging to be consumed. The joy, the feeling of accomplishment in knowing that a glorious and satisfying moment is about to take place at that intersection between hard work and reward. This remarkable type of moment took place this week. Not at the farmers table. Not in a field. But in the Capital Hilton, quietly tucked into the busy streets of Washington DC, during a pre-conference session at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) Science Forum entitled, “Allergens and the Consumer Perspectives”.
Food Allergy Perspectives.
I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to present on a panel which included Scott Riccio, Senior Vice-President of Education and Advocacy at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), Lynda Mitchell, Chief Operating Officer at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Mitchell is known in our food allergy community as the founder of the Kids with Food Allergy Foundation (KFA). And Scott Hegenbart, Chairman of the GMA’s Allergen Committee. Eleanor Garrow, President and CEO of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT) was unable to attend, so I was honored to present on FAACT’s information and perspective. My presentation represented myself and Allergic Living Magazine. Allergic Living was invited to present since through quality journalism, the magazine covers food allergy news and social issues, and serves as a resource to the food allergy community with a finger on the pulse of our unique concerns and challenges. Reporting on items, such as the cumin recall, peanut flour and even the recent FDA shipping rule to reduce allergen recalls, in which part of this rule came to effect earlier this month was of great interest to attendees.
Scott Hegenbart is my newest hero. His presentation was active, engaging and enlightening as he detailed the challenges and mechanics of critical touch points in the manufacturing part of the food supply chain. His scientific background and ability to communicate in easy to understand terms was priceless. His passion for allergen safety flowed openly and freely. It felt as if he was an allergy parent to thousands of consumers, as he spoke. I want to be on his holiday card list!
If you had the pleasure of listening to both Lynda Mitchell and Scott Riccio, then you understand when I say they were the consummate representatives and presenters as they defined food allergies, facts and statistics while they reviewed study results surrounding food labeling and and consumer perspectives. They dispensed important data like candy which the attendees gobbled down. It was pure joy to present beside them.
Progress and Change Begin Here
What made this moment in time so precious to me, is that our little group presented the food allergy consumer perspectives to a room full of major manufacturers thirsty for knowledge about our food allergy community. They wanted to know about our lives, how we reduce risk and what do we need when we are making our food choices. Their minds and ears were wide open. The room was focused and engaged as each of us presented our perspectives, current and emerging concerns and needs about our food supply chain, which manufacturing is one of the many complicated links.
It’s my belief that change starts with knowledge and understanding. Being part of this type of exchange was a shot of hope and inspiration. For me, it is easy to think of a manufacturer as a big machine pumping out products. Meeting the people who dedicate their life work to food safety was encouraging and brought back the reality that these big machines are run by real people who work hard to keep all consumers safe.
I can’t help to feel so incredibly grateful today.
Each Step is Forward
We have come a long way from when my son was first diagnosed with food allergies. Long before labeling laws and when companies did not have to share allergen information to right now with labeling laws (incomplete, but a huge step in the right direction) to today with major non-profit organizations working to educate the food industry about food allergies. The GMA Allergen Committee is working diligently on solutions and there is no doubt that we’ll be hearing more from them going forward.
The best part of this week was witnessing the first step to quenching the thirst for knowledge, was the willingness and desire from manufacturers to learn more about the folks they are trying to serve. The efforts of our advocacy organizations, the GMA and passionate individuals is paying off as these important collaborations spark a new wave of solutions to support improving the quality of life for those living with food allergies.
Just as the farmer takes that first splendid sip of refreshing water before enjoying the culinary fruits of her labor, our community will too enjoy the rewards of these types of collaborations and hard work.