How food allergies make us better at facing change

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No one likes change. Some of us fight it to the bitter end, while some of us have faced enough change that it comes a little easier to adapt to. This passed week I watched some of my co-workers facing unexpected change and many were pretty upset about it. It was unintentional but I’m worried that I may have come across a little heartless as they shared their concerns with me. I didn’t mean to downplay their concerns, but I saw this coming and even warned some that it was expected. I honestly thought some of these changes were long overdue which probably made me look even more like a horrible person.

Maybe I’ve faced enough change in my life that this just didn’t faze me anymore. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I’ve had my life turned upside down more than once with little time to react; my husband’s food allergy diagnosis required immediate change in many areas of our lives, I served in the military during 9-11 which also resulted in pretty immediate and drastic changes, and in my professional career I’ve been through 4 acquisitions by publicly traded companies leaving me quick to adjust to change when needed.

Let’s go back to food allergies for a minute here. Do you remember that moment when you learned your world was being turned upside down by food? I do. It was May and after months of pain my husband had finally been referred to an allergist. He called me asking me to come home as he was really overwhelmed from the results. I remember standing there in the kitchen as he listed off all the foods he tested positive for and then the non-food allergies as well. I remember deciding then and there that we were all in this together. That we’d figure it out.

There was no other option. We weren’t given any warning or time to adjust, it was immediate. Keep going down this path and pay the consequences or change now and improve your life from this point on. Yes, we didn’t have a clue where to start, but we still made it work. Thank goodness for the internet, for food co-ops, and all the great food allergy bloggers out there that came before me. You were all a blessing at a time when we needed it most.

Looking back now I have to smile at all the things we’ve learned over the years. We’ve become experts at on allergy safe brands and crazy scientific names for foods, we know how valuable tin foil and waxed paper can be, we knew how awesome Quinoa was before it became trendy, but most importantly we learned that food allergies don’t have to change all the things we loved to do. We still camp, and tailgate, we go to the races every year, we still travel, and have pretty great life despite all the changes we had to face.

Yes, we panicked to some degree after that diagnosis, but then we took a deep breath, a big step back and dove in because we had to. We faced change head on then and continue to face it everyday with product recalls, traveling, eating out, being excluded, and new developments in food allergy treatment and research. We are stronger for the challenges we’ve faced and the support we offer one another.

These are all things I needed to remind myself of when my co-workers were trying to voice their concerns. Just because I had easily accepted the changes ahead of us didn’t mean everyone was having an easy time. For some this was a big change and my chance to be there for them and offer support. Show them this wasn’t as bad as it seemed and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We all face change constantly and deal with it in our own ways, but the support of those who have gone before us is also appreciated. So thanks for all of you bloggers out there that came before me. Thanks for help and support and for showing us the way to an Allergy Friendly life.

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Future Implications of Allergy Friendly Brands And Social Media

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As food allergy awareness week is coming to a close it’s a good reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much social media has helped the food allergy community grow and share with each other. It’s helped bring awareness to both the increase in food allergy diagnoses,  brands that make allergy friendly foods, and shown just how big the food allergy and natural foods market is. This increase in social media usage has also shown us the best channels to use to spread awareness and communicate with each other, some of the bigger brands have shown us what to do and what not to do, and it has given us an idea of the future and how we can do more with the technology available.

Brands like General Mills that have had their fair share of social media missteps have purchased several natural and allergy friendly brands. General Mills is the perfect example GlutenFree-Organicfor why every site needs to have a crisis management plan in place. They’ve made several announcements or had to issue recalls that really upset people and drove them to share their feelings on social media as a result. Having a plan in place to help direct teas on how to respond and any other actions that could help calm the storm would be be important to include. While many were not happy to see trusted brands purchased by a large company that might drastically change things General Mills has surprised some. Perhaps buying up all of these organic and health related brands is having an impact on them. They are making an attempt to make their more popular brands healthier and better for you by removing artificial flavors and colors. While some are still skeptical this is a brand to watch to see how they go about keeping their promises and how it changes their approach as a whole. You can’t help but notice how the feedback they’ve received from social media has influence this behavior. We need to let them know we appreciate what they’re doing in trying to make their products healthier and that we’d love to see them do more.

Another big brand that has bought up some of our most loved allergy friendly brands is Cookies-PlentilsMondelez. They actually have some of the best examples of how to use social media to grow your audience and how to share content that gets people talking. Their Oreo images on Instagram are bright, colorful, and fun while the Triscuit Pinterest account is full of all the amazing recipes and toppings people have come up with. It’s not only beautiful to look at but also mouth watering. We’d also love to see the make allergy friendly cookies and crackers (hint, hint). They really listen to their customers and it shows in their social media efforts and in their products (limited edition Oreo’s). Hopefully they’ll pass on their expertise on social media to some of their newly acquired brands to help them create content that reflects what customers are talking about and help grow a stronger community.

While General Mills and Mondelez are large well known brands getting into the health and food allergy markets there are still a lot of little guys that could use some help when it
Tinkyadacomes to social media to help them grow and to help spread the word about who they are what they do. I always think of
Tinkyada pasta when I think of the little guy that could be so much more. They are a smaller gluten free noodle brand out of Canada with an easily recognizable bunny on all of their packaging. While I find their product everywhere up here in the western mountains I don’t think they are as well known on the East coast or further South. They also don’t have a social media presence. I can only imagine what they could be if not only were using social media, but also had a strategy in place.

As I wrap up my final projects this week as graduation nears for my masters degree I’m reminded of how far I’ve come with not only social media, but also the Allergy Friendly site as a whole. I think about future plans for the site, expanding into other social media channels, and having the time to put more effort towards new content and how best to share it with you. I’m excited about the future of the site and how social media has allowed the food allergy community to grow, but also not blind to how access to social media has almost made it harder for this community to be taken seriously. My biggest hope for the future is that we all continue to raise awareness of food allergies and the risks associated with them, that people would be more understanding, and that we continue to show the world just how amazing this community is.
Don’t forget to visit the Allergy Friendly site for more blogs, information, and recipes.

Viral Marketing Initiatives for Food Allergy Awareness Week

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FoodAllergyAwarenessRibbonWhen we in the food allergy community hear the word viral our minds may go to colds, stomach bugs, or any other number of ailments, but everyone else may be thinking about a funny video, a new dance, or maybe a little girl nicknamed Mayhem that makes dresses out of paper. That she also suffers from food allergies is just secondary and doesn’t stand out to most.

Most content that goes viral in the food allergy community goes viral for the wrong reasons like the Dana family that was removed from a flight because of nut allergies recently. Or the unexpected death of a child or young adult that didn’t have an epi-pen close at hand. These stories infuriate us and pull at our heart strings because we all secretly fear these same things.

Know one can predict if a blog post or video will go viral. There are certain aspects of content that does go viral that stand out and can be highlighted to increase the chances of your content going viral, but don’t necessarily guarantee it.

We do know that emotion is one of the big reasons that anything goes viral. Whether it’s positive or negative if a video or blog message brings out strong emotions it encourages us to share it with friends and anyone else who will listen.

Humanize your content and make it relatable to large group of people. We’ve all been frustrated at the lack of safety in restaurants, brands that change ingredients without notice, or even just a boss that drives us nuts. We can all relate to some or all of these issues and would love to read an experience that either makes us laugh at the crazy things people do or confirms our belief that we’re not the only one struggling.

Maybe the content was useful to us. It stresses a really important issue or message, gave us support or ideas on how to approach a certain situation, or even a new recipe that everyone in the house can eat, or gave us a new approach to a stressful event like the Teal Pumpkin Project and Halloween.

Memorable is another big one for viral content. Whether a video puts a smile on your face or brings a tear to your eye it spoke to you in some way and sticks with you just like the Face Your Risk video did for me the first time I saw it. Not being there when our loved ones have a reaction is a big fear of mine and hopefully I’m not the only one. This video was a reminder of the importance of little things like making sure you know what’s in the food every time even if it drives the host crazy, and always wearing a medical alert bracelet.

Last, but certainly the most important, is make it easy to share. If you want to see your content get passed around by others increasing the chances of it going viral make sure you have social media buttons on your video, blog post, or recipe page so that if others find it relatable or memorable or important in any way they can share it with others.

With food allergy awareness week this is our chance to spread the word and sport those teal ribbons. If you have something amazing to share get it out there and encourage everyone to share it with their friends, family and followers. The same goes for you reading this post. If you see something amazing about food allergies or any topic that truly speaks to you don’t hesitate to share it. If you thought it was helpful or memorable in any way someone else may find it helpful too.

Differentiation

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As I wrap up my master’s degree we’re looking at differentiation among brands and the way they use social media to stand out among the growing gluten free and allergy friendly markets. Most of us social media for entertainment purposes while companies use social media to build a community around their company and brand. This is probably even more true when you look at the food allergy community. We truly are a community of our own sharing experiences, recipes, and research with each other.  

I wanted to choose two very different companies; either one larger one smaller, one with a wide variety of products and one very focused on a single product, or one that is focused on allergy friendly food only while the other offers only small selection of safe foods. I looked at a lot of social media pages and found that any truly established brand has the same approach whether they are small, large, the variety of product they offer, or the main demographic they target.

In looking at some of the most well known brands in the food allergy industry you almost have to include Enjoy Life Foods. When you add their recent purchase by Mondelez I immediately thought of all the fun stuff Oreo has done on social media in the past few years. Even if you only glance at their Instagram page it’s photo after photo of bright fun colors with at least one Oreo in every image no matter the setting. This same fun image would work great with Enjoy Life and their product line. I hope there is some influence in their future social media efforts from Mondelez and the Oreo team.

With all the food allergies in our home and among our extended family a dairy allergy is the one we run across the least. Having only interacted with dairy free brand at the 2015 FABlogCon I thought it would be good to use one of these brands that I’m not as family with. I loved So Delicious and their desserts at the conference and since they specialize in only dairy free products this should be a nice contrast in product offerings while still targeting the food allergy community.

This past week was Pi day, or pie day for those exchanging recipes. So Delicious made it a week long affair with photos and recipes of pies using their dairy free products as well as some gluten free, egg free, and soy free options because they understand that many of us cooking for one food allergy are often covering many. The photos were amazing, and the content was shared across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. So Delicious was also great about responding to posts and comments about their #Pi4all Instagram contest this week encouraging others to share their best pie recipes using So Delicious products. With so much interaction going on the So Delicious social media accounts feel like a community with questions, praise for the product, and sharing of food allergy knowledge.

Enjoy Life didn’t have a specific post for Pi day, but was on top of a St. Patrick’s Day parfait with their soft baked cookies, mini chips, and dairy free ice cream. They also spent the past week at the Expo West trade show where they displayed new products and shared videos on Snapchat and Periscope. In between posts and tweets about Expo West there were posts and tweets about products, recipes, and events going on around the country featuring Enjoy Life products and food allergy bloggers. Enjoy Life feels like a members only page at times highlighting brand ambassadors from bloggers to chefs and fans in between. There is also a big community following on their pages sharing photos of kids happily eating their products and answering questions about food allergy concerns.

While both brands seem to be using the same tactics (sharing recipes, promoting products, etc.) So Delicious is more focused on what you can make with their products sharing more recipes. Enjoy Life is more focused on their actual products, which also includes a separate Twitter account for their Plentils chips. Neither takes an overly sales based approach pushing their products on people which probably wouldn’t go over well with the food allergy community. That both brands are using a community approach is part of their success. Sharing information with others going through the same health issues is what brings the food allergy community together. We support each other through all the trials and frustrations that we face when food allergies are a part of our lives.

The New Guy

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wiskMy food allergic husband works with a small group of people who have been great about his food allergies since he started this job. They have moved meetings to restaurants that are safe for him and make him feel included. I know we both appreciated this (I wrote a blog post on it a while back). He knew when he applied for the job that it required some traveling and yearly conferences. He was honest with them about his allergies, but also assured them he could handle it and he’s done really well these 4 and a half years.

It’s been really busy in their small office lately with one of his counterparts leaving. This meant that his territory had to be covered by everyone else while they looked for a replacement. It’s meant a little more travel than usual since the new year, but again he’s handled it really well. He got to be involved in the interviews for the replacement hire and will be training the new hire this week. Maybe it’s just me, but I worry about how training will go this week and how this new guy will perceive his food allergies while in training. Will he be offended when my husband doesn’t take him out to lunch? Will he understand that eating out just isn’t always an option?

I just keep thinking back to his last job and when he was first diagnosed with food allergies. A few of his close friends at work understood and would still ask him to lunch at places they knew he could eat. But then there was everyone else. When they would have their monthly meetings followed by lunch out people threw fits because they didn’t want to eat at a restaurant that was safe for him. The supervisor, who either didn’t want to make a scene or just didn’t care, never stood up for him so he was excluded from these lunches every time. All I can picture right now is those stories we all hear of the child forced to eat alone at lunch because the school doesn’t understand that there is a better option. My only hope is that with more awareness of food allergies we’ll see less of people being excluded because of food allergies and more acceptance at schools, workplaces, and restaurants.

Is this worrying feeling what it’s like for parents of food allergic children every time a new kid joins the class or every year when you have to speak with a new teacher? Will they take it seriously? Will they understand? Will they remember weeks or months later when it’s really important and not be offended when our loved one turns down an offer of food? Will they try their hardest not to exclude our loved one? Maybe I worry too much about how people will treat my husband when they find out about his food allergies, but it’s important to me that he not be judged because he has food allergies. Either way, welcome to the team new guy.

Allergy Friendly Fruit Crisp

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This was a snow day experiment when I just didn’t feel like studying one weekend. My husband had bought two cans of cherries, because he loves cherries in his ice cream, and asked me if I could make something with them. I immediately thought of a cobbler or crisp while he was thinking a cheesecake with cookie crust. We went with my idea and I drizzled cream cheese frosting on top to make him happy. He thinks I should frost the entire thing next time, but that defeats the purpose of a crisp. I don’t think he understands cooking and baking sometimes…
Fruit Crisp
For the fruit filling:
2 cups fresh or frozen fruit (we used cherries, but could easily see this with peaches, blueberries, apples, or cranberries)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. cornstarch or tapioca starch
Crumb topping and crust:
1 1/4 cup gluten free flour
1 cup Quinoa flakes
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare and 8×8 baking pan. In a bowl combine the sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Stir until mixed well and add the fruit plus any syrup and mix to coat the fruit.

For the crumb topping and crust mix together the flour, Quinoa flakes, brown sugar, sugar, and salt. Melt the butter and add to the dry mix with the milk. Blend with a fork, or mix well with your hands until you have a crumby texture. Use around 2/3 of the mix and pat into the bottom of your baking dish to make the crust. Then top with the fruit mixture and sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is starting to brown and the fruit mixture is bubbling. This was so good with a scoop of ice cream while still warm. Planning on making this again for a dinner party later this month with peaches. I’ll be sure to share some photos.

For more recipes visit the Allergy Friendly site.

The Odd Allergies

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frying panEvery few months it seems I get on a kick to find new recipes that are safe for my husband and that the kids will eat. I’ll do searches online or I’ll dig through the drawer of cookbooks to see what I can find that could be easily converted. The biggest hurdle is always that one food allergy in our house that’s not so common; tomatoes. While I use a red pepper sauce in place of tomatoes for a few pasta dishes, pizza sauce, chili, and enchiladas in recipes on my website this doesn’t always cut it. To make this allergy even odder is that he can’t be near a tomato plant without his sinuses starting swell and his eyes start to water.

Just the other night my husband was talking about how much he missed chili. He’s also sensitive to legumes on top of all his food allergies and went on and on about beans being the best part of chili, tomatoes were the second best thing about chili. This makes me sad. If there was some way I could create a chili for him that had something that tasted like a bean, but wouldn’t make him sick… I’ll gladly take any suggestions here.

I saw a recipe today for a burrito pie. It looked and sounded amazing as I drooled over the picture and scanned the ingredients, then I got to the tomatoes and closed the page. I should have known better. You would think that one of his other allergies would be more limiting than the tomatoes, but the market for gluten free products and egg replacer has grown like crazy in the past few years along with soy, nut, and sesame free products and we hardly ever ate shellfish before his diagnosis so this didn’t slow us down either. Something about not being able to use tomatoes just seems to ruin our meal possibilities.

I’ve had comments from other food allergy sufferers on their odd allergies as well; pumpkin, mushrooms, pineapple, melon, and even an onion allergy. I would gladly trade any of these to be able to cook with tomatoes again. On the plus side red peppers were on sale this week at the store and I stocked up with plans to freeze some sauce for future use, a new pasta dish maybe. My husband looked at me and said; “or you can make your pizza” with a grin on his face. I’m glad I can at least make this new meal favorite for him. It may not be chili, but it puts a smile on his face.

Do you have any odd allergies not in the top eight that you struggle with? What do you do to get around them or replace them? And do you have any suggestions on replacements for tomatoes or beans in a chili recipe? I’ll take those comments as well!