We made it through another ground-breaking year at Food Equality Initiative. As each month goes by, we learn more and more, and open ourselves up for more opportunities. We started spreading the news about Food is Medicine and continue serving people this food/medicine needed to live healthy lives. Let me take you through some highlights from each of the months of 2021.
2021 started with a bang! We launched our new website for clients to self-select free-from food delivered directly to their door. With a self-managed online platform, we positioned ourselves to start expanding our services nationwide. What an exciting time!
Emily Brown and Erin Martinez helped write an abstract for a poster presentation with Kansas University Medical Center; “Addressing food insecurities in clients with food allergies in underserved communities with a prescription food program,” prepared in collaboration with . The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology accepted it for their annual conference, held Feb. 26-March 1.
And, Emily Brown joined former NFL running back, best-selling author and TV personality Rashad Jennings for an episode of his Big IDEA. The episode has garnered 193K views since its debut on Feb. 4! The conversation covered how food allergic individuals in under-resourced communities often lack access to safe, nutritious foods due to the absence of grocery stores. And, how federal nutrition programs such as SNAP fail to meet needs of food insecure individuals with food allergies.
Food Equality Initiative attended the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, a 3-day event held online by the Food Research & Action Center and Feeding America, in cooperation with the National Child and Adult Care Food Program Forum. The conference draws anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates; federal, state and local government officials; child advocates; representatives of food banks and food rescue organizations; sponsoring organizations and nutrition and anti-obesity groups.
Also, Emily Brown and Erin Martinez worked on a paper with the CFAAR team to write and publish research in the Social Work in Health Care Journal. The article is titled Addressing the social needs of individuals with food allergy and celiac disease during COVID-19: A new practice model for sustained social care and shares how FEI changed in 2020 to be able to meet the needs of those we serve.
On April 14th, the US government signed the FASTER Act into law! Sesame is now the 9th legally protected food allergy. Emily traveled to Washington D.C. and FEI signed multiple petitions with the Food Allergy Collaborative to lobby for this Act to become law. Now that it is passed, food manufacturers have until January 1, 2023 to ensure that they treat sesame like other top allergens; they will need to list sesame as an ingredient on food labels, in plain language. (Under current labeling regulations, manufacturers do not have to label sesame, and it can hide behind vague terms such as “natural flavors” or “spices,” leaving the estimated 1.5 million Americans living with a sesame allergy at risk.) This is the first time since 2006 that a new allergen has been added to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).
Throughout May, Food Allergy Awareness Month, FEI brought attention to the ongoing work of The Seven Percent Fund & Coalition. Founded June 2020, the Seven Percent Fund and Coalition seeks to reduce racial and economic disparities in healthcare and allergies. The 14 Coalition founders released a collaborative video along with an open letter to industry colleagues which seek to highlight how existing racial and economic disparities contribute to an increase in health risks for those diagnosed with food allergies, celiac disease, and other diet-treated diseases.
We joined the craze and got a TikTok! A summer intern helped us run our account for the season. Unfortunately, she had to stop when school started, but we were cool for the summer. Check out the videos here.
On a more serious side, we held a one-year-later conversation of For the Health. Our panel discussion, FOR THE HEALTH, A YEAR LATER: A Conversation on Race and Food Allergy, premiered on Juneteenth. We reconvened the esteemed panelists who took part in our first Juneteenth For The Health webinar a year ago to reflect on progress made toward equity over the past 12 months, and also to offer insight into what is still needed to end racial and economic disparities in food allergy. If you missed it, you can catch the riveting hour-long conversation featuring notable Black voices in food allergy on FEI’s YouTube channel. Also, you can find a more in-depth recap of this important discussion on our blog.
In July, Emily launched her new business: Free From Market (FFM), which took over the online shopping service. In splitting these roles of service management and client service, both organizations have the capacity to flourish. FEI regains the bandwidth to focus on education of food as medicine for clients and the public. And, as a private entity, FFM can raise greater funds through investors and retail sales to ensure goods are available for public service. Together, they are able to collect data and support research. This will help work toward policy changes in the intersection of food insecurity and diet-treated illnesses.
Also, FEI is proud to announce that our esteemed CEO and Founder Emily Brown and our Medical Advisory Board’s Dr. Bridgette Jones presented at the National Medical Association’s (NMA) Food Allergy Symposium a Discussion of Social Determinants/Racial Disparities in Food Allergy. The National Medical Association is the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing African American physicians and health professionals in the United States. It was created in 1895 after a group of black doctors sought membership into the American Medical Association and were repeatedly denied admission due to the discriminatory policies of the nation. The 2021 Convention, themed Restoring Hope and Health Across the African Diaspora: Black Health and Wellness Matter, is acclaimed as the nation’s foremost forum on medical science and African American health.
We started a new webinar series entitled, Food Laws: Transforming Lives through Policy. Our first conversation was Intro to Changemaking where we explored a few food laws, what they mean for individuals with restricted diets and food-related diseases, and how you can work to increase protections through policies and laws in your state. Watch the webinar in full on our YouTube channel.
The Seven Percent Fund & Coalition is growing! We have 7 new members; now we are 21 members strong. Together, we’re making great strides in reducing racial and economic disparities in food allergy and healthcare. At our quarterly meeting, we discussed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how we could best support these two important pieces of legislation: The Summer Meals Act of 2021 and the Access to Healthy Food for Young Children Act.
In service news, our pilot client program with Stanford began in August. One major focus of the Stanford study is to measure the impact of FEI interventions on clients’ finances, mental well-being, and overall physical health. This data is important as FEI continues to advocate for insurance coverage for medically-necessary foods to treat diet-treated illnesses.
September was a BIG month at Food Equality Initiative. We declared September 14th as National Food is Medicine Day! This is a day set aside to raise awareness of existing barriers to healthy, medically-necessary food access for under-resourced families and individuals. Learn more about these barriers and why it’s important to address them at FoodIsMedicineDay.org.
We also updated our Price Comparison Chart with 2021 figures. Free-from foods cost significantly more than conventional foods. How much more? Take gluten-free bread as an example. When compared, the price of gluten-free bread is 983% higher than the price of gluten-containing store brand bread. We compiled this chart from prices found during a recent trip to a Kansas City grocery store, illustrating the stark differences between the prices of free-from staple foods and conventional foods.
Chapter 2 in our Food Laws webinar series was College Dining Plans, where we discussed what steps you should be taking and questions you should be asking when starting your college search with food allergies or celiac disease. For an in-depth run-down of the session equipped with the video itself, check out our blog.
Emily, Erin, and 2 FEI Representatives attended the Externally-Led: Patient-Focused Drug Development Meeting on September 9th in Washington D.C. They shared their personal experiences managing and treating food allergy alongside other patient advocates. The aim is to have the FDA and drug companies better understand what it’s like to live with food allergies. They also want to learn how patients are currently treating their condition. The insights gained in the meeting resulted in the production of a Voice of the Patient report which is available to drug development stakeholders. Read about what the representatives Dawn and Nehgar had to say.
As part of giving back after Hurricane Ida, FEI, donated $70,000 worth of free-from food to pantries in New Orleans. FEI partnered with Smart Warehousing and Code Ana to pack and ship 24 pallets of allergen and gluten-free food donations to the Gulf Coast. Second Harvest in Louisiana received the free-from food and helped distribute it to families in need of safe foods who are recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Watch local KC news coverage about the shipment on FOX4kc here, and on KSHB here.
Emily Brown visited Arkansas Children’s Hospital to give pediatric Grand Rounds. She talked about why FEI’s services are vital in serving children diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease. She also spoke at a conversation hosted by the Grain Foods Foundation about optimizing cereal choices under the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
Emily Brown and Sofia Gillespie, Education Coordinator, hosted a booth at the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology’s annual scientific meeting in New Orleans. They were able to speak with allergists across the nation about FEI’s work, helping patients like their own access safe, healthy, and reliable food. After making some excellent new connections and planting the seed in future partners, they got to enjoy some of the wonderful sights and food of New Orleans.
FEI’s client-focused Free-From Magazine won a prestigious Philly Award from Nonprofit Connect. We are extremely excited to win the gold prize for best magazine/newsletter for small nonprofits in Kansas City in 2021. We are looking forward to making even more magazines in the new year!
On November 30th, we held our second annual Giving Tuesday Non-Event and raised double the amount we did last year. THANK YOU!
The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition is hosting a virtual conference this December. Emily and Erin co-authored an abstract for a poster presentation with Dr. Julia Bracken. They submitted: Addressing food insecurity in pediatric celiac patients through a prescription food pantry. FEI’s services are providing the important data for the presentation.
And perhaps the biggest news of all is Emily’s farewell from Food Equality Initiative. After founding and serving for 7 years, she is saying goodbye in order to say hello to new opportunities. We will certainly miss her leadership and vision. Erin Martinez, Director of Operations will take place as interim CEO until a new leader has been chosen. Click here to read Emily’s farewell letter.