A Letter from the Founder

Welcome! I’m the Founder and CEO of Securing Safe Food Corp. (SSF) and a second-year undergraduate student in New Jersey, studying English on a premedical track. I’m interested in languages and literature, ancient medicine, and inequities in health. On campus, I lead FACTUAL, the Food Allergy and Celiac Team for University Advocacy and Living, which I co-founded in 2022. Outside of university, I research food insecurity and food access behaviors with Feinberg School of Medicine’s Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research (CFAAR) and Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago—work which will intersect with our research goals here at SSF.

The story of Securing Safe Food begins with personal history. As you read about my team members below, you’ll notice that many of us have lived with food allergies for nearly all of our childhoods and young adulthoods. I was diagnosed with allergies to milk, egg, peanut, and tree nuts at 1 year old. I also have a rare, heritable connective tissue disorder that often presents in affected individuals, including myself, alongside chronic gastrointestinal symptoms.

While the range of allergen-free options available in 2022—think dairy-free milks, nut-free spreads, wheat- and egg-free bread—is undoubtedly greater than in 2003, as I have grown older and experienced increasing digestive conditions, my list of safe foods has become more limited. More often than not in our food system, allergen-free and gluten-free items can be costly and difficult to find. In high school, I stopped dining out due to poor accommodations and unreliable food-allergy safety. My parents paid for a mandatory school lunch program I did not use. When stores stopped carrying my staple items or brands changed their ingredients, my family shopped online for specialty foods and nutritional drinks, further upping our food expenses. Due to my food allergies and chronic conditions, meals were becoming a pain (both physically and figuratively).

As a high school junior, I launched SSF to make allergen-free foods more readily available in public spaces, e.g. school cafeterias or local eateries. With the COVID-19 pandemic and its novel impacts on global food security, however, my team members and I quickly decided to instead leverage our time and efforts where food allergy education and accommodation were most essentially needed. I was struggling to locate the foods my body required in a routine supermarket. It is logical that allergen-avoidant individuals or families who rely on food pantries or food distribution programs face unique challenges in accessing food—if a small pantry doesn’t stock the foods they require to manage their condition, they might not have the finances to visit local grocery stores, let alone travel to other zip codes, or order foods online. A student-led 501(c)(3) organization, SSF works to close the gap in safe food access by informing and equipping food assistance programs with resources to serve individuals with food allergy, celiac disease, or other medical dietary restrictions.

Contrary to what our name might imply, SSF is not only about allocating safe food, but is equally about a message of education and food accessibility. We envision a food pantry system that offers allergen-safe options (i.e. access) and an inclusive experience (accessibility) for any individual with allergy or medical food needs to visit a local program, easily receive healthful foods, and feel understood. 

While I continue in my university studies, I’m more than excited for the growth of SSF and a vital dialogue around food allergies and nutritional support. Since founding SSF, I’ve developed a passion for intervening in disparities across health and food security, but I’ve also realized that commonality and shared experience (e.g. living with food allergies or diet-affected illnesses) can drive positive change in our traditional food system, even if that experience originates in struggle. While I have been frustrated by my food allergies and restrictions, it is seeing, experiencing, these conditions for myself (in ancient Greek, autopsíā) that has empowered me to work towards improving the wellbeing of individuals with similar conditions. I believe food-allergy related diagnoses and obstacles—whether personal or witnessed—have in the same way shaped my team members into youth advocates and leaders who are determined to change food access for the better.

I hope you’ll join us,