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 and Classics 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 are 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, chronic conditions, and difficulty finding foods, 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 an accompanying decrease in 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 dispensaries for supplemental nutrition face difficulties 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 and nutritional inequality by informing and equipping food assistance programs with the resources necessary 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 the message of education and equal food accessibility that accompanies it. We envision a food pantry system that offers allergen-safe options (i.e. access) and an inclusive experience (accessibility) for any individual with allergic or medical dietary illnesses 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 future growth of SSF, and to keep providing vital dialogue around food allergies and nutritional support. Through my work, I have developed a passion for intervening in disparities across health and food access, but perhaps more importantly, I’ve 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. The blessing and the burden of my diagnoses have converged. While I have been frustrated by my food allergies and restrictions, they have at the same time empowered me to help others who are living with these conditions, in the same way I believe they have 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. 

Rachel