The food allergy community may be growing, but it sure is still such a small world. During Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 10-16th, Sarah Ackerman of https://www.girlbehindthehive.com/ decided to start a “Bee a Pen Pal program”. In this program, she used a google form to match us up with other people with allergies so that we wouldn’t feel as alone during this quarantine and also in life in general. I went into the google form expecting to meet a new friend, or even to help mentor someone younger than me as they go through the college-searching process, but that was not the experience I got.
A few days later, I got an email from Sarah connecting me with the email of my brand-new pen pal. When I opened it up, I was surprised and delighted to see that I had gotten paired with Alexa from https://www.foodallergiesinthefoodindustry.com/! Alexa and I first met during FARE’s Teen Summit all the way back in 2014, and we’ve been long-distance friends ever since. On the first day we met, I was so excited to have found someone exactly my age who has a very similar allergen list to me. We share allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish but while I have a seed allergy, she has a legume allergy. And it didn’t hurt that she’s such a positive voice for food allergy advocacy and a joyful person to be around. We’ve kept in contact over text these past 6 (wow I feel old now) years and have gotten the experience of seeing each other in person at the Teen Summits in 2015, 2018, and 2019.
Over the years, it’s been great to watch Alexa grow in confidence with herself and with managing her allergies. Reading her blog about working and gaining education in the hospitality and food industries is just so empowering as I learned about how much she had to fight for being safe while learning. She has taught me why things are so difficult for people with allergies from a totally different perspective and it has opened my eyes to the importance of self-advocacy and education for others. Her experience working in a bakery with her allergens and with negotiating with cooking professors shows her dedication and personal responsibility for making a change in how chefs handle food allergies. It is people like Alexa who will bring change and ease of living to food allergic people everywhere. At the past two Teen Summits, I’ve loved being there to support her in her presentations, and it’s been great to have her support me in my presentations too.
Getting placed randomly with Alexa has been such a wonderful opportunity for me to reconnect with her during quarantine. Since we are both out of luck in terms of having canceled summer employment and a lack of a desire to work in grocery stores, we are setting up some projects to complete this summer for fun and advocacy. In these unprecedented times, it is great to have someone who can empower you to do better, and I’m so glad to have found that in Alexa.