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A Holistic Perspective on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Food Allergy Community 

by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

January 2024

The year 2023 was filled with a lot of ups and downs. In the food allergy community, there is a complexity to living and managing our lives that many still don’t understand until they are impacted by what we face. Truthfully, it is no secret that living with life-threatening food allergies can be a challenging journey, requiring constant vigilance and adaptation. Facing challenges related to equity, inclusion, economic uncertainties, astronomical healthcare costs, and food scarcity can make you feel completely overwhelmed.

As we start the new year, I wanted to revisit the intersectionality of food allergy living as it relates to current societal issues. It is important to do a proverbial temperature check to see how we can all work towards a more inclusive and supportive world. Let’s review a few things to get us all thinking about how we can become more solution oriented.

Diverse Dimensions in Food Allergies

Food allergies affect people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. The experience of managing our world is not the same in every home or community. Acknowledging this diversity is crucial for building a more inclusive community for all. Recognizing that each person's journey is unique fosters empathy and understanding, laying the foundation for a supportive environment. If you take a quick peek around social media inside any of the groups or pages that are dedicated to food allergies, the posts and comments people may give a clear picture of the diverse ways we manage. It would be even better if more people could accept that we all are doing our best and what works for one person may work differently for another.

Equitable Access to Allergy-Friendly Options

Equity is another way of saying fairness. Achieving equity in managing food allergies involves ensuring equal access to allergen-friendly options. In a perfect world, everyone would have access to the same resources and opportunities; however, the world in which we live is not perfect. It is imperative that governments, businesses, and communities work together to make foods more affordable and accessible for those with food allergies. This includes continuing to advocate for clearer, more accurate food labeling; promoting allergen-friendly options in public spaces; and encouraging businesses to consider the needs of those with food allergies. It also means people need to see this as a health condition for which accommodations should be made and normalized.

Social Spaces and Inclusion

Social isolation can be a reality for people living with food allergies due to fear of accidental exposure and lack of understanding of others. Promoting inclusion in social spaces involves raising awareness and fostering understanding. Encouraging open conversations about food allergies to shut down myths and misconceptions matters. By creating inclusive spaces, we not only support those with allergies but also contribute to a more understanding and compassionate society. Again, this calls for normalizing inclusion of what is required for a health condition that impacts millions of Americans as well as others around the world for a critical human function: eating!

Economic Impacts of Managing Food Allergies

The economic challenges associated with managing food allergies can be significant. Allergen-friendly foods are often more expensive, and medical costs for emergency situations can tax already strained budgets. The economic impacts are exacerbated for individuals with lower incomes. Addressing these challenges requires advocacy for affordable healthcare, increased accessibility, and support from community resources.

Food Scarcity and Allergen-Free Options

In the context of global food availability, The State of Food Security and Nutrition World report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted that between 691 and 783 million people had to deal with hunger in 2022. This was an increase of 122 million from just 2019. Individuals with life-threatening food allergies may face additional hurdles based on their location and economic status. Ensuring an adequate supply of allergen-friendly options during times of food scarcity requires collaborative efforts. Governments and businesses must work together to prioritize the needs of all people, including those with food allergies, and ensure they have access to safe and nutritious food.

Support Systems and Non-Traditional Families

The concept of “family” has evolved, encompassing a diverse range of structures. Just using the term “non-traditional” makes my skin crawl because all families are on equal, footing regardless of their structure. However, those considered non-traditional—including single-parent households, blended families, families with same-sex parents, grandparents, and extended parent-led families—also face unique challenges in managing life-threatening food allergies. Building support systems tailored to these diverse family structures is crucial, especially where DEI initiatives are being struck down. Schools, workplaces, and communities should acknowledge and accommodate family compositions to ensure the safety and well-being of ALL individuals with allergies, regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, age, disability, or social class.

Your Temperature for an Inclusive Future

What can you do? What can you change? How can you help? This is a global issue, not a single person issue, and we can all help. Some things we can do:

  • Advocate for Policy Change: Support and advocate for policies that promote food allergy awareness, clearer labeling, and affordable access to allergen-friendly options. Make sure your voice is heard!
  • Promote Education and Awareness: At FAACT, we work tirelessly to update our website, create resources, and work with those who reach out to us as well as make sure our footprint is well known to healthcare organizations and other officials who can elicit change. Help us create a more informed society by promoting education resources and awareness pathways. Share resources with schools, workplaces, and community organizations so they can implement training programs that foster understanding and inclusion.
  • Support Allergen-Friendly Initiatives: Patronize businesses and support initiatives that cater to individuals with food allergies. This includes allergen-friendly restaurants, food manufacturers, bloggers, apps, and community events that prioritize inclusivity and validated data.
  • Revitalize Diversity Initiatives in Support Groups: If you are part of a support group, ensure that it is inclusive and welcoming to individuals from diverse backgrounds and family structures. If you need something, say something and our team can help point you to the resources we have in place.

Managing life-threatening food allergies is never just an individual concern but a collective societal responsibility. By addressing issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, the economy, food scarcity, and non-traditional families, we can create a world where individuals with food allergies feel supported, understood, and included. Help us work together with YOU, the community, to continue building a future where everyone, regardless of their unique circumstances, can navigate life with allergies safely and confidently.