One of the scariest moments of my life was when we realized Bowie was having an allergic reaction to a food. What started off as mother/son date to Zilker Park snacking on a Lara Bar, eventually ended in the ER at Dell’s Children. There are no words to describe the fear running through my mind and body as we rushed to the hospital with a hysterical Bowie who was developing more and more hives every second. It wasn’t until an appointment with an allergist that we discovered Bowie is allergic to cashews and pistachios and sensitive to other nuts. We carry EPI pens with us everywhere we go and quickly removed all nuts from our house. I had no idea what this meant for our lives, most especially Bowie’s life and what resources were available to me to learn more. Enter Denise of Partake Foods, a line of allergy-friendly snacks. Denise left her career at Coca-Cola to launch Partake in August 2017, after her now-3 year old daughter was diagnosed with several life-threatening food allergies. She struggled to find a brand that made products that met her dietary restrictions, her nutritional standards and still managed to taste good. With over 100M Americans shopping for “free-from” foods and the incidence of food allergies in children doubling over the past 10 years, she felt there was an opportunity to create a brand that invites everyone to partake (pun intended!). Denise is here to share what every parent should know about food allergies (even if your child doesn’t have one) including most common allergies, resources, and the inspiration behind Partake Foods.
By Denise Woodard
Being a new mom is tough. Being a new mom to a child with life-threatening food allergies is really tough. Back in 2015, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner with my husband and then 8-month-old daughter Vivienne (looking back, that was a very brave thing to tackle as a new mom!). I thought the biggest hurdle was getting through dinner but, unfortunately, that was the easy part. After dinner, Vivi went on to vomit 12 times- quickly becoming lethargic and turning an ashen gray color- I will never forget how scared I was in that moment. We rushed her to the hospital and she was diagnosed with a stomach bug.
A few months later and after several trips to the ER, we finally found out the truth behind this alleged ‘stomach bug’ of hers. It was no bug at all- our little Vivi was diagnosed with severe food allergies to eggs, corn, bananas, and tree nuts. No wonder this was happening! Those ingredients are everywhere!
Food allergies happen when the body’s immune system misinterprets a seemingly harmless food as an invader and proceeds to release chemicals like histamine in an attempt to fight off the invader.
Within minutes, hives, swelling, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting ensue and the body quickly goes into anaphylactic shock resulting in difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and ultimately, loss of consciousness.
Eight of the most common foods account for over 90% of allergic reactions like:
- tree nuts (i.e., walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts, etc.),
- fish, and
- shellfish (i.e., shrimp, lobster, and crab)
With this new information in hand, I set out to ensure that my child could live the most normal life possible. How hard could it be? Just find foods without the triggers in them and she will be fine, right? Wrong. I quickly became frustrated with the lack of allergy-friendly snacks available and kept myself up at night thinking about poor Vivi being left out at school, not being able to participate in the daily activities all kids take part in. Granted, she was still years away from going to pre-K, I still had these thoughts in addition to the regular fears of her getting her hands onto a trigger food when I wasn’t around. It was during one of my late-night worry sessions, when I realized what I needed to do, not only as a mother, but as a food allergy advocate. I then chose to leave my career at Coca-Cola to embark on a life-changing mission to help Vivi, and the 100 million Americans on restricted diets, lead normal lives. With this goal in mind, Partake Foods was born. Our goal at Partake is to provide peace of mind to those with dietary restrictions and simple enjoyment to those without.
Giving up working for Fortune 500 companies to sell cookies may not be a typical career path, but I have never felt more fulfilled. Every day, I learn something new about food allergies and how they impact the lives of families. If you’re a mom reading this and your child does not have any food allergies, know that your kiddo will attend school with someone that does; if your child does have food allergies, know that they are not alone- because statistics show that 1 in 13 kids have food allergies and that number is expected to grow to 1 in 10 by 2020. As a parent, one may not even think twice about the cupcakes baked for a school potluck, or even the lunch packed for a little one, and how that might get into the hands of someone with an allergy. An allergic reaction can be triggered simply by touching a surface that the contaminant was on, which is why I urge everyone to take a few seconds to pause and check the ingredients lists on snacks before sending your child to school with them.
The world of food allergies can be a scary, intimidating thing, but I promise there are a wealth of communities and resources available (two of my favorites are FARE and the Spokin app both of which provide easy to access information). Together, we are all advocates working to make our, and most importantly, our children’s’ lives, a little safer and happier.
*If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, see a qualified medical professional or board-certified allergist- it is important not to wait as these can be life-threatening.