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Food Allergy Prompts Search For "Friendly Foods," And New Website

By Kendra Bobowick, The Newtown Bee.
Aimed at "breaking the boundaries of food allergies," as the new website FriendlyFoodFinder.com states, visitors can "find new food ideas that can help solve your dietary dilemmas." Behind the site is its co-founder, Newtown resident Deborra Zukowski, who is also the mother of a daughter who is severely allergic to milk and peanuts. She recalls many of the complications she encountered as her daughter Sadie, now a senior in college, was growing up.

 "I was a mom who said, 'My daughter is severely allergic, but that doesn't mean she has to go in the corner and avoid everything, it just means things are a little different.'"

Cupcakes posed a problem. Ms Zukowski remembers when Sadie's class had a birthday party and cupcakes, including a frosting made with milk, would be served. Rather than think her daughter would be left out, she searched for a frosting that her daughter could eat, "So while others celebrated, she could too." Ms Zukowski found other "Sadie friendly" foods through necessity. Traveling and Halloween were also tricky scenarios that led Ms Zukowski to other safe food discoveries.

One Halloween recipe called for whipped cream.

"How do I substitute that? " Ms Zukowski had wondered. After checking a kosher market with milk-free whipped cream near her home years ago in Westchester County, N.Y., she said, "They were out. I scoured for something dairy free." Her hunt led her to soy- and rice-based items.

After moving to Newtown in 2002 and entering Sadie in the local school system, Ms Zukowski recalls, "We were doing great until sophomore year." Sadie would be traveling that year to Italy with the high school orchestra. How would Sadie know what was in the foods in another country? She and Ms Zukowski decided to pack their own foods.

"We had ten days worth of food in carry-ons. Canned goods are heavy," Ms Zukowski said.

On her kitchen table this month she had an array of what she liked to call "Sadie friendly" things that her daughter could eat — a camping trail mix included. Lifting the package, Ms Zukowski noted how much lighter it was than canned goods. She and Sadie now found something that Sadie could pack and take on trips.

Ms Zukowski's trip through adolescence with her daughter and her food allergy caused a lot of "improvising," she admitted, and some realizations. Thinking back to the plane trip especially, she said, "I wanted to tell everyone with little ones [who can't bring canned goods on a plane] here's an alternative…"


An "Ah-Ha!" Moment

In June 2011 Ms Zukowski had an "Ah-ha!" moment, and started building her website — an interactive network where members can indicate the different safe foods they find for their allergy. The site has lists of foods and the stores where they are available. "It's really focused on people knowing what the options are and where."

As a brief bio on the site explains, "Our whole family searched for food substitutes, called manufacturers and talked with our doctors, family, friends, and colleagues." But despite the help, Ms Zukowski's bio states, "I always felt there should be an easier way."

The website — up since November — officially went public on April 23.

The site states, "We wanted to create a resource to make life easier. This website provides a way that we can share food finds with one another and by doing so creates a database of real life practical information — information that you can turn to anytime you need a helping hand."

The site includes food finders and store finders. The site also offers a food forum for members to talk.

Overall, she is pleased with the site.

"Where it's strongest is having people help people." Looking back at the last 20-plus years of searching for safe foods for her daughter, she said, "This was a labor of love."

Ms Zukowski finds the website FoodAllergy.org informative; it lists statistics and government data regarding food allergies. The site represents the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, FAAN. According to the site: "Food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, resulting in symptoms of an allergic reaction. The symptoms may be mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc) or severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc). A food allergy can be potentially fatal. Scientists estimate that as many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies."

Ms Zukowki's website includes a food finder, store finder, food forum, resources, and recommended foods. Residents are now able to log on and participate. The site is free to join and benefits include shared experiences, conversations, and contact with others facing similar needs.


Copied, with permission, from The Newtown Bee. See original article below.


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