Opinion: Sandy West, Advocacy Journalist

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December 13, 2021

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Last November, Sandy West published an article in The Washington Post, exploring the prevalence of food allergies among minority populations all over the country. The piece featured the personal stories of  two families, three doctors, and some medical specialists.

West spoke to Emily Brown, a mother to a child with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy. 

“When she became a parent, Brown left her job for lack of child care that would accommodate her daughter’s allergies,” West said. “When she and her husband then turned to a federal food assistance program, they found few allowable allergy substitutions.”  

The mother questioned why the federal food assistance program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) would not allow for substitutions like sunflower seed butter for peanut butter, leading her to create the Food Equality Initiative advocacy organization. 

The goal of the Food Equality Initiative is to offer support along with an online platform where families with income eligibility and a doctor’s note can order allergy-safe foods for their family for free. 

Carla Davis, a pediatrician and the director of the food allergy program at Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, said the Food Equality Initiative is particularly important. “If you are diagnosed with a food allergy and you don’t have disposable income or disposable time, there is really no way that you will be able to alter your diet in a way that your child is going to stay away from their allergen,” Davis said. 

The foundation has now doubled its client list from March 2020 to August 2020, in comparison to the same five month period in 2019, which can be attributed to the pandemic, West noted in her report.

West’s article also reveals how federal food assistance programs are heavily reliant on pre-packaged and processed foods, which often include the very ingredients that are problematic for children with allergies, including wheat, dairy, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.

West is an advocate for the voiceless, poor, and minority families that cannot afford to provide the safe-to-eat food for their children that they need. Statistics show that there are about six million children in the United States with food allergies with 40 percent of them having more than one.

West shared facts and spread statistics and information about how certain minority groups are more likely to have food allergies and not have access to food that is “safe” for them to eat. This information is valuable to not only the community that she wrote about because she got their story out, but to people all over so that they can learn the struggles that these groups are going through everyday.

As someone with food allergies, I think that West did a great job sharing information about the topic of food allergies and minority children. She provided accurate information along with a few resources, such as Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), that are extremely helpful and important to those who have food allergies.

West’s work puts into perspective that food allergies are extremely difficult to navigate as it all comes down to cost of food that is safe to eat and medication that can save your life. 

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