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Inspiration to Start Growing Your Own Food

June 17, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

At AllergyKids, we are constantly inspired by creative people looking for new solutions to our growing health crisis. From parents to food industry executives to some pretty fantastic kids, we are learning about the amazing work of people around the country every day.

So when we connected with Mike Lieberman, the founder of UrbanOrganicGardener , on Twitter, we got really excited. Because Mike, in an effort to address the high prices of healthy food, got his start growing his own food on a fire escape. Talk about thinking outside the box!

At AllergyKids, we loved the bold creativity of the idea, so we are excited to share Mike’s story with you. Let us know what you think. And if you’ve got any other creative ideas, we’d love to hear those, too.

Because at AllergyKids, we believe that each and every single one of us has a unique talent to lend to this important mission of cleaning up our broken food system for the health of our families. So lend your talent, and let us know what you are doing so that we can share your inspiration with others, too!

When I talk to people about growing their own food, the often give me a look like I’m crazy. I mean why would they do that when there is a grocery store packed with all sorts of cheap food only a few miles away?

It’s great. No matter where you live or what season it is you can get pineapples, mangoes, apples, cucumbers, whatever you want.

We already lead busy enough lives between work and family. Why would we want to spend time on growing their own food?

It’s hard to argue those points, but I do and will anyway.

These answers are not rooted in scientific studies that have been conducted over the years. Instead the answers that I give are much simpler than that and here they are:

We are humans. We grow food.

This is the most basic of answers and it’s to the point. Look back at history. Societies and civilizations were built around fertile land and access to water.

The lives that we lead now consists of sitting around and staring at a screen of some sort and sitting in a car. That actually is not normal. These are habits that we’ve formed in the past 100 or so years.

Where is our food coming from?

Did you know that our food travels about 1,500 miles from the farm to our plates. That’s about halfway across the United States.

The next time you are in the grocery store pick up a piece of produce and read where it’s from. I would bet that it’s not even from this country.

What happens is the food is harvested, often times unripe, and sprayed with chemicals (more on those later) to ripen them during transit and put on the store shelf.

When the food actually makes it to the store shelf, it’s already almost a month old. Think about the nutrients that have been lost.

Then there are the transportation costs that factor into it. Oil and resources are needed to transport those good that long distance. Overall, it’s not a very sustainable practice.

Whats being used to treat the food?

The use of pesticides and sprays was touched on above in regards to maintaining the food after the harvest. They are also used throughout the growing process as well to feed the plant, keep off pests and to hurry along the growing process.

Not sure about you, but a study is not required to tell me that I don’t want me, my friends or family to be ingesting those chemicals. They aren’t going to simply be washed away with a rinse of water.

There you go, those are some simple reasons why you should start to grow your own food. There are many others that are rooted in politics and environmental aspects, but these are simple and to the point.

I’m not saying that you should now go off and start a farm. If you do, hit me up because I’d love to help out. Growing all of your own food isn’t realistic given all of our current circumstances. I do believe that if you grow just one herb or veggie that it will certainly make a difference.

Don’t use space or lack of experience as an excuse to not get started either. The perfect time doesn’t exist. Only now does. I don’t want to hear about lack of space either, as I got my start on a fire escape in New York City.

When are you going to start growing some of your own food?

About the Author: Through his blog UrbanOrganicGardener.com and social media, Mike Lieberman inspires and empowers people to start growing their own food and reconnect with their food source. Lieberman believes that growing just one herb or vegetable will make a difference. It will help to cut back the intensive resources that go into the production and transport of food to our plates. It will also help us to re-establish our connection with food that we’ve lost over the past few years. We are humans. We grow food. Connect with Mike at UrbanOrganicGardener.com, Twitter or Facebook.

From Bad to Better: Finding Inspiration in Hard-to-Hear Knowledge

June 12, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

As we learn new information about our food supply and how contaminated and polluted it has become, the knowledge can at times be disheartening. There are moments when the information can be hard to hear and difficult to learn, as it can cause enormous heartache and grief.

But if you look at the information as a gift, as the greatest knowledge you could ever receive to help protect the health of your loved ones, somehow it makes it easier to learn.

Because in the words of Charles R. Swindoll, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

Knowledge does not have to infuse you with fear, but rather knowledge can inspire and empower you, so that the love that you have for your children can serve as a rocketfuel to create the change we want to see in the health of our families.

And if you need a moment to reflect on how to do this, just watch this video of an incredible performer who is sure to inspire you.

“Love who you are and let it guide you to who you can be.” ~ Mariel Hemingway

We Are All Doctor Moms

June 10, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Melissa Arca, M.D., a pediatrician, mom of two and founder of Confessions of a Dr. Mom.

Before becoming a mother, I never considered myself a great cook, teacher, safety expert, house cleaner, party planner, or cheerleader for that matter. And yet, during this journey through motherhood, I am certainly all of these things and more to my children. As mothers, this is what we do. We assume various roles under this big umbrella of motherhood. Apparently, it’s all part of the job description that no one told us about.

But, we do it because we are Moms.

And, when our children become sick, get hurt, or face a particular medical issue…we become their Doctor Moms. It’s just what we do.

We kiss boo boos, bandage them up, and sing soothing songs.

We rock, cuddle, and wipe away tears.

We spend sleepless nights at our sick child’s bedside, just watching them breathe.

We are unfazed by the copious amount of nasal discharge or the vomit covering our shirts.

We are Doctor Moms

We painstakingly measure out the correct amount of acetaminophen and double check just to be sure.

We kiss those hot foreheads and can predict the height of their fevers within 0.1 degree of accuracy.

We change soiled pajamas and bedsheets in the middle of the night and then tuck our children back in.

When we should be sleeping, we worry about the “what ifs”. What if it isn’t just a cold? What if that bump/that rash/that cough is something more? What if?

We speak up when we know something is just not right.

We are Doctor Moms

We investigate, research, and become experts on our own children.

We know to trust that nagging feeling.

We wait, always hopeful, for those test results whatever they may be. We digest it, go over it a million times in our heads before deciding on the next step.

We make sure that the decisions made on behalf of our children align with what we know to be true about them.

We are Doctor Moms

We know when to step back and ask for help when we see our child suffering.

But, we never fade into the background.

We are there every step of the way. Armed with our motherly expertise and unconditional love, we are essential in their treatment and healing process.

We are the ones on the front lines. We are the ones who know our children like no one else.

We are Doctor Moms.

I spent this past week caring for my sick 3 year old daughter. Through the sleepless nights, the high fevers, and the constant worrying, I realized that what makes me a Doctor Mom, her Doctor Mom has nothing to do with the M.D. behind my name.

It has everything to do with me simply being her Mom.

Now excuse me while I put on my house cleaner hat and disinfect this place.

Melissa of Confessions of a Dr. Mom is a pediatrician, mom of two, writer, and blogger who writes passionately about motherhood, parenting, and children’s health

A Guide to Fixing School Food

June 8, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

By Dana Woldow of P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food

I’ve been working on fixing school food in San Francisco since 2002, and have served as co- chair of my school district’s student nutrition committee for over 7 years. I don’t work for the school district and never have; I am a parent volunteer. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with others who are hoping to drive change in their own school districts. Here are a few key points to understand before jumping into the battle:

1) Fixing school food is a team sport. You will get nowhere on your own, so be sure you have a core group of supporters who share your goals.

2) You have to make the decision going in that, no matter what, you will never, ever ,ever give up until you attain your goal.

3) Change is hard for a bureaucracy, and good bureaucrats always want to do what is easiest; that’s usually just doing what they have always done. You must make these folks realize that you are not going to give up and go away (see #2), that you are going to keep coming at them , and that each time you do, you have more people behind you. Eventually they will realize that it is easier to just give you what you want, rather than continue to do what they have always done while trying to fight you off, and at that point, you will prevail.

4) Fixing school food is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want everyone in the world to like them. There will be those who won’t like you, those who will call you “the food police” or worse, and you may even make a few enemies; you have to be able to shrug that off. I always tell people who are put off by my blunt attitude that fortunately I am not running for Miss Congeniality.

5) Nothing happens overnight. It’s okay to dream big, but break your dream down into smaller pieces which can realistically be achieved. Celebrate every success, even if it is just baby steps. Getting to your ultimate goal will take years; you need to be in this for the long haul.

6) You may not know as much as you think you do about fixing school food. Much (really most) of the media coverage of this issue has been faulty, sometimes misrepresenting the situation, sometimes outright untruths. Some of the loudest voices in the debate have their own agendas to push, which skew the public debate. Try to be aware of who might have partnerships with businesses that may be focused on profit as much as on kids’ health, or a book, TV show, movie, consulting business or service to promote, and be a little skeptical when deciding what to believe. Keep an open mind and be ready to learn from every experience.

7) Every school district is different, and something which works in one place may not work somewhere else. Among the differences are cost of labor, availability of outside funding, quality of facilities, and socioeconomics of the community.8) School food is highly regulated by the government and you have to be aware of all of the regulations; it takes a lot of reading and asking the right questions before you can really understand what is involved in getting to your ultimate goal. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this!

So, with those key points in mind, here is my Everybody’s Guide to Fixing School Food.

Getting Educated

Your very first step towards fixing school food should be Getting Educated. School food is tightly regulated by the USDA; your state and even your own school district may also impose further regulations. If you don’t understand the regs, you will get nowhere with your student nutrition director, and without the cooperation of your student nutrition director, you will get nowhere with fixing school food. A great place to start is with Janet Poppendieck’s excellent book “Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.” However, at a certain point, you are going to have to confront The Beast – the sections of the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) that deal with school food. Here is the link:


Start with SubChapter A – Child Nutrition Programs, Part 210; this part deals only with the National School Lunch Program; the School Breakfast Program has its own enormous set of regs, but if you understand the lunch regs, it will be easier to understand breakfast. Don’t try to read this all in one sitting; rather, think of it as a resource, the first place you go to try to find out what the regulations are. Skim through and get a sense of what is there.

It is important that you be at least familiar with all of the regs Janet P. discusses in her excellent book. There may come a time when someone who does not want to give you what you are requesting tells you that “the regs won’t allow it” and you must be informed enough to know if this person is telling you the truth or just bluffing to make you go away. You will also find that you have to be a teacher of the regs as well as a student; it will be up to you to make sure that others you come into contact with, including your supporters, key district officials, and the media, all understand the regs too. Right now it is a safe assumption that 99% of them don’t; you will have to understand well enough to be able to teach others. This is a process; you don’t need to understand everything before you begin. Just keep at it and try to learn a little more each week.

Getting Organized

Next step is to find a posse of other like minded individuals – parents, students, teachers, school nurses, health care professionals – who are willing to work with you. I call this Getting Organized. This isn’t as hard as it sounds; lots of people recognize that school food is a problem, but most of them don’t know what to do about it, and for sure they don’t want to be the ringleader. You have to be the ringleader, but once you assure people that they don’t have to lead, just follow, you would be surprised at how many people will sign on. Start at your own kids’ school, but branch out from there. If your school or school district has a parent listserv, that can be useful for finding people who share your concern. If you can get just 8-10 people to start, that’s plenty.

Have a meeting and let everyone share their concerns about school food. Brainstorm about what you would like to change. What would your ideal meal program look like? Prioritize the changes – what is most important to your group? Try to break big changes down so that they are manageable, because for your first challenge, it needs to be something you can actually win. A big win early on really galvanizes a group. So, for example, don’t pick something like “switch to scratch cooking” or “use all organic ingredients” for your first challenge – no one gets that on the first try. Instead, something like “Offer fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch” is much more doable.

Pick a good name for your group and get everyone’s e-mail address so you can easily stay in contact even if you can only meet in person once a month. If you have a group member who is willing to set up a website for your group, that can be hugely helpful moving forward. When you wage your various campaigns, it is so much easier if all of the information people need to have about the issue can be found in one place. That way, you don’t need to explain the issue to each person, you can just refer them to your website where they can find everything they need including background, who to contact, what to say, etc. You can also use the site to promote your group’s successes, archive your press releases, and solicit new members. Visit www.sfusdfood.org to see an example of such a site.

Getting Connected

Once you have organized your core group, you need to start Getting Connected; this is where you research your school board members to find out which one(s) are most likely to be sympathetic to your cause. Look for people with a medical background, or those with youngish kids in the public schools, or those who have fought similar battles in the past, especially battles based on the idea of social justice, that low income students deserve the same respect and services as higher income students. I think it will be obvious once you know about your school board members, which ones are the likely candidates to support you.

When you have identified one or two, make contact. Don’t be intimidated by these people – generally people on school boards are just like you – concerned citizens who think that they can make the schools a better place for the kids. Call or e-mail your target and ask for a meeting; explain that you represent a group of concerned stakeholders who have some practical ideas for improving kids’ health and academic performance through better school food. Make your pitch for better school food, but make sure your target understands that you are not asking (at this point) for a complete overhaul of school food, but rather for the one thing that your group decided upon – our hypothetical is “Fresh fruit instead of canned 3 days a week at lunch.” Try to get your target to agree in principle that better food would mean better nourished kids; have the documentation with you showing the connection between better nutrition and better academic outcomes (not hard to find on the internet.) Remind your target that when the food gets better, more kids eat the school meals and that brings in more income for the meal program, which in turn funds the purchase of better food. Make sure they get it that you are not asking for something which would bankrupt the school nutrition program. If you sense resistance, at least ask for a pilot at your own kids’ school; be sure you have your school Principal on board with this. The most likely response you will get from your target school board member is some form of “Let me think about it.” That’s fine, but even if you get an outright “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, move on to the next step.

Getting Active

Now it is time for Getting Active. After the meeting, have everyone in your group write to the school board target and thank him/her for meeting with you, and express support for whatever it was you requested. Ask each member of your core group to get just two of their best friends to send a similar e-mail; group members can even write up key talking points and send to their friends to cut and paste into their own message (the easier you make it for people not directly involved in your crusade to support you, the more likely they will do so.) If you have already gotten your website set up, put up all the information there, and then just refer people to the site, where they can get all the info they need (including e-mail address) to write to the school board member. If you can get 25-30 people to e-mail your target about this, all saying more or less the same thing, it is really likely that your target will support it. Individual e-mails are much more impressive than petitions; you want to fill up your target’s inbox, and petitions don’t do that.

At a certain point, your target is likely to refer you to someone within the district administration – either the student nutrition director or that person’s boss. You may need to start the process all over again here, but with luck, now you have the support of your school board target; make sure the district person knows that, as it is invaluable. Make your request; have your supporters e-mail to show their support, and let the district person know that you are not just one parent asking for this, but a group. Be sure to cc your school board supporter on your correspondence with district administrators.

Getting Coverage

Let’s say you asked for a switch from canned fruit to fresh fruit 3 days a week at lunch, and you got this relatively small change approved; make sure everyone knows what you have achieved. Getting Coverage is essential to moving forward. I highly recommend trying to get one of your core supporters to agree to take the role of PR person for the group; this is a big job and really needs its own dedicated person. If anyone in your group has a media or PR background, that’s the person to court, but really anyone who is comfortable writing can learn to do this.

Use whatever parent listservs are available to get news out directly to parents. Then make a list of all of the reporters from every news outlet in your town who ever cover school or children’s or health issues, everything from TV down to the smallest weekly shopper newspaper. Write up a press release lavishing praise on the student nutrition director or his/her boss, whoever it was that agreed to the change you asked for, as well as the school board member(s) who supported you. This is KEY – do NOT claim the credit and praise for yourself or your group! Thank the district official for supporting student health, and also thank your school board friend(s). It is vital to tell the public that these people value student health and good nutrition for kids above all else (especially if you feel that they only gave you what you wanted grudgingly and maybe they don’t really value student health….) because once you have announced it to the world, what the hell are they going to do – say they DON’T value student health? Make it all about them, and what a hero they are, and how they are following in the footsteps of Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan. This makes it so much easier when you go back to them in another month and ask for the next thing on your list. They need to understand that the decisions they make about your requests are going to be made very public, and that they can be the hero and support better food for kids, or it can go the other way and the public will hear about and react to that, too.

If you can’t get any of the media to cover this as a story, try writing it as an opinion piece for the largest newspaper in town (if they won’t run it, go to the next largest paper, and keep going until someone runs it.) As a last resort, try writing it up as a letter to the editor. Be sure to check the guidelines for letters which your local paper probably has online. If they say letter should be limited to 150 words, don’t go over the limit; keep it short and to the point.

Letters to the editor are a good way to promote your work any time there is an article in the paper which is relevant, maybe something about child obesity, or about the poor quality of school

lunches nationwide, or about growing interest generally in higher quality food, or the White House getting involved in student nutrition. This is a perfect opportunity to let people know that the local angle on this national story is that your schools now offer fresh fruit three times a week instead of canned fruit, thanks to the visionary leadership of Ms. Nutrition Director and Mr. School Board Member, who both prioritize student health above all else, because they know that malnourished students can’t learn. Thank you, thank you Ms ND and Mr SBM! Signed, You, Chair of the Yourtown Student Nutrition Group. This short letter accomplishes so much – it promotes the school meal program and lets people know that there is fresh fruit being served; it highlights the “vision” of two key players whose support you need to move forward; it connects student health with academic achievement; and it lets people know that your group exists and has a voice.

That’s it – lather, rinse, repeat. You are on your way to fixing school food! Good luck! Return to “How To Guides” home page

Return to P.E.A.C.H.S.F, Parents Educators & Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food

You can also learn more from Chef Ann Cooper at www.thelunchbox.org

A Pediatrician-Mom’s Journey From Her Son’s Food Allergy Diagnosis to A Life-Saving Invention

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Textbooks and medical journals could not have prepared me for the challenges our family would face in dealing with the diagnosis and management of food allergy. I was a pediatrician. I was a mom, but I was a pediatrician. This was going to be a piece of cake – right? Well, not exactly.

By Reshma Shah, M.D.

What I knew:

I knew many things about food allergy. I knew that while accidental exposures happened, the risk of death from anaphylaxis was actually relatively small. Many of my own patients carried the diagnosis and I regularly collaborated with their allergists. At each visit I made sure to ask about any accidental exposures, what precautions the family was taking, and whether or not their medications were up to date. I probed into family dynamics… how they were impacted or whether their child was feeling excluded, bullied, or simply sad because of their food allergy?

The truth is, early on, I knew very little about what it actually meant to have a child with a food allergy. At the age of two, my healthy, adorable son ate a cookie and promptly broke out in hives. An adequate dose of an antihistamine quickly erased the welts on his face and chest. Trying to convince myself that it was just a fluke (and nothing serious), I walked into the allergist’s office assured that he would tell me that I was overreacting. Unfortunately, the skin testing confirmed that he was allergic to nuts, and especially to the dreaded black walnut, as it came to be known in our house. We left the office armed with a prescription for epinephrine, pamphlets, brochures, and instructions. We were good to go. . .

When we got home, I had a good long cry (and a few more in the days to follow). Together, my husband and I cleared the pantry. What if the open pack of crackers had a small amount of peanut butter on them? What if one of us snacked on some nuts and then dove into the bag of chips? I scoured the internet and bookstores for any and all information I could gather. I was a mom on a mission and when it came to sending my son to preschool, I was determined to make sure that he was safe.

The image of him sitting in a corner unknowingly consuming nuts, with no one knowing what to do was haunting. I wanted to be sure that everyone– teachers, parents, or anyone that would be caring for my son, knew precisely what to do in the event of an accidental exposure.

An Invention of the Heart and Soul

So, I created a homemade storage container for his emergency medications. It had a picture of my son (what if there was a substitute and she wasn’t sure of the children’s names?), clearly spelled out his allergies, what occurred upon exposure, what steps to take if he got exposed, and every imaginable way to reach us. I did this for my son’s safety and for my peace of mind. It gave me back some sense of control in a situation where I had none.

What surprised me was how this one little “prototype” reassured and empowered the people that took care of my son. Even though they took every precaution to keep him safe, they now had this box that could help them if the unthinkable happened. So putting together what I “knew” as a pediatrician, and my own personal experience with food allergy, I created Medpax™ so that any parent can prepared for their child’s unexpected food allergy or asthma incident.

The truth is every family, whether it’s made up of pediatricians, accountants, teachers, or stay-at-home moms and dads, eventually finds their own way through the food allergy world. From the diagnosis, to managing birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners, and overnight camp, it’s a process. We learn, we make the best choices we can for our families, sometimes we even make mistakes and we move forward.

Both my background as a pediatrician and my role as a mother of a child with food allergies ultimately led me to create Medpax™. This unique, compact, personalized medication storage kit for children with food allergies and/or asthma became a reality, out of necessity for our family– and is now available to the rising number of families dealing with food allergy or asthma. With Medpax™, families can better manage their child’s unexpected medical emergency by ensuring that complete medical information and medications are clearly presented and immediately available.

Visit us at www.mymedpax.com to learn more about Medpax™ and how it can help you to better manage your child’s food allergy or asthma.