Rachel M., age 12
Tree Nut Allergy
For 12-year-old Rachel, managing her tree nut allergy is a collaborative effort. Each year, she assumes a greater share of the responsibility. Last summer, she had a reaction while traveling. After asking an employee and manager about ingredients, she was given a pizza with cashews and rushed to a hospital. There were no labels. After this experience, she became determined to advocate for allergen identification and labeling to avoid situations like the one she encountered.
During the past year, Rachel had a unique opportunity to take the responsibility for her food allergy to a higher level by spreading awareness throughout Florida to help other students with the management of their allergies too. Her sister Lauren drafted legislation requiring the identification of the top eight allergens on all items offered in public school cafeterias on district hosted websites and at the point of service. The initiative became a family affair. Rachel used her computer skills and love of writing to create presentations, press releases, spreadsheets, and develop social media. She and her sister engaged the support of many state-wide organizations who in addition to their support as a legislative priority, offered to feature the initiative on their websites.
Rachel also addressed the Board of Directors of the Treasure Coast YMCA, the Chamber of Commerce and the Martin County School Board in order to engage their support. Rachel starts off each speech with a question: “Does anyone here love someone with allergies?”
“It never fails that someone will approach me after speaking and relates a story of a person they love who has a life-threatening allergy, and ask how they can help us to pass the legislation to protect students,” Rachel writes.
The Florida Department of Agriculture agreed to implement an education module, and post informational posters in the cafeteria. The goal is to use Martin County as a model and scale the operation throughout Florida. The Department of Health asked the family to present a lecture on their advocacy efforts; the importance of reading labels, educating all cafeteria personnel and avoiding cross-contact.
Rachel and Lauren spent countless hours researching, drafting and engaging support, sharing Rachel’s personal story in their efforts to help make school cafeterias a safe and healthy environment.
Last year, Rachel was the recipient of FARE’s first Food Allergy Junior Innovation Award, given to a middle school student who has undertaken innovative projects or initiatives that have helped individuals managing food allergies live safely or more comfortably. Her sister Lauren received an honorable mention in the high school category.