An Interview with Susie Hultquist, Food Allergy Mom and Innovator
How have food allergies affected you and your family?
My oldest daughter, Natalie, was 3 when she was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. I still remember panicking after her diagnosis. I gave myself one night to cry, one day to be mad, and then I got to work. A week later, I set out to establish a very successful fundraising and awareness event which led to the establishment of the FARE Chicago office.
For our family, the learning curve was steep, but we managed it together. As my daughter got older, it sank in how much work this would be for her, every day for the rest of her life. I knew I had to do something to make managing food allergies easier, which lead to the Spokin app.
What advice would you give other families with food allergies?
My advice is always to remember to balance physical and emotional health. It's so easy to focus on avoiding allergic reactions that it can take a serious toll on your child emotionally. With my daughter, we try to say yes to as much as we can but that means a lot of work on our end. We've spent endless hours baking safe cupcakes, calling restaurants, and staring at labels. We spend more time having fun with our kids instead of worrying about them.
What have been your biggest challenges, and how have you overcome them?
At Natalie’s initial diagnosis, our allergist said we would have to avoid or be extremely cautious with restaurants, ice cream shops, Halloween, and anything food-related. At the time, it felt like she took away the best parts of life and childhood. That was definitely a hard moment, but I made the decision right then not to let food allergies own us. I was determined to raise a child that could still love food, travel the world, and enjoy holidays. Having food allergies takes constant vigilance and does mean saying “no” sometimes. That makes finding and sharing the things we can say “yes” to even more important.
What is the Spokin app and how does it help people living with food allergies?
Managing food allergies is unbelievably time-consuming. If each person with food allergies spends an average of 15 minutes a day researching if something is safe, it adds up to an entire year over a lifetime. We are all constantly reinventing the wheel, spending hours online to find everything from an allergist to a birthday cake.
The Spokin app (which is free to download) allows users to search for food products (and their labels), discover restaurants or products that have been recommended by users who share their allergens, share their recommendations — and that’s just the start. The best part is that everything is customized to your allergies, interests, and location.
Innovation in the field of Food Allergies is currently a theme at FARE. What advice would you give to teens who are inspired to get involved with innovation projects?
Get started today! Innovation has driven both of my careers as a portfolio manager and the head of a tech startup, so the theme is very close to my heart. If you’re interested in starting your own project, the best ideas come from problems you want to solve for yourself. Think about things you’d like to fix or wish were easier. Consider reaching out to local startups and asking for an unpaid internship.
This past year, I was a judge for the innovation tank at the FARE Teen Summit, and I was blown away by all of the incredible ideas and ambition the teens had. Living with food allergies means you are inherently trained to push for answers and be self-reliant and vigilant. It’s the ultimate silver lining.
Susie Hultquist is the food allergy mom behind Spokin, a mobile iOS app that puts food allergy resources in one place customized to your allergens, location and interests. Susie has been a champion in the food allergy community for almost a decade, having been instrumental in kicking off FARE’s presence in Chicago and a food allergy advocate for her daughter.
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