I’ve been advocating for the food allergy community since I was eight. Food allergies are an unavoidable part of my life, so I figured, why not embrace them and use the knowledge and experiences I’ve had to better the lives of those like me? I’ve loved every second of it—I’ve met and collaborated with so many amazing people, and I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in the food allergy community, even at a young age.
FARE’s teen advisory group, better known as TAG, has opened a lot of doors for me to get involved in the food allergy community. My most recent project with them was a guide about allergy-friendly airlines in hopes of helping the food allergic better navigate travel.
In late 2018, I heard college student Alexa Wyszkowski present at FareCon Featuring Teen Summit. She offered other teens the chance to write for her blog, and I jumped at the opportunity. My first blog was published the next month. I remember thinking this was it—the platform where I could share my voice and experiences!
Educating others and sharing my experiences is the most important part of food allergy advocacy. Greater education about food allergies will help make it safer for people like me who manage severe allergies daily.
Shortly after, The Wall Street Journal asked me to contribute to an article discussing sesame labeling—something I am very passionate about. It was amazing to think my singular voice could create awareness for so many in the sesame allergy community!
Sesame is currently listed ninth on the major food allergens list, and only the top eight are required to be labeled on packaged products. This makes my day-to-day life as someone with an anaphylactic sesame allergy much more difficult. As opposed to my tree nut allergy (where I can look at a label and clearly know if I can eat the food or not), sesame hides behind a variety of names, such as natural flavors, spices, benne, gingelly, and many more. This requires constant triple checking of labels, as well as at least two calls a week to food manufacturers asking for specificity in their labeling (because “spices” could be salt and pepper, but it could also be sesame).
This tricky labeling is the reason I went into anaphylactic shock at a restaurant in the fall of 2016—the label on the breadcrumbs flew under the radar of a chef who was looking for “sesame” not “spices.”
This is where the FASTER Act comes in. If passed, the FASTER Act would require sesame to be labeled in plain language on packaged products and would require the government to issue a report on scientific opportunities in food allergy research that looks at prevention, treatment, and possible cures. In 2020, we were INCHES away from having this act passed, but there wasn’t enough time on the legislative clock. However, it was re-introduced this year, passing the Senate on March 3rd! It was supposed to pass the House of Representatives on March 18th, but a member of Congress in the House derailed quite a few bills that were supposed to be suspension votes, meaning the FASTER Act was not passed. It’s now in a holding pattern until further notice.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jason Linde, FARE’s VP of Advocacy, about the FASTER Act’s status and what can be done. He explained that due to the situation in the House, only 3 out of 28 suspension vote bills were passed, even though all 28 should have been—the FASTER Act among them. While this news was disappointing, the best course of action is to focus on what we CAN do to keep things moving forward. “The most important thing we can do for the nearly 1.6 million Americans allergic to sesame,” Jason urged, “is to demonstrate broad bipartisan support for the bill in the House, H.R. 1202, by recruiting co-sponsors while encouraging the two parties to work together and pass S. 578 (the FASTER Act), so the President can sign it into law.”
With that, I urge you all to schedule a meeting with your congressional representative to encourage them to co-sponsor the FASTER Act. It will help create a safer world for people like me, and it’ll further research efforts that will benefit the food allergy community as a whole!
Sophie Schmults was diagnosed with food allergies to sesame and tree nuts when she was 13 months old. Ever since then, she and her family have managed her allergies in school, sports, social situations, and travel. Sophie writes for the Food Allergies In The Food Industry blog, and works with FARE’s TAG program to advocate for the food allergy community. When she’s not educating others about food allergies, she enjoys fencing and theatre.