How did you gain so much confidence about your allergies?
Both my brother and I have severe allergies, so our parents always pushed us to speak up for ourselves. Ever since we were little, we would tell adults like flight attendants and servers that we had food allergies — I think that’s what really helped me to become confident and outgoing and prepared me to manage when my parents weren’t around.
How is having a food allergy like an exclusive club?
I love it! You meet someone with allergies, and you immediately have a connection with them. You don’t even have to have the same allergies. You just automatically understand what it’s like to share the same experiences. I’m always like, “hell yeah, we’re twinning!” when I meet someone with food allergies!
How did you find Spokin?
It’s actually kinda funny — I was looking for food allergy bloggers on Instagram when I came across Spokin. I saw Spokin had an app, which I thought was super cool. Later that night I told my mom about it, and she got so excited because she had read an article about Spokin earlier that week. We both downloaded the app that night and have been hooked on it ever since!
What was the pivotal moment in your relationship with food allergies?
A few years ago I was in Miami with my mom. We had a great meal at this nice restaurant — everything was going fine before the chef sent out an extra dessert for us. Wanting to be polite, I took a few bites of what I thought was nut-free sorbet. Turns out, it wasn’t, and I started to go into anaphylactic shock. Someone who claimed to be an EMT in-training persuaded my mom and me NOT to administer an Epi (against our best judgment). Thankfully the paramedics got there just in time — they said I was minutes away from the point of no return. After I recovered, my allergist told me to NEVER wait to administer an Epi — to “give Epi first and ask questions later”. This gave me the confidence to react in scary situations and helped me to trust my doctors and myself in administering the Epi.
Out of the bad came something good.
That advice from my allergist later saved my friend’s life. She was having a reaction at a party, and I knew it was serious. I stood up to every adult in the room telling me not to administer her EpiPen when she was going into shock. I ultimately ended up doing it, and the first responders said it was absolutely the right thing to do. It’s so important to not only educate other people about food allergies, but to keep learning ourselves.
You’ve recently passed a law (!!!) tell us more!
I was telling a family friend, who also happened to be a local lawmaker, that I had recently administered an Epi on my friend and was pretty shaken up. After hearing my story, he knew this shouldn’t be happening to anyone. We worked together to pass a bill in Suffolk County that requires restaurants to print “Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy” at the bottom of their menus and created a voluntary food-allergy certification for restaurants. It was incredible to be a part of — I get SO excited every time I see it on the menu when I’m out to eat!
At 18 years old, you are the future of food allergies – what else do you want to see changed?
I want there to be consistent top 8 (at minimum) labeling on alcohol by the time I turn 21. I witnessed a family friend have a reaction to Baileys — I think it’s something that really needs to be changed.
You’re a total jetsetter with reviews worldwide. Where have you been?
Yes, my family loves to travel together! I’ve been to Greece, Germany, almost every Caribbean island, Mexico, Aruba, Costa Rica, and I’m going back to travel through Europe this summer. Greece was by far my favorite — my family is from there so every time I go, I feel like I’m coming home.
Best tips for traveling with food allergies?
My motto with traveling (and honestly, everything else) is that everything has a solution. Don’t let food allergies hold you back — especially when traveling! You can’t do everything, but you can always make something work. For example, we really wanted chocolate crepes while in France, but they were all made with Nutella. (They don’t really think of Nutella as a nut spread. They would tell me it was safe for my allergies and that it just contained “chocolate.”) We had to steer clear of those, but found some incredible gelato as a result. Also, we’ve found that American chain hotels typically have employees who speak English and are incredibly helpful when there is a language barrier.
What are you conquering next?
I’m a senior in high school, and thrilled to be attending Tulane University in the fall. Through my whole touring process, Spokin was so helpful — I used the Spokin App Map Feature before I went to tour schools to explore the area! My mom and I already have a plan to meet with the dining services head chef before starting in the fall.
Now that you’re headed to college, what’s your advice to pass on?
Speak up for yourself, and never be embarrassed or nervous about it! I know a lot of kids feel nervous to share their allergies, but you should never feel that way. Just think, a reaction is far more embarrassing than helping someone understand your allergy. It’s the most basic form of self-love.
Favorite Spokin app feature?
Map! I always use it when traveling to a new city or country!
Favorite Hometown spot?
Toast & Co! They have the most decadent sweets! My favorite there is the Greek Salad Pita with fries, unless I’m feeling #healthy!
Greece, for sure. It’s actually a pretty safe place for me, allergy-wise. They don’t use a lot of nuts in their cooking, only in desserts. Honestly, the food is so good, I’m too full for dessert anyway!!
Esperas Santorini! Breakfast was included each morning, and they went out of their way to help us choose safe foods. This was a once in a lifetime experience that my family and I will never forget.
SunButter Crunch!! I always have it on toast or in smoothies. Yum!