Episode 121: Emily Brown
The Food Equality Initiative is the nation’s leading organization that is working to increase access to allergy friendly and gluten-free foods to individuals who need them the most. Did you know Black children are 7% more likely to have food allergies compared to white children and free-from foods cost 2-4 times what those with common allergens cost?
Emily Brown, former preschool teacher turned CEO of The Food Equality Initiative, was planning on returning to the classroom and bringing her daughter along until she was diagnosed at one year old with allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, soy and peanuts as well a food allergic condition known as EOE. Pregnant with her second daughter, who also has food allergies, and unable to return to work, Emily sought out help from WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program For Women, Infants, And Children), only to find the foods she needed weren’t there.
Emily’s next stop? The local food bank, who turned her away because their facility wasn’t allergy-friendly and they didn’t have those types of foods readily available. Three’s a charm, right? Sometimes… in this case, Emily went to her local pantry where it was suggested the random Whole Foods or natural foods store item might be available.
“Overnight our grocery bill quadrupled.” – Emily Brown (6:46-6:50)
Emily, like so many other families, struggled to provide her daughters with the food they needed not just as sustenance, but as treatment for their illness. If providing someone the right food at the right time is truly part of the treatment, and emphasized by doctors, why is it not covered by insurance? Why is it completely inaccessible by government and charitable food organizations?
That’s when Emily founded The Food Equality Initiative in 2014 because she wasn’t the only one with a family struggling with food insecurities and food allergies. She initially set out to change WIC’s policy and quickly realized there were better, quicker ways to create change now, alongside the lengthy process of effecting policy change.
Emily opened the nation’s first allergy-friendly and gluten-free pantry in Kansas City, Missouri in 2015 and has been serving families ever since. They operate off a “pantry within a pantry” model, receiving most of their food from existing organizations.
Staff already a part of the pantry was trained on how to do distribution while Emily focused on maintaining relationships with certain brands and food manufactures kind enough to donate to her program. She also created a referral program with doctors and clinics who would give a prescription from that patients could then “cash in” with at the FEI.
Unfortunately, there were a few barriers of entry that were making it difficult to grow and scale FEI. Pantries are only open a limited number of hours per week that many in need don’t have time to make it to because of their jobs. Transportation was also proving to be an issue. Even though a few locations were initially opened, families were still not able to make it in person. Most importantly, but the least talked about, is the stigma and shape of going to a food pantry.
Now, FEI provides a different solution via an online code that is given by partners to clients to put in online. They can order free-from food that’s shipped straight to their door at no cost to them, eliminating the issue of time, transportation, and of course, no stigma!
Emily’s right about one thing. Real change to making free-from food equitable won’t happen unless we continue to push for policy changes and take action on bold, innovative ideas. FEI is now committed to supporting a local farm in their region and will be creating relationships with farmers across the country to make sure clients can receive fresh produce too!
Take the time to visit www.foodequalityinitiative.org and find out ways you can help support this incredible initiative and those that need free-from foods the most.
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
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Previous episodes you may enjoy
- Episode 120: The Produce Traceability Initiative With Ralph Towell, Director Of Analytics And Business Processes At Duda Farm Fresh Foods
- Episode 119: Intuitive Eating And Healthy Body Image For Children With Dr. Yami, DO, MPH, MS, FAAP, And Founder Of Veggie Fit Kids
- Episode 118: Fresh, Living Herbs That Last With Suzette Overgaag, Vice President at North Shore Living Herbs
- Episode 117: The Abundance Of Hawaii Creates A New Industry With Bella Hughes, Co-founder and President of Shaka Tea
- Episode 116: National Fruits And Veggie Month With Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, President and CEO of the Produce For Better Health Foundation