Like so many of us, Katie Bryant, mother of three, is looking to provide her family with the best life possible. She is a homeschooling mother with three sons and no shortage of battles. Many of us in the food allergy community already know how difficult navigating life can be, and Katie Bryant is no stranger to those same struggles.
When Katie’s youngest son Sterling was a baby – still under a year old – he took a small bite out of his older brother’s peanut butter sandwich. The symptoms that followed of hives and breathing trouble are unfortunately all too familiar to many of us. Sterling was going into anaphylactic shock. Thankfully, Katie recognized the signs of the reaction and immediately rushed her son to the hospital. There he received treatment, and after hours of doctors and nurses and a terrifying biphasic reaction (meaning that the anaphylaxis reaction came back as soon as the meds wore off), Katie and Sterling were sent home.
With the new knowledge of Sterling’s food allergy, along with Katie’s oldest child’s diagnosis of celiac disease, the family’s kitchen was forced to take on a whole new look. No more pasta or Reese’s, no more Snickers or pretzels. Katie was thrust into a whole new world of reading labels and understanding symbols. A world that, up until now, she hadn’t been privy to.
However, it didn’t take long for Katie to recognize one big problem. Keeping her children safe was now a full-time job. Katie spent hours researching ingredients and contacting manufacturers. Every new snack was a cause for worry, and restaurants were a terrifying endeavor. But worst of all, the labels that she was heavily relying on, weren’t always accurate. No laws dictate how clean a line has to be before allergy-free food can be made on it. Meaning that each manufacturer has the ability to dictate for themselves when clean enough is clean enough. To put this into perspective, Katie asks “if there was a factory that made anthrax, washed their equipment to their satisfaction and then used that same line to make a sandwich. Would you feed it to your child?” When there are no regulations requiring food manufacturers to specify shared lines, this reality becomes startling.
For Katie, this all came to a head the day she went to the supermarket to find that the five brands she had come to trust were all sold out. The brands that she had spent hours researching, emailing, and testing were nowhere to be found. Meaning one of two things, Katie could either start the entire process repeatedly – time, energy and fear included. Or her children could go hungry. She was faced with a decision so absurd that she reacted as any other frustrated parent would – she cried. But it was her empathetic son later that day that actually sent Katie on the journey she is on today. Her son asked her, “what would you tell us to do?”
Those seven words sent Katie on a mission. What she would tell her children to do is fight. Fight to get what you deserve, fight to change the world. Katie shares that her goal “is to place the burden of labeling transparency on the shoulders of the manufacturer. I am asking them to label for cross-contact risk in their facilities for any product they create, be it food, cosmetics, craft supplies, lawn care, or personal items. I believe we as the consumer have the right to know what is on or could be in the products we bring into our homes. I hope to alleviate, at least in part, the burden the gatekeepers of each allergy home currently face given our current laws.” So, Katie started a petition. She became an advocate and pushed for a movement. She gathered signatures and support from other people in the food allergy community. People that were fed up with the calling and the trusting and the fear. Millions of people in the United States suffer from food allergies and sensitivities, and right now, virtually no laws are keeping those people safe. People can hide milk under natural flavorings, and wheat can be called any number of confusing names. Almost all other western cultures have implemented laws regarding labeling for foods that ‘may contain’ the Top 8 allergens, yet the United States still has not. And food allergies don’t stop after the most popular ones. We shouldn’t be stopping after the top 8 or top 14. We should be asking for clear labeling across the board so that everyone can shop safely.
The scary truth is that food allergies hide everywhere. They are in sunscreen and makeup and even toothpaste. They are in places that you wouldn’t even think to look. But there are no laws at all regarding labeling on non-food items. Katie Bryant has been in contact with North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis. She is working night and day to gain recognition from those in positions to help her and it is up to us to help her get there. Katie shares her progress on her Instagram page, The Caterpillar Project (@the.caterpillar.project), and asks for help so that we don’t leave her to fight this battle alone.