Food For All
May 7th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
When Amy Kunkle's infant son developed severe food allergies, what she thought about food, cooking and healthy eating was challenged. Determined, she not only learned how to deal, but also made it a career. She opened an allergy free grocery store to help other individuals enjoy food while avoiding the substances that can make them ill.
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"Yeah, my mom has Celiac's so I have to get the gluten free products for her."
"My brother is allergic to peanuts."
"Tree nuts, certain fruit, gluten…"
I’m sure you know of someone suffering from food allergies. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, if you put 100 children under the age of five in a room, six or eight of them will have this condition. And when it comes to adults, three or four out of 100 will have a reaction to eating a particular food, this can include digestive problems, hives, or a life-threatening closing of the their air passages. Even more common are food intolerances, a less serious reaction that is nonetheless bothersome.
That's the reason Amy Kunkle created Food For All, a store catering to individuals with food allergies and intolerances. She says, "if you give a problem like this to a mom or a grandmom we're gonna figure it out and come up with some solution to that problem. For me this is it, and for a lot of my vendors that's the challenge with them. I have one company in particular out of New York, she's the grandmom of a little boy with celiac and a peanut allergy and she created a whole line of breads." All three of Kunkle's children have food allergies, "it was such a shock, it threw a wrench into everything I knew about food and what I thought was healthy and how you were supposed to eat. It opened my eyes to our whole food system, and it just caused us to eat in such a different way. Local, organic, less chemicals, no corn syrup, no dyes. I think in the end, it turns out to be a much healthier way of eating than what I was used to."
At first it can be daunting to figure out what you can and can't eat and the various forms of the allergens. Take corn, for example, it's in everything. And there are plenty of other items that turn up. Kunkle had to learn the art of reading labels, "there's this vegan rice cheese, but then you turn it around and it has casein in it, a milk protein, casein is dairy, so I don't know what it would be used for in vegan cheese, 'cause vegans don't eat diary."
Aside from parsing out labels, Kunkle had to find allergen free products that don't use by-products of the foods you are trying to avoid, or food that is manufactured in facilities that process ingredients such as gluten, milk, soy, peanuts, eggs and shellfish. In addition to sourcing packaged goods, she also makes freshly prepared foods daily: sandwiches, soups, side dishes, even roasted organic chicken. "Our kitchen here is gluten free, nut free, and shellfish free, and then we have practices to prevent cross contamination of dairy and egg. We have separate utensils, separate bowls, and we put paper down, separate knives, wash our hands in between. It's almost like keeping kosher, exactly," she says.
Sticking to an allergy diet can make big changes in a child's behavior or how an adult feels. And finding a store such as Food For All can be a big help. But there's a price tag to feeling better, "it's a 1,000 dollars a month for my four kids," says one customer.