Founder of Siitch and Online Allergies
FoodASC Member since 2018
Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in the allergy & gluten free space.
I’m a bit of a mutt. I grew up in the Middle East and Australia, graduated from Florida State University and then moved to Los Angeles in 2002, living a few years in London in between.
I’ve been in the entertainment industry, working at DreamWorks Pictures and for many years at DreamWorks Animation. I worked on RISE OF THE GUARDIANS and had a fantastic experience working with the animators through the later HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON & KUNG FU PANDA movies.
My happy place is shooting landscape photography. Nothing beats a road trip. Especially if dark chocolate and good tea are involved.
My interest in food allergies stems from almost losing my stepsister, Paige, in 2009.
On the day after Christmas she was rushed to hospital, flat-lined twice in the ambulance and spent five days in a coma. Paige had contracted bacterial meningitis.
The doctors gave her five drugs to keep her alive, however were unaware that she was deathly allergic to three of them.
Fortunately, we found her medical records in time and the drugs were replaced.
Had we not received this pertinent history when we did, the doctors told us she would have died or suffered permanent brain damage.
While our emergency was related to a drug allergy, not food, we learned that not knowing basic information can be seriously dangerous.
In an attempt to spare others from similar tragedies, I Co-Foundedand managed Online Allergies for 5 years which was a website that allowed users to confidentially share their allergy lists with friends and family.
We have recently pivoted. The goal of keeping people safe is still central, however we have developed a tool to address the daily challenge of food management for any social occasion. That tool is Siitch.
Please tell us about your website, Siitch and its blog.
Siitch is a super simple party tool. It’s short for “situation” as we all have our food situations. Think Evite and Paperless Post, but with way more features.
It lets the host send invitations and collect guests’ diet information (diet/allergies/intolerances) in one step, keeping everything in one place. Guests select their diet (Gluten-free, Vegan, Vegetarian etc) or they can select “It’s complicated. I’ll bring my own food” as a diet choice. Diet definitions are provided.
The hosts may also ask custom questions about the event, food or activities to get everyone on the same page and have fun BEFORE the event starts.
While no individual private information is shared, hosts may share their group’s summarized information with fellow guests for potluck events or with a caterer to help save time and money. To further protect guest’s privacy, not even the host can see their guests’ individual profiles 24 hours after the event. They can see their guests’ SUMMARIZED diet information for future events, they just won’t have access to individual profiles.
Beyond the site which summarizes the data, the blog provides solutions. There are over 400 links to allergy organizations, recipes, party tips, the microbiome and ideas to reduce food waste. So if a pescatarian or vegan is attending your event, there are relevant recipes ready to go!
Describe a challenging experience you had related to allergies and asthma and your lessons learned.
I had pretty bad asthma as a child. Both my brother and mother have asthma. Many a winter night in Australia was spent passing the nebulizer back and forth between my mum and myself before going to bed. I think it helped build awareness and empathy in me from a young age that unseen conditions, whether in family or strangers, are very real. I have family members with severe food allergies, others are type 1 diabetics… we’ve all got something. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s simply about respecting the situation.
Describe a rewarding experience you had related to food allergies.
Seeing people react positively to Siitch is pretty rewarding. It took a good year of iterating, testing, and redesigning to arrive at this version. Watching people’s eyes light up when they see the summaries, the diet definitions and all of the information on the blog brings a smile to my face.
A dad called me a few weeks back and told me it saved him $50. He found out he had quite a few vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free guests attending his son’s 8thbirthday party. Instead of buying the usual strawberry cake, he bought a different cake that everyone could eat so he didn’t have to throw out anything.
Reducing food waste is another goal of the site!
What motivates you to do what you do?
When you spend Christmas in the hospital with your family, praying for a loved one to come out of a coma, it puts life in perspective.
Although Online Allergies is no longer operational, it allowed me to meet incredible people at FARE and the FABlog Conference, many of whom have been my guides & motivation ever since.When you spend Christmas in the hospital with your family, praying for a loved one to come out of a coma, it puts life in perspective.Click To Tweet
Do you have a go-to resource? If so, what is it and why is it useful?
My advisors are amazing: Caroline Moassessi (Grateful Foodie) is my sensei. She’s been my advisor extraordinaire since day one.
Ritesh Patel is another advisor. He’s way smart. I just do what he says.
Heather Hettinger keeps me on track and constantly reminds me of the bigger picture and how many more folks there are to help.
Beyond these advisors, my father is an entrepreneur and a wealth of knowledge.
My stepmother is the poster child of advocacy. She was the Bureau Chief of Public Health for the state of Florida and dedicated her career advocating for people with disabilities.
My mum is ‘Mother Teresa’ at heart. She’s spent holidays in the past volunteering at orphanages in Romania and teaching detained refugees to speak English. She’s THAT woman. I got WAY lucky with the parents.
What do you wish other people knew about food allergies and what’s one action that can be performed to increase knowledge and awareness in the general population?
I wish people better understood the vigilance that those living with food allergies endure. It’s 24/7. There’s no off switch.
The one action that’s key is taking every opportunity to talk to friends, family and even strangers about food allergies. While talking is important, tone is critical. Some people are never going to “get it”, but the majority of folks are more empathetic when they hear a personal food allergy story, especially if the story involves going to the hospital. It’s not about painting a picture of fear, it’s about helping them visualize the consequence. No one wants to go to the hospital. Even the most unsympathetic of humans can relate to an unwelcome hospital visit.The one action that’s key is taking every opportunity to talk to friends, family and even strangers about food allergies.Click To Tweet
What advice would you give to someone just embarking upon this journey?
Find a network. More to the point, find and create YOUR own network. Whether online, in your community, with friends and family, teachers or co-workers, find the people who care.
Listen to your gut. Listen to the experts. Get second opinions. Challenge anything that seems odd. Do your own research. Know the facts as much as humanly possible.
Know that you’ll make mistakes. Never stop advocating, whether it’s for yourself, your kids, or strangers who might be too shy to advocate for themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
We’re working on fun features to add to the platform in 2019, all based on what people have requested, such as Potluck tools. We’re prioritizing what to build based on feedback from the community.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please email me at Drew@siitch.com. We’d love to hear from you!
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