Me, at a vineyard in Sonoma, shopping for egg-white free wine for an upcoming event.
Eating has always been a nightmare. I was born in 1970, way before food allergy awareness became chic. Before anyone even knew the meaning of gluten. Before food dye was lethal. Growing up, before discovering my allergies, I was always sick, missing school, listening to friends play outside while I nursed a headache or my mother tended to my endless, itchy skin rashes.
Finally, when this cool Californian doctor did some tests that no one ever heard of, we found out I was allergic to gluten and food dye. For the first year, I ate fruits, vegetables and chicken drumsticks; three things my mother knew how to make and three things that were free from my kryptonite. What was worse than sitting in the school cafeteria, amongst all my peers, being called “Drumstick Girl” was my family never went out for dinner anymore. My brother and sister blamed me for ruining family fun night (pizza, ice cream and the arcade). I felt trapped, cornered in this cage of boring food, strange looks and resentment.
Over time, my mother did tons of research and became an expert gluten-free bread baker. People requested loaves in exchange for money…that’s right, she was selling the gluten-free bread. Many had no idea what they were eating. She often made me venture into the kitchen with her, where I started doing some experimenting of my own. My world was opening and with the encouragement of my mother, I felt like I was the one responsible. When we were in that kitchen I wasn’t sick or strange. I was making magic; making the impossible, possible.
After I graduated college as a Certified Nutritional Specialist (CNS), I landed what I thought was my dream job, in a special program working with teenage girls with eating disorders. As fulfilled as I felt, my mind couldn’t get out of the kitchen, where I spent my weekends often with my mother still by my side, making food that I froze and enjoyed all week. Slowly, one-by-one, friends and family were diagnosed with some type of food allergy. They’d call and ask if I’d teach them to make a delicious dessert or bread or dinner they’d eaten at my house. “I’ll pay you for an order of it,” was a term I often heard. One thing led to another, the side money from the cooking became better than the money from my full-time gig and Happy & Healthy was born.
Thanks to WholeFunding, a pioneer in its realm (just as my mother and I had been), I raised the final money needed to rent kitchen space, invest in a marketing campaign and hire my mom.