This fall, the Fifth Annual Food Allergy Blogger’s Conference (FABlogCon) will bring together advocates, medical practitioners, free-from food manufacturers, marketers of epinephrine auto-injectors, parents, and the media for a weekend of informative sessions and meet-and-greet mixers.
As we’ve done for the last three years, SnackSafely.com will again participate as a sponsor for the event that serves as the focal point for all things food allergy. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good time to introduce Jenny Sprague, the founder of FABlogCon, to our readers.
Here follows our interview with Jenny.
Dave Bloom for SnackSafely.com: Jenny, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss the conference. Let’s start at the beginning: Why is the topic of food allergies of such concern to you?
Jenny Sprague: My pleasure, Dave!
I found out when my oldest son was about to turn one that he had food allergies to dairy, peanuts and tree nuts. It was learning to navigate through the adjustments needed to keep him safe that started me on this path. I started my blog, a Twitter feed and Facebook page; that in turn connected me to other families, moms, advocates and authors who became friends, mentors, and allies in managing his food allergies and later, in helping me with my youngest sons multiple food allergies.
Ironically, it was a fellow food allergy mom who was following my blog and my account of my son’s multiple food allergies and tests who suggested he might have EoE [Eosinophilic Esophagitis] because his reactions and results were so similar to her two boys who also had EoE. As it turned out, her hunch was correct. He was diagnosed just before he turned two.
DB: So, at this point you’re coping with your family’s own food allergies and sharing with others facing the same challenges. When did you start thinking about a conference for food allergy bloggers? What did you hope to accomplish?
JS: I had attended a national conference for women bloggers called BlogHer in NYC. Over 5000 people were in attendance and it was an amazing experience. I met some fellow food allergy moms I knew from Twitter, as well as Colette Martin [cookbook author and blogger at “Learning to Eat Allergy-Free“]. I loved the experience but really wanted something that would include the rest of my online circle of friends. A group of us use to joke on Twitter about all moving to a gated cul-de-sac, posting a sign that read No Nuts Allowed and that our kids could all play safely at each others houses. We also joked about a food allergy moms Vegas vacation where we could watch (non-cartoon/kid) movies, and eat foods we couldn’t eat at home due to our kids allergies, and laugh and visit together.
Then a small select group of bloggers myself included were invited to attend a few exclusive meetings with epinephrine auto-injector companies. After the second meeting, I was having dinner with Caroline Moassessi [blogger at Grateful Foodie] and commenting how great these little meetings were, but that I wanted to see something bigger, more inclusive, more like BlogHer was. She suggested I just do it myself!
I laughed it off but she had planted a seed. I wanted something where we could all come and meet, hug, laugh, and learn together. I knew from the interactions that I had with people on my blog, that many readers reach out to us asking advice. I wanted to offer a place where we could learn up current and accurate information to make us better as bloggers, as advocates, and to connect.
DB: And FABlogCon was born! Let’s turn to this year’s conference. What can bloggers who attend expect to learn?
JS: We introduce new topics each year while others, which we consider evergreen, are offered every year. We help educate our bloggers on topics related to food allergies and celiac disease, hone their marketing skills, and learn new ways to enhance their blogs and social media prowess.
As examples, we have offered sessions including such topics as effective use of social media platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook; recipe development; working with brands; and monetizing your blog. This year we’ll offer sessions on Food Photography, Social Media and SEO, How to make Tasty style videos, Finding Your “Blogspiration”, Copyrighting, Pitching a book, and Legalities and Taxation for Bloggers among others. And of course, you’ll be offering a session to manufacturers on marketing free-from food products.
DB: Thanks for the plug! But as a veteran of the conference, I know FABlogCon isn’t just for bloggers despite the name. Who else would benefit from attending?
JS: In retrospect, the conference name is misleading because we also offer a separate track specifically targeted at helping food allergy families with disease management. This is something I am very proud of. We have been blessed with wonderful speakers for all of our sessions, but I find the medical track topics so informative and interesting and reassuring. I think it helps attendees leave feeling more confident in their managing skills, with solid knowledge from our experts. They also have the opportunity to have their questions answered and the opportunity to learn from others at these sessions.
This year, six doctors will be presenting on a range of topics. Dr Julie Brown of Seattle published a study on leg lacerations caused by EpiPens and has advocated to decrease the recommended hold time for EpiPen administration to three seconds. She will present two sessions, one on anaphylaxis and another on how epinephrine and auto-injectors work. Dr Dave Stukus, who is quite popular for his “Monday Mythbusters” tweets on Twitter, will speak on two sessions, dating with food allergies and myth busting. Dr Carina Venter and Dr David Fleischer will speak about the LEAP study as well as a session on FPIES [Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome] and EoE. Dr Abby Herzog will present “Food Allergies and Anxiety.” And Dr Edwin Lui will hold a session on Celiac Disease.
There will also be sessions about navigating food allergy conversations to get results, and “Food Allergy Legal Rights and Fights” regarding airlines, workplace, schools.
DB: As always, that sounds like a terrific lineup. Take a minute to address “non-bloggers.” How will food allergy sufferers and parents benefit from attending?
JS: There is such solace from meeting a warm friendly group who GET living with food allergies! There are cookbook authors, doctors, advocates, bloggers, parents, and individuals who all share similar experiences and can relate to one another. This is your tribe. We all understand each other and its the one place you never have to defend or explain, or apologize for your allergies. We GET IT!!! There is something unique in just how warm and welcoming this group is.
DB: That’s the part my wife Debra likes best about the conference. Tell us a bit about the product expo. What kinds of products will be on display?
JS: Not only can attendees learn from the various sessions and tracks You can attend any session on either the disease management or blogger track that interests you but we also have a great Expo where people can meet the folks behind their favorite brands or discover new ones! There are food companies, pharma companies, web app companies, national non profits, and much more to discover! All of the companies who come and exhibit offer peanut and tree nut free foods, many of which are Top 8 allergen-free, help keep everyone there safe, as well safe to bring products home to their kids!
DB: I know that many of the folks who attend FABlogCon have serious food allergies of their own. How do you keep them fed, safe, and happy?
JS: I will tell you, the biggest feature of our events is the food! The entire hotel staff undergoes extensive food allergy training to make sure our guests have a great experience. We work with the chefs for months on the menu planning to ensure all the meals served are safe! Meals are carefully prepared and served by trained staff and everything is labeled for allergens. Each conference ticket includes all meals and access to the evening parties which are always a lot of fun! I look at it this way: I am bringing all my friends and people I love here, and I want them to be safe! Having safe meals is KEY to our events being a success.
DB: I can vouch for that… the food is amazing, well labeled and served to ensure no cross-contact. I would have no issues turning my 16 year-old daughter (the one with food allergies) loose to enjoy!
Last but not least, where will the conference be held this year?
JS: This year is our 5th annual event. The first two were held in Las Vegas, but many attendees were bothered by the cigarette smoke that is prevalent in the hotels and casinos there. So we moved it over to Denver three years ago as there is a vast food allergy community there and many allergy-friendly food companies.
Denver is easy to get to from all over the country, and best of all it’s relatively inexpensive to hold a conference there in the fall. I have always tried to keep this event affordable for our guests and have considered costs for the hotel, the travel, and even getting to and from the the airport!
DB: Jenny, thanks for your time and I wish you much success with the conference this year!
JS: Thanks, Dave!
The Food Allergy Bloggers Conference takes place November 3-5 in Denver. Click here for more information and to register.