“A journey of a thousand miles . . .

. . . begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu said that so many centuries ago, and it’s what I’ve been repeating to myself through this whole process of building a business. It hasn’t been easy – from the legal stuff to the seemingly endless experimenting – but that little thought has kept me focused on the bigger picture.

The quote hasn’t been the only source of inspiration along the way, though. Anyone close to me and many of you on Facebook with us have heard about our allergy-friendly line of ice creams (made on separate equipment to avoid contamination from tree nuts, peanuts, and gluten) because it means so much to me. That whole line started when a lovely lady asked me if we made anything that would be safe for people with allergies. Up until that one message, I hadn’t thought about creating anything like that, but her son’s story inspired “Kai’s Good Karma” (vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate chips).

It’s a fairly simple pleasure, sitting down with a bowl of your favorite flavor of ice cream. For most people, the hardest part is choosing one scoop or two . . . or three . . . and what movie they might watch along with it. But for one in 25 of us, the decision means so much more.

Food allergies are a reality for more than 12 million Americans, and that’s just the figure for the U.S. population. That means that about 12 million individuals and their families work every day to ensure that every bite of food is safe, because if it isn’t, it could mean a trip to the emergency room. And I want to make our products something just about anyone could eat and enjoy together, so I had to solve this problem of how to make it safer.

To find out more about how to take on this project, I thought I should get a little information from a source I could trust, so off to the hospital I went. I should have printed out directions, and I should have looked more carefully at the map (below), but I got there . . . 15 minutes late.

Note to self: Read map, then go.

I talked with Dr. Amal Assa’ad at the food allergy clinic in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (where we donate a portion of profits from “Kai’s Good Karma” to go toward studies and research) about some of the issues associated with food allergies. She and a few other physicians at the clinic see a steady stream of patients every day, most of them new. “We see a lot of people who have just discovered their allergy because they’re having a reaction for the first time,” said Assa’ad. “It could be a baby having their first cake, and they’re allergic to an ingredient, so they spend their birthday in the hospital. Or a child who has had dairy or fish for the first time, and they get hives or rashes.”

I asked her what the most common reactions are, and it ranges from an itching sensation, rashes, and hives, to anaphylaxis in severe cases. Anaphylaxis can cause swelling of the airways, difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, fainting, and could result in death.

People with allergies face the possibility of suffering these symptoms every time they sit down to a meal, and it’s not always easy to tell when something might be dangerous. There is still no dependable labeling system for products, and it’s often very confusing. Some products include allergen warnings, others don’t. Some include shared equipment (made on equipment that also processes nuts, ever noticed that? it’s everywhere!) and others don’t.

There is some good news in all of this, though. Dr. Assa’ad explained that some children can grow out of their allergies, and that she’s working on finding the funding to do more efficient testing for allergies (right now it consists mainly of a whole lot of skin tests to see what makes the patient react). While we aren’t quite at that level of support, we’re working to promote our allergen-friendly line, as well as promoting the awareness via everyone who reads this (thank you by the way!).

So, that was my first little project for this blog. I won’t always write about food allergies – I may not always write about anything relevant or coherent at all – but I will always try to make the focus of the blog the bigger picture of the community (Cincinnati and beyond to everyone reading this) and the people in it.

Getting lost is worth it when you find a gift shop full of Hello Kitty merchandise. Unless of course it's closed.

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