A successful allergy-friendly cookbook author, motivated food allergy advocate, and inspirational mother, Cybele Pascal has appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, The Food Network, the Today Show, Good Morning America Health, PBS, and NPR.
She is a leading blogger in the field with an award-winning website, and she lectures and teaches nationally. Cybele serves as a “Celebrity Ambassador Who Cares” for FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) and is the founder and president of Cybele’s Free-to-Eat, a line of gluten-free foods that are made without the top eight allergens.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Cybele recently, following the release of her latest cookbook, Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking. She told us about the challenges she faced as a young mother, those her son faced in school, where she sought support, and what she’s doing to improve the food allergy world.
A Food-Allergic Family
Each member of Cybele’s family is allergic to some type of food. Her 11-year-old son Lennon was allergic to dairy and soy when he was younger, but has since outgrown those allergies and is now allergic to tree nuts, shellfish, kiwi, wheat, barley, and eggs. Cybele’s 8-year-old son Monte is allergic to eggs and dairy, and her husband Adam is also allergic to dairy. Cybele is allergic to walnuts, shellfish, and different types of fish, and she has mild allergies to wheat, oats, yeast, citrus, and stone fruits (peaches, plums, etc.).
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The Beginning: A Strict Maternity Diet & Hypoallergenic Infant Formula
Cybele began her journey within the food allergy world in 2001, when her first son Lennon was diagnosed with severe dairy and soy allergies. At the time, Cybele was breastfeeding Lennon, so she was put on a strict avoidance diet that eliminated the top eight food allergens: dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
Keeping Lennon’s weight up was difficult as he was not getting all of the nutrients his young body needed in order to grow. Cybele found that the hypoallergenic infant formula Neocate was the only one Lennon could tolerate, and he ended up staying on it for a long time--until the age of 2.
Challenges in School: Part-Time Nurse & EpiPens Locked Away
As Lennon grew older, the challenge of being a food allergic child in school emerged. Because of budget cuts, the school nurse was only there one day a week. Even worse, the school’s supply of EpiPens was locked up, and the person who had the key wasn’t always available.
Cybele recalls an incident during which a young girl in Lennon’s class accidentally ate a cookie containing walnuts—to which she was severely allergic. She was rushed to the office where the EpiPens were kept, but no one could get ahold of the person with the key. Luckily, the little girl was fine, but this situation was a close call that could (and should) have been avoided.
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Despite there being three kids in Lennon’s class with anaphylactic allergies, it wasn’t until a diabetic child started attending the school that a full-time nurse was hired.
Part II of this article will discuss Cybele's advocacy in the food allergy world, her three allergy-friendly cookbooks and allergen-free product line, and advice she has for parents who are new to the food allergy world.