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Food Allergies Stir a Mother to Action

Lafayette, Colo. - Robyn O'Brien likes to joke that at least she hasn't started checking the rearview mirror to see if she's being followed.

But some days, her imagination gets away from her and she wonders if it's only a matter of time before Big Food tries to stop her from exposing what she sees as a profit-driven global conspiracy whose collateral damage is an alarming increase in childhood food allergies.

Ms. O'Brien has presented her views, albeit in a less radical wrapper, on CNN, CBS and in frequent print interviews. Frontier Airlines and Wild Oats stores distribute the allergy-awareness gear she designed.

Her story is one of several in a new book, "Healthy Child, Healthy World" (Dutton, March 2008), whose contributors include doctors, parents and celebrities like Meryl Streep.

Sitting at the table in her suburban kitchen, with her four young children tumbling in and out, Ms. O'Brien, 36, seems an unlikely candidate to be food's Erin Brockovich (who, by the way, has taken Ms. O'Brien under her wing).

She grew up in a staunchly Republican family in Houston where lunch at the country club frequented by George and Barbara Bush followed Sunday church services. She was an honors student, earned a master's degree in business and, like her husband, Jeff, made a living as a financial analyst.

Ms. O'Brien was also the kind of mom who rolled her eyes when the kid with a peanut allergy showed up at the birthday party. Then, about two years ago, she fed her youngest child scrambled eggs. The baby's face quickly swelled into a grotesque mask. "What did you spray on her?" she screamed at her other children. Little Tory had a severe food allergy, and Ms. O'Brien's journey had begun.

By late that night, she had designed a universal symbol to identify children with food allergies. She now puts the icon, a green stop sign with an exclamation point, on lunch bags, stickers and even the little charms children use to dress up their Crocs. These products and others are sold on her Web site, AllergyKids.com, which she unveiled, strategically, on Mother's Day in 2006.

Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/09/dining/09alle.html?
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