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Rachel Brooks

Founder & CEO

Princeton University '25

Studying English and Classics on a premedical track

Allergies: milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts

The story of Securing Safe Food begins with personal history. As you read about my team members, you’ll notice that many of us have lived with food allergies for nearly all of our childhoods and young adulthoods. I was diagnosed with allergies to milk, egg, peanut, and tree nuts at 1 year old. I also have a rare, heritable connective tissue disorder that often presents in affected individuals, including myself, alongside chronic gastrointestinal symptoms.

The range of allergen-free options available in 2023—think dairy-free milks, nut-free spreads, wheat- and egg-free bread—is undoubtedly greater than in 2003, but as I have grown older and experienced increasing digestive conditions, my list of safe foods has narrowed. I have navigated a food system where the assurance of “allergen-free” often carries a subtle postscript—not affordable and difficult to find. In high school, I stopped dining out due to poor accommodations and unreliable food-allergy safety. My parents paid for a mandatory school lunch program I did not use. When stores stopped carrying my staple items or brands changed their ingredients, my family shopped online for specialty foods and nutritional drinks, further upping our food expenses. Due to my food allergies and chronic conditions, meals were becoming a pain (both physically and figuratively).

When the pandemic struck, I could not imagine how more disadvantaged food allergy households were accessing safe food staples amidst our global food crisis. In response to my challenges in grocery stores and an immediate need in my local Connecticut food pantries, I launched SSF, a nonprofit that partners with community food programs across the country and equips them with allergen-free foods. SSF is a collaborative movement that prioritizes food security as an issue of food safety and inclusivity. Through SSF’s education initiative, food pantries become more accommodating of diverse dietary needs and allergen-avoidant visitors access safe, varied foods to improve their health. 

Contrary to what our name implies, SSF is not only about allocating safe food but is equally focused on education and food accessibility. We envision a food bank system offering allergen-safe options (i.e. access) and an inclusive experience (accessibility) where all individuals can visit a local program, easily receive healthful foods, and feel understood. As I pursue my university studies alongside my SSF initiatives, I am encouraged by the vital dialogue around food allergies and nutritional support that I am able to both promote and partake in. Since founding SSF, I have developed a passion for intervening in disparities across health and food security, but I have also realized that the commonality of living with dietary restrictions can drive positive change in our traditional food system. While I have been frustrated by my conditions, managing them firsthand has empowered me to enhance the wellbeing of individuals with similar disease. I believe food-allergy related diagnoses and obstacles—whether personal or witnessed—have in the same way shaped my team members into leaders who are revolutionizing food access for the better.

Rachel Brooks
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