Debby Beerman knows first hand what it’s like when life takes unexpected turns. When her first born son (now age 10) was just a baby, he was diagnosed with severe food allergies to milk, soy, egg, peanut, tree nuts and sesame. Knowing no one with a food allergy prior to this, today she is an expert at navigating food allergies whether her child is in school, at a play date, a birthday party, or traveling far away from home base. She’s even made a career out of it! This is Debby’s story…
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?
I grew up in Highland Park and have lived in Northbrook for about 10 years.
Child(ren) and Age(s)?
I have three kids: Two boys ages 10 and eight and a three-year-old girl.
Favorite things to do with your children?
Movie night at our house is one of our favorite things. I usually make a big batch of homemade chocolate covered popcorn that we snack on while watching. Some of our favorites are Despicable Me, Back to the Future and Jumanji. We also love to go on bike rides and attend baseball games. One of our favorite places to bike is the trail behind Northbrook Junior High that goes through Meadowhill Park and around Anetsberger golf course. It’s peaceful and serene in there.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I’ve lived in both Hamburg, Germany and Jerusalem, Israel. I studied in Jerusalem during my junior year of college and in Hamburg during my third year in law school. I also love to cook! I began to learn when my oldest son was a baby and was diagnosed with food allergies to milk, soy, egg, peanut, tree nuts and sesame. I had never cooked or baked before, but quickly found myself cooking all the time for him and baking vegan!
Anyone special you’d like to thank for helping you through parenthood?
The food allergy parent community! Being a food allergy parent is very challenging. You need to be constantly vigilant about every meal, snack, party and celebration. I’ve spent hours calling restaurants, camps and hotels to inquire about food served and available options. I’ve trained hundreds of parents, coaches, teachers, counselors, family members and babysitters on how to use an auto-injector and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. The calls, trainings, appointments, etc. address the tangible reality of a food allergy, however the intangibles can be so much harder. There is a fine line between imparting upon my child the severity of his allergy, while also managing the extreme anxiety that can haunt him (and me) by knowing that one bite of the wrong food can literally be fatal. Great information can be found at foodallergy.org and kidswithfoodallergies.org.
When my son was first diagnosed, I didn’t know anyone who had a food allergy or had a child with a food allergy. But I quickly learned that food allergy parents make up a strong, helpful and welcoming community. And while “food allergy” is a federally recognized disability and is covered by HIPPA, food allergy parents have no choice but to talk about their child’s allergy to everyone who may possibly give them anything to eat in order to keep their child safe and alive. I am extremely thankful and indebted to the food allergy moms who came before me and who are on this journey with me now. They’ve made food allergy parenthood so much easier in so many ways.
Are you involved in a business venture, a local organization, a creative endeavor, or in the corporate world? Please share!
I was a lawyer for 8 years before stopping when my oldest was 3 and my middle was 1. While I loved practicing law, it was too many hours away from my kids and I missed them too much. I recently started working again in a career that is probably the farthest thing from the law. I am a brand ambassador for The Safe + Fair Food Company, which involves handing out free cookies and snacks to people at events in and around the North Shore. Safe + Fair makes all natural, clean-label desserts and snacks. We clearly label all of our ingredients so that food allergy parents can easily determine what is safe and what isn’t. Safe + Fair adds natural fiber and protein, boosting the quality of the food that it makes – chia and quinoa to their popcorn chips and whole wheat flour instead of white flour in their cookies. It’s a happy job that makes people smile and it’s an added benefit that many people with life-threatening allergies can enjoy our products.
How has the North Shore community been instrumental in getting you to where you are now?
I am constantly overwhelmed by the support of the North Shore community. With the exception of just a few, most parents have gone out of their way to ensure that my children are safe and happy when in their care. They ask about safe foods, buy safe cupcakes for birthday parties, ensure that food at a sleepover is something my kids can eat and have learned how to use an auto-injector in case of an emergency. I feel lucky to live amongst so many family members, friends and neighbors on the North Shore who truly recognize the severity of food allergy and are genuinely happy to accommodate my kids.