The Robyn Allen Leadership Award recognizes an individual who has made a unique contribution to the lives of Canadians with food allergy through their efforts in education, advocacy, community building, leadership, or fundraising.
This year, our winner is Marie-Josée Bettez, Founder and President of Déjouer les allergies (Outsmarting allergies), a resource for people living with food allergy.
We spoke with Marie-Josée to learn more about her story and commitment to educating and helping others with food allergy.
Meet Marie-Josée Bettez
Congratulations Marie-Josée on the well-deserved award! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your connection to food allergy?
Before my son, Christophe, was born, I knew nothing about food allergy. Christophe was only a few months old when he had his first allergic reaction. Skin and blood tests confirmed that he was allergic to many foods.
Overnight, I had to remove dairy, eggs, peanuts, nuts, fish, mustard, and many other foods from our kitchen. I also had to read and understand food labels, take precautions to avoid cross-contamination, develop an emergency plan, reorganize our social life, educate those around us and, above all, learn to live a new way of life. It was scary. It was life changing.
I hold a Bachelor of Law degree from the Université de Montréal and a Masters of Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London). I had been practicing law as an Attorney General’s prosecutor, however, my son’s medical condition prompted me to change my career path. I stopped practicing law, wrote a book on food allergy and in 2003, founded Déjouer les allergies (DLA), a resource for people living with food allergy.
Can you describe your contributions to the food allergy community and how they have helped others living with this medical condition?
Twenty years ago, French-language resources targeting people with food allergy were scarce. This fact led me to co-author a book entitled Déjouer les allergies alimentaires (Outsmarting food allergies) in 2002. There was a clear need for a book like this in Quebec and it instantly became a bestseller.
A year later, I took dejouerlesallergies.com online. The site was first a simple add-on to the book. It then eventually became a sharing vehicle for food allergy information, practical findings and daily living facts.
DLA continued to grow, gradually increasing its presence on social networks and within face-to-face activities such as conferences and training sessions. In Quebec, it has become a key resource for people with food allergy, and one that’s being recommended by many allergists, doctors, nurses and nutritionists.
Of course, I didn’t do this alone. To carry out DLA’s mission, I have surrounded myself with specialists recognized for their respective fields. For example, DLA’s virtual support group is led by eight volunteer administrators and moderators, including a nurse and three pharmacists. What a great and caring community!
Apart from being the president of DLA, I also had the opportunity to be an active member in several committees dedicated to food allergy. I sat on the Expert Committee set up by CHU Ste-Justine to establish an oral immunotherapy clinic, and on the Musée Armand-Frappier’s Scientific and Advisory Committee to develop an exhibition on the subject of allergies. I also served as a consultant for Allergies Québec on the issue of managing allergies within schools.
Over the years, I have published two other books related to allergies. The most recent one, Lunchs réinventés (Reinvented lunches), won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award (national competition) and was a Taste Canada Award finalist. But the real reason why this book is so dear to my heart is that I wrote it with my son.
It has been a long and fascinating journey. And it is not over yet!
What drives your commitment to educating and supporting those with food allergy?
I remember how I felt when my son was diagnosed – scared, lost, alone. I was looking for answers and advice. When I founded DLA in 2003, my goal was to support families like mine by informing them, advocating for their interests and helping them to break out from their isolation. I wanted to make things a bit easier for people struggling with food allergy. I also wanted to empower them. My mission remains the same today.
Do you have any advice for others looking to be a leader and make an impact in the food allergy community?
Just do it! Several battles remain to be fought. We need you.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am very honored to be the winner of the 2020 Robyn Allen Leadership Award. I feel that this award is a validation of my work of the past seventeen years. I also see it as an encouragement to go on.
I would like to thank Food Allergy Canada and the family of Robyn Allen for this great honor. The story of Robyn is heartbreaking. Her mother, Marilyn Allen, is an exceptional woman and a pioneer in the field. I have the utmost respect for her and for what she has accomplished. She is a true hero.