Sonia Hunt is fearless when it comes to food.
She doesn't let her 31 food allergies keep her from enjoying delicious cuisines in her neighborhood and around the world. Armed with her allergy card, and her Epi Pen, she boldly walks into restaurants knowing that she deserves to enjoy her dining experience just as much as the next person.
But that's not to say that she doesn't experience an incident from time to time. While she jokes that her "31 flavors" give Baskin Robbins a run for their money, Sonia's situation is no laughing matter.
In 2008, she had a major scare which sent her to the ER and made her finally say, enough is enough.
"I was at a restaurant that I had visited many times before," she said. "We went through all of my allergies but they made a mistake and put nuts in my food."
In addition to the nuts, Sonia had a reaction to halibut which was an allergy that she didn't even know she had at the time. Sonia explained that one minute she and her friends were having a great time and the next minute she was in anaphylactic shock.
"The combination of the allergies was so bad, if we hadn't gotten to the ER, I could have died."
Out of this traumatic experience spawned Sonia's new mission: to help educate people on how to stay safe, live healthy and eat well with food allergies.
"I got fed up with the way things were running in the restaurant industry," she said. "The incident in 2008 was really the genesis of this whole thing for me. I set out to utilize my story to train an industry, drive change and still enjoy the foods I want."
Sonia Hunt's allergy card listing her food allergies on the front, medication allergies and emergency contact information on the back. Sonia carries this card with her every day.
Drawing from her background as a digital media technologist, Sonia began building her brand. She started a production company called Noie Productions, LLC, and created a food and lifestyle show called Stirring It Up with Sonia Hunt which runs on her Web site, www.soniahunt.com. She jumped on Facebook and Twitter, and focused on creating a presence in the young adult generation of inter-connected people whom she refers to as fellow 'food nerds and budding foodies'.
"In September of 2009 I decided to leave my day job in digital media and pursue this venture full-time," she said. "I spent the remainder of the year shooting the pilot season for Stirring It Up with Sonia Hunt."
Stirring It Up is a series of online videos featuring interviews with innovative and accomplished chefs and other movers and shakers in the culinary world. A trailer for the series launched on Sonia's Web site on May 1, 2010.
While she did receive offers from some major studios to take her show to the TV screen (one of which called her while she was attending her 15-year reunion at Drexel), Sonia decided in the end that it was best to maintain ownership of the project and stay focused on her original goal which was to spread information and awareness about food allergies via the web and social media.
And so she continued on her crusade, releasing one online episode of Stirring It Up each week, blogging, tweeting, connecting, and spreading her message.
"Awareness and information is not at the level that it needs to be when it comes to food allergies," she said. "I want to let people know that they shouldn't be ashamed of their food allergies and what's not cool is not carrying your Epi Pen or your food allergy card," she said.
On Sonia's Web site, she blogs about her experiences, her love of food, and she shares recipes – both her own and those from friends and chefs.
"I didn't go to culinary school but I really enjoy taking cooking classes and I grew up cooking for myself," she said, noting that it was a way to be sure that she wasn't going to eat anything harmful.
Sonia says that she has had the luxury of traveling the world since the time she was in diapers and that has enabled her to experience many different cultures and types of cuisine. She loves spicy food, Italian food, and most of all, meatballs.
"So much centers around food and drink," she said. "My parents came to Philadelphia from India. Growing up, they hosted dinner parties 3 or 4 nights a week in our home. I can remember the conversations that happened around the dinner table were unforgettable."
Last year, Robyn O'Brien, founder of the Kids Allergy Foundation, contacted Sonia on Twitter and asked her to contribute articles to the foundation's Web site. As a guest writer, Sonia shares her story of growing up with 31 food allergies and let's kids with allergies know that she understands how they feel.
"It's scary. Every time you eat out, you're basically putting your life in another person's hands," she said.
In one article for the Kids Allergy Foundation, Sonia promises her readers that she is going to continue to raise enough awareness to make real and definitive change. She dreams of the day when it's common for restaurants to provide allergen-free dishes, menus to list ingredients, and wait staff to know the difference between a bean, a nut and a legume.
Sonia has also recently begun hosting allergen-free dinner parties around the country called Meet & Eat with Sonia Hunt.
"These dinners are held in different cities in collaboration with chefs that endorse and support my message to Stay Safe, Live Healthy and Eat Well," she said.
Next on the horizon is a gig hosting the 2011 Food and Wine Festival in San Francisco on August 6 which Sonia says she is truly honored to have been chosen for.
Want to learn more about Sonia's mission to raise food allergy awareness and drive change? Visit her Web site at www.soniahunt.com.