Survive to Thrive—The Betsy Craig Story
Meet Betsy Craig, author, motivational speaker and founder of MenuTrinfo. She found light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of life challenges (…and it wasn't a train.) Learn more...
Allergy Force recently sat down with Betsy Craig, founder and CEO of three distinct, yet complementary businesses under the MenuTrinfo umbrella — MenuTrinfo, AllerTrain, and Kitchens with Confidence. Betsy is also author of Unstoppable: A Recipe for Success in Life and Business — a book that provides courage, tools and inspiration to help readers persevere through hardships and achieve dreams.
If you or a loved one has food allergies or celiac disease, you’ll take heart from this post. You’ll find hope in her struggle to overcome a disease that ravaged her body inside and out. You’ll find encouragement in her ability to put health and career adversity behind and move forward. You’ll find inspiration in her entrepreneurial journey to champion food freedom for people with dietary challenges.
“Had I been softer, I don’t think I would have survived…”
More than we’d like to acknowledge, there’s often some truth to the statement that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
Meet Betsy Craig.
In 2006, after more than two years of medical evaluation and testing, Betsy was diagnosed with 'diffuse' systemic scleroderma.* This type of scleroderma is the most aggressive form of the disease, and involves rapid thickening of many skin areas, including internal organs. Diagnosis is often difficult because symptoms are similar to other autoimmune diseases.
By the time Betsy received the full diagnosis, she’d lost mobility in her hands — she couldn’t even open a bottle of water. Her internal organs weren’t spared either. When she wasn’t at the doctor, Betsy spent much of 2006, 2007 and 2008 on her living room couch, unable to move without severe pain, struggling to breathe, watching sores on her fingers take their toll. At one point she was on 21 different medications, just trying to make it through to the next day.
“I had a difficult childhood,” Betsy reflects. “If my childhood had been easier, or my parents gentler, I’m not sure I would have had what it takes to face down the barrel of death scleroderma had aimed at me.” (You can learn more about scleroderma at the end of this post.)
“Sometimes blessings arrive unexpectedly.”
In 2009 Betsy was able to work, but was fired from her job.
An out-of-the-blue Facebook post by a friend in 2010 sparked an idea to build a business around menu nutritional labelling for restaurants, food vendors and other dining establishments. Through research and by tapping her partner-in-life's tech expertise (Rocky Craig built his career at Hewlett Packard in senior technology and leadership roles), Betsy determined the idea had the legs to become a viable business.
Enter MenuTrinfo in 2010.
MenuTrinfo’s first major client, an amusement park company, accelerated the company's software development effort. Today, built from nothing more than an idea, some tech know-how and a ton of grit, the MenuTrinfo group’s clients include major corporates like AMC, Amtrak, the Bravo|Brio Restaurant Group, Courtyard by Marriott, Little Cesar’s Pizza, Red Robin, and one of the nation’s largest grocery chains, as well as a long list of colleges and universities, including Bates, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn State, University of New Hampshire, and Vanderbilt. Betsy’s companies train schools in managing restricted diets (e.g., food allergies, celiac disease) in their kitchens and dining facilities, as well as certify areas in dining facilities and kitchens with the “Certified Free From” certification.
Betsy’s driven to make life better for people living with dietary restrictions and health challenges. Innovations at the MenuTrinfo group bubble up because she hears of needs and connects the dots:
● The registered dietician for a college campus who, instead of sleeping, worries late into the night about her students’ well-being,
● The college student trying to get through exams who just wants to eat without getting sick and possibly failing,
● The mom who wants to keep her food allergic children safe but would like a small break from planning and cooking every meal, every day.
While MenuTrinfo's core businesses are nutritional analysis, allergen charts, training and consulting, ‘Certified Free From’ certifications (manufacturers, kitchens & dining facilities and products) with compliance monitoring are becoming an increasingly important part of the business mix.
“We all have the capacity to persevere and meet adversity head on — whether it’s food allergies, celiac disease, scleroderma, unemployment, or something else.”
In the early days of MenuTrinfo, Betsy was no stranger to 16-hour days to make sure the companies survived. For her, the work was a labor of passion, of love. Reflecting back, she admits, “I don’t know if I’d have the 'uuuummmppphhhh' I have today if I hadn’t gone through my health ordeal. I’m supposed to be dead.”
Betsy shares some life lessons she’s learned from conquering scleroderma and founding a company with three divisions in rapid succession:
1. Think of gratitude as a verb. Live it.
Gratitude isn't about seeing the glass half full versus seeing it half empty. It's about recognizing you have a glass at all to fill, however you choose, and being grateful for that glass. At the end of the day you choose how you want to live your life.
“I choose to live with gratitude for being alive, for being healthy again.”
2. People ahead of you will help you.
When you’re burnt out and all you find are roadblocks, ask for help. There are so many people ahead of you who will help you. They’ll reach back and pull you forward. The people you ask are people who want to share, too. Often, they’re just waiting for people to make the ask and listen.
“The answer is always ‘no’ unless you ask.”
3. Look at what you have going for you. Find the positives. Reframe your thinking.
The doctor who treated Betsy’s scleroderma only took her on as a patient because he could tell she was a fighter. He could see she wasn’t ready to curl up in a ball and die. That being said, she laid on her couch for three months and then got up and started figuring out how to live and not die. You are allowed to cry.
“That light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. It’s a light. Follow it. Go for it.”
4. Define your rules for the road and live by them. Every. Day.
Take a look at a work by Don Miguel Ruiz, ‘The Four Agreements’. Here are Betsy's takeaways, the principles she tries to live by: (1) Say what you mean and don’t worry about softening your words (2) Don’t carry a lot of baggage (3) The fight in life has to be about real things (4) Walk the talk and live clean.
5. Find balance.
Give yourself permission to explore and find the other things in your life, beyond work, that give you passion.
“I learned to find the same joy my work gives me through giving to others, whether I’m scheduling people for COVID vaccinations or delivering baked goods to first responders.”
6. Give your kids enough tools to function in the world.
Have faith that you’ve given your kids enough tools to function in the world. You can guide them and launch them, but your kids will become who their journey makes them.
“Learn to let go and not leave claw marks. Say your prayers.”
Betsy's a force of nature. She beat a disease death sentence, launched a diversified business to help companies and universities take better care of their customers/students, and now she's masterminding the launch of an accredited certification to give consumers with special dietary needs confidence that food is safe to eat.
Thank you, Betsy, for all the expertise, creativity, and positive energy you pour into leading MenuTrinfo, for encouraging others who face adversity to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for mentoring people trying to build out their careers and live their best lives.
Through your work you open doors — not only to food freedom but to resilience — for thousands.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny”
The Allergy Force Changemaker Series shines a light on movers and shakers in the food allergy community who drive change and make a positive difference for the entire community.
Image Credits: Thank you to Betsy and Kevin Jiner on Unsplash for use of the images
*MORE ABOUT SCLERODERMA
What is it? Scleroderma is a disease that typically affects women between 25 and 55 and involves producing too much collagen, though scientists and medical researchers don't know the exact cause. Diagnosis is often difficult because the disease presents with symptoms similar to other autoimmune diseases. The disease affects approximately 300,000 Americans.
There are two types of scleroderma – localized and systemic. In localized scleroderma, the skin on the fingers, hands and face gradually thickens, reducing elasticity and mobility over time. This type of scleroderma is relatively mild and rarely spreads, rarely affecting internal organs.
About 1 in 3 of the 300,000 Americans with the disease are diagnosed with systemic scleroderma. In its most aggressive form — 'diffuse' systemic scleroderma — the thickening of the skin occurs rapidly and involves more skin areas, including internal organs.
Diffuse systemic scleroderma is the type of scleroderma Betsy battled. Quite often, it's a death sentence, and even when a patient survives, there is frequently irreversible damage to internal organs.