Allergy Force Insights
The Trailblazer Behind Equal Eats: Meet Kyle Dine
The Allergy Force team recently sat down with Kyle Dine to learn more about his life’s work — opening the world up to people with restricted diets through musical connection and smart innovation. We are especially excited to feature Kyle in the Allergy Force Changemaker Series not only because he is a trailblazer for our food allergy community, but because he leads with empathy and kindness.
A problem solver by nature, Kyle Dine has pulled inspiration from his own life-long food allergy challenges to create tools that help the food allergy community live their best lives with food allergies (and in spite of them.)
Read and be inspired…
“Food allergies were so rare when I was growing up, I was conditioned to downplay them to avoid being a burden on others.”
Kyle was born in the 80’s, severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, certain fish, shellfish, and mustard. In the 80’s, having food allergies definitely wasn’t a ‘thing.’ Few people had even heard of them, let alone knew anyone living with them.
Looking back, Kyle shares that he didn’t want to be a burden, a feeling that was reinforced when people didn’t believe his food allergies were serious or real, that he was just being a picky eater. He explains, “As a kid you pick up on it as you watch your parents try and run interference. I didn’t want to rock the boat, so I wouldn’t eat.”
He remembers special days at school — every other Wednesday was Donut Day. “Those look really good. No thanks, I don’t want one.”
He remembers feeling excluded.
He remembers having reactions on the baseball field and there was a lot of “walk it off…chug the antihistamine…get back on the field kid” from his coaches.
He remembers feeling isolated.
Kyle became a homebody. Home was his happy place because it gave him a sense of safety. He liked the control of eating his own homemade food versus the ‘hardship’ of dealing with others trying to make him safe food in uncontrolled situations.
At 17 he met the first person he’d ever met who also had food allergies. He was at a house party and it felt like they were two islands connecting. While everyone else was dancing, they just talked. The whole night. He learned so much in the span of one night from a peer who was living the same allergy life. “It was reassuring to finally find someone your age to talk to, who gets you, who gets your life,” remembers Kyle.
When he was growing up, Kyle didn’t really process how challenging it was to live with severe food allergies. It was all he knew.
Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, Kyle wishes he’d looked for information and resources sooner, gotten smarter about it all. He elaborates, “Know-how is important because you can take better care of your health, your mental health.” However, in the 90’s and early 2000’s, information wasn’t just a Google search or Facebook post away.
Kyle knew what he knew at the time, but confesses, “I didn’t realize how many limits I put on myself.”
KEY TAKEAWAYS: FIND YOUR PEERS. GET INFORMED.
“It makes life so much easier the sooner you own it. You can be confident. You can rock your allergies, be your own advocate and trailblaze.”
He usually spent summers at home playing baseball while all his friends went to camps and took trips. That was, until the summer a girlfriend gave him a needed push to explore more of the world.
Kyle followed his girlfriend to her summer job at a camp where he was also found a job. The camp director’s daughter had severe food allergies so this particular camp ‘got’ food allergies on a deeply personal level. Serendipity sometimes intervenes.
Kyle ended up working at the camp for five summers and learned that “you can be safe away from home.”
Traveling beyond the Canadian borders was the next hurdle.
While at university, Kyle applied to an academic exchange program in Lund, Sweden. Traveling abroad definitely took him far afield, a long way from his comfort zone. Living as a student in Sweden was a crash course in being fully independent and truly ‘owning’ his allergies. “I lived on meatball sandwich after meatball sandwich and frosted flakes,” he recounts, focusing on the win, “But hey! I’m in Sweden!” Even having a serious allergic reaction while studying abroad didn’t dent his newfound passion for travel and exploring new and different cultures.
If anything, his study abroad program and the confidence he gained from it cracked open the world even wider for him, with all its possibility.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: SEE THE WORLD. IT MAKES YOU STRONGER, BUILDS CONFIDENCE
"Songwriting is like journaling for me—I archive moments in my life, all in song—and those songs take me back to a place in time..."
Kyle learned to play guitar from an uncle who motivated him to keep going, to get past the sore fingers. “When you play guitar, you’re never lonely. You always have this instrument you can create with,” explains Kyle. Making music became his creative space.
He’s been writing songs since he was 12, explaining that, “Song writing is like journaling for me — I archive moments in my life, all in song — and those songs take me back to a place in time. I remember how I felt at 17, at 23.”
He started doing music for kids at the summer camp where he worked. Campers with food allergies and Kyle would write songs together, like a “We Hate Peanuts” song, which was a way to vent. When other campers asked them to sing it, Kyle started thinking, “can you flip it and actually help a kid through a song, so the songs, instead of being downers, actually teach and empower? Like “Epi-Man!”
With allergy music, when he writes a song, he thinks about the message he wants kids to remember. For example, he’ll think of a time when he needed a particular message like “Never keep a reaction a secret” — because he remembers being embarrassed to speak up when he was having a reaction. Then he’ll weave music around it.
His entrepreneurial journey began organically as he grew from a guy who didn’t have much to do with kids (just being a teenager playing baseball) who worked at a camp making songs with and for kids. Then his mom, who was a school principal at the time, asked him if he could play a song and talk about allergies in a fun, creative way at her school. He came in as a storyteller — here’s some things to know, here’s a song, questions? — and left as a children’s entertainer after putting his songs on My Space and gaining visibility across different communities.
Today, Kyle has performed at over 900 schools across North America, reaching millions with his allergy awareness messaging
KEY TAKEAWAY: DO WHAT YOU LOVE.
“Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart.” —Steve Jobs
His career path entertaining children was radically different from his friend’s paths and his friends had a lot of fun with it at Kyle’s expense, sometimes causing him to second guess his career choice.
“No one grows up wanting to be a children’s entertainer,” he explains, “but the path came with all sorts of other benefits.”
He loved being around kids, loved the kids. He got to make and play music. He made money playing music. He got to travel. And, he found a community he feels at home with. His reach spread from Toronto, across Ontario, and then to the U.S. He’s traveled to 45 out of 50 states in the US, performing for schools.
For Kyle, his food allergies evolved from just being something he managed to stay alive and healthy, to a mission to make life safer and easier for others navigating life with them.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: BE AUTHENTICALLY YOU. BELIEVE IN YOU. FIND COMMUNITY.
“Create it. Get Smarter. Blow it up. Build it better.”
Kyle admits, “You definitely have to be an entrepreneur to make a living off music. For example, you can’t just show up in a country, at a school, and expect to eat safely. You problem solve.”
To make a living off music, there is always entrepreneurial activity going on behind the scenes — from marketing, to event planning, to handling minutia like insurance details and police checks, to travel planning. Kyle had to be organized planning performances at multiple schools when on tour. He was on the road as a musician for a decade. Music has served him well, teaching him some hard lessons that equipped him for his ‘next.’
He launched Allergy Translation in 2006, a digital business that offers allergy translation cards. His initial foray into digital, while “clumsy,” was definitely a learning journey. With the increasing prevalence of the disease, more people traveling with allergies, and the awareness-building impact of the non-profits, it was the right place and time.
However, effective marketing requires talking to customers and deeply understanding needs. Kyle realized he needed to expand his skill set so he returned to the classroom, enrolling in a Masters of Management in Innovation & Entrepreneurship program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Kyle launched Equal Eats in March of 2020, just as COVID-19 shut down life as we knew it. During COVID-19 lockdown, Kyle had the perfect window to ‘blow up’ his previous venture (people were not dining out or traveling, customer need had evaporated.) Lockdown gave him the time and space to make every change he ever dreamt of, while his degree program gave him the know-how to make it happen, and an entire global network of classmates, accomplished in their own fields, to tap for advice and guidance.
He used the time to transition from Word Press to Shopify, fire his app development company, think through where he was ‘handcuffed’ and how to get rid of them, build out essential infrastructure. It was the perfect time for a fresh start, though core pieces of Allergy Translation still exist at the heart of Equal Eats.
“A restricted diet does not have to mean a restricted life,” Kyle emphasizes. “With proper planning, preparation, and the right tools you can dine, travel and live life without limits.”
He knows. He’s done it.
Through Equal Eats, Kyle is helping others do the same.
Equal Eats offers chef cards (downloadable and plastic wallet cards) that translate dietary constraints/requirements (think food allergies, celiac disease, low FODMAP, kosher, vegan, etc.) in 50 languages for 500+ foods. The cards are meticulously hand-translated, reviewed, and designed communication tools that help customers explain their dietary needs clearly and accurately.
Equal Eats has monumental dreams and plans on how to disrupt hospitality with seamless communication from customer to kitchen. When it’s go time for Equal Eats' customer-to-kitchen initiative, Equal Eats will need your voice. So stay tuned and be ready to join them for the ride.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: DON'T STAND STILL. EMBRACE CHANGE, EVEN WHEN HARD
“I have hope that someday food allergies will go away. Up to now, we’ve come so far. There are always the dreamers that have come before you and it’s only going to get better.”
Kyle has a lot of hope for the newly diagnosed. It’s not 1983. You don’t have to get the syringe out anymore to inject epinephrine. Now with an autoinjector it’s easy and safe. The world’s more aware that there are allergens beyond just peanuts. There’s support to tap into. There are resources to tap into.
Kyle also sees great hope for our future — with all the incredible minds working to solve the atopic disease problem and the increased levels of investment — and the possibility of turning off the mechanisms behind anaphylaxis.
“I’d rather be out of a job and just enjoy food. Be able to eat free. And I’m hopeful that that day will come in my lifetime.”
Thank you, Kyle, for all you do for our community, from gently educating kids about food allergies in fun and creative ways, to equipping us to live a life without limits. We are grateful for you and to you.
Equal Eats was founded on the principle that everyone deserves an equal seat at the table, regardless of their dietary restriction. Equal Eats is committed to providing people with restricted diets the right tools to dine, travel, and live life without limits. Their wallet and identity cards are designed to take worry off your plate by helping to ensure your message is understood and taken seriously. Equal Eats wishes you great adventures and many safe meals ahead! Follow them on Instagram, download a free wallet card, and sign-up for their emails.
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Images: Courtesy Kyle Dine