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Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stream..

PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2011 7:39 pm
by punkmebillie
Hi guys, I would like to get some feedback on an idea I have about a possible income stream. First I will have to give you a some background. I’ll try to keep it brief, but it’s a complicated situation.

I found out in mid-September that I have Celiac disease. For those of you who don’t know, that means I can’t eat anything containing wheat, barley, rye or oats because of the gluten they contain, or I will have a severe reaction. That means no bread, no pasta, no pizza, no pastries, etc… Also the great majority of prepared foods in the grocery stores contain some form of gluten, or have a high chance of being cross contaminated with gluten at the factory or in transit to the stores. And very few restaurants prepare foods that are naturally gluten free in a separate area, so chances of cross contamination there are high as well.

Anyway, it’s a difficult transition to make, particularly around the holidays, but at least it’s generally manageable. However, I have to say the treatment I have gotten from co-workers is, frankly, appalling. Not because people intend to be cruel, but because they don’t understand how pervasive the diet issues are. No matter how many times I explain to my co-workers that I can’t eat the food they order for department lunches, or other treats they bring in, there is always someone waving cookies under my nose saying things like “C’mon it’s Christmas…just have one little cookie”. When we’re working late, I can’t eat the food the management buys out of “appreciation”, which would be okay, except no one ever even asks if there is something they can get me. (I don’t really expect them to, but it would be nice just to be considered. Needless to say, I don’t feel very appreciated for my hard work.) But the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was that my department basically left me out of the holiday party. Where I sit, I can’t see the rest of my group, so imagine my surprise and disappointment when I suddenly realized my whole department had gone to the conference room to have the party and never even told me. When one of my co-workers asked where I was, she was told by my supervisor that I couldn’t eat the food. That was her entire explanation. So apparently, she felt that it was more considerate to leave me out entirely, than to just let me bring my own food in and join the party.

What this is all leading up to is this: I don’t really see this as a negative or bad situation, as much as I see it as an opportunity. I have this idea that I would like to develop a presentation geared towards management at companies to educate them on food sensitivities and how to treat employees that have to deal with them. Maybe do a little custom research for each company and present them with a list of restaurants in their particular areas that cater to food sensitive individuals, so they can include said individuals in their lunches and parties; or even a list of allergen free treats they can buy at the store, so these employees can get some sort of validation, for cripes sake…

I see it as being along the same lines as the diversity training that all employees were required to attend at one of the companies I worked for previously. And what I would like to do to start is work with HR at the company I’m currently employed with, see if they would be interested in having supervisor-level and up employees (at least) go through this kind of training.

What I would like some feedback on is whether you think this could be a viable income stream, or whether I should plan on volunteering my time toward this cause. I would like to do it either way, but ideally I would like to be compensated for my efforts. I have no idea what percentage of people at any given company might have food sensitivities, so it’s hard to judge. I suppose my first step at my company would be to develop a survey to find out.

Also, is there anybody out there who has done something like this before? Or has any info on how to do it? Any thoughts on how I might expand on this idea to make it more attractive to companies, maybe offering education on other similar subjects that I might incorporate into it to appeal to a broader base? There are plenty of websites and support groups out there on the subject, but I haven't seen anything geared towards the workplace.

Frankly, the whole idea of doing this scares the bejesus out of me, which probably means I should keep pursuing it…you know, running towards your fears instead of away from them, and all that…

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:38 am
by Tituba
I think it is an excellent idea! And....more see an open door and not just a painful slight.

You could expand this to people with nut allergies, diabetes or even those on a diet. How many people announce they are on a diet only to have people say "oh it is just a cookie" also.

HR have organizations they belong to where they meet and talk about issues (new laws, harassment etc.) That would be the group to do a presentation for. I could even see you releasing a webinar. It wouldn't be just on how to treat other people, but also how if you have this condition, how you navigate in this world and join in without being left out. Not only at work - family functions, weddings etc. Same issues would come up.

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Fri Dec 23, 2011 6:26 am
by SquarePeg
You might find many folks who have provided exactly this training for school systems. You can start by contacting the local SEPTA groups in your area. Children with autism sometimes get put on a gluten-free diet.

BTW, I share your frustration. Every month, we have a huge birthday cake. Every week there's lunch, and a co-worker brings in French bread, as if it's a delicacy. Then there's communion -- the "Bread of Life". And almost no one realizes how pervasive wheat is in our foods. They will even overlook seemingly obvious things like breaded chicken. But then there's the real hidden stuff such as soy sauce, gravy, and as you say, cross-contamination issues.

I would recommend that you temper your expectations about workplace reception. Companies are generally interested only in complying with the law on diversity. That usually includes race, gender, lewdness, physical disability, and possibly sexual orientation and religion. I suspect Celiac disease (or any food intolerance) would fall through the cracks. In which case, perhaps the avenue to pursue is that of a lobbyist. Would any Celiac disease organization pay you to lobby for laws that would help Celiacs, either in your state or at the federal level? Are you at least willing to contact your personal lawmakers about this issue on your own?

Good luck! If you succeed we will be better off.

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 6:56 pm
by punkmebillie
Tituba, thanks for the encouragement and the input. I had thought of expanding this to include nut allergies, but not diabetes. That’s a good idea. And a releasing a webinar hadn’t occurred to me. I definitely will look into that one.

SquarePeg, I agree that it might be difficult to convince corporations of the value of this service, which is why I want to experiment with my current workplace, to see if it’s even feasible to pursue this. And to answer your question, I would be willing to work on getting the laws updated, but I am looking for a way to make some more immediate changes in the corporate environment as well, so I think I will just start where I am and see where it leads.

Thanks to both of you for the thoughts…

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:30 pm
by Tituba
Not just work places. Think of the difficulty school kids have with these issues and being different from their friends. Left out of parties etc. You could do this at the school level as well. Easier to train children than adults

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 8:45 pm
by punkmebillie
Tituba, I think you're absolutely right! On the discussion boards, there are always parents who are upset about how their kids are treated at school. Obviously, I need to start thinking bigger than I have been...

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:14 am
by SquarePeg
As for bringing awareness to children, the Kids on the Block puppet troop already has a script for diabetes, which I suppose could be tailored for any number of diet-related conditions.

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:28 pm
by punkmebillie
So I met with an HR rep at my company today and spoke with her at length about what I want to do with this. Turns out the company is about to launch a program focused on eating healthier in the workplace – no easy feat considering we don’t have a cafeteria, just a couple of break rooms with vending machines. Most people eat at the fast food court on the corner. However, she was very interested in my ideas and said she thought they played right in with this project, which happens to be her pet project. She is going to take my ideas to her manager and see if I would be able to work with them on the project, not only getting some options in the vending machines for people with dietary issues, but also providing options at the company lunches and holiday parties. I volunteered to act as coordinator for all of this, and told her that I would be happy to work with the employees to find out how pervasive medical conditions that require dietary restrictions are at the company, at which point she asked me if I realized how huge a project it will be. I told her yes I did, and it is something I am very interested in, and I would really like to be a part of it, whatever direction they decided upon.

I also spoke to her about my wanting to develop a program to present to companies providing some kind of awareness training on these food issues, and what affected employees have to deal with in the workplace. She was very interested in that as well, and told me she thought other companies would be very interested, as the big trend in corporate environments right now is towards nutritional awareness and encouraging employees to eat healthier. I told her I would like to develop a training program or seminar and present it at this company, and she is going to speak to her manager about that as well.

I figure if I can participate in this project at my current place of employment, it will give me some good experience, as well as some idea of how to move forward with this. At least, maybe I’ve got the ball rolling…

Pretty exciting!

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:09 pm
by Tituba
yes, yes, YES! The right idea at the right time and you are moving through doors! I'm so excited for you. Plus....most HR people belong to organizations that meet about topics. Perhaps going forward, your HR rep could take you to one of those meetings and you could be the guest speaker. That way, you present to a whole room of people.

Don't forget PTAs as schools are becoming more motivated to bringing health to children.

I also spoke to her about my wanting to develop a program to present to companies providing some kind of awareness training on these food issues, and what affected employees have to deal with in the workplace.

The one thing I'd mention is to focus on the company you work for and not other companies (at least don't tell the company you work for). You don't want to make it seem like you are using them as a springboard to a new job. You very well might be offered such a position in the company you work for now. Another idea, see if there are any federal grants for nutritional programs. That might be the stumbling block (budget concerns) about this program. If you do the legwork and find some $$$ or tax breaks the company can use if they do this, then you get what you want and show yourself as an asset to the company.

Many of the people who hear your presentation will ask for advice about their children, relatives etc. This will lead to you writing brochures and then a book. Once you do several presentations, you can video tape them for your website.

Start flow charting your ideas and opportunities. Put it on paper so you can see where you are going.

Prepare yourself for naysayers. They are on their way......look to the light of the dream and you won't hear them :)

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 9:32 pm
by mango
Well done! It sounds like you're making great strides in the direction of your dream!

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:05 pm
by punkmebillie
Damn, they blew me off

I didn’t hear back from my HR rep for over a week, so I sent a follow up email last week. Never received an answer, which made me wonder if she ever actually spoke to the HR manager about all this. So I sent a second follow up email today, asking for status. She sent me an email back basically saying:

1) We’re not going to be providing any training at this time – which was not what we talked about; we talked about my possibly holding some educational sessions myself.
2) I spoke to your supervisor and she is now much more aware of your situation – this was a non-issue, which I told her several times during our meeting. I said several times that I was not there to complain about anyone in my department, only that I felt people needed to be aware of these issues, especially since I’m not the only affected party in the company. In fact, I met with my supervisor before I met with HR and she thought the whole thing was a great idea. She admitted that she knew next to nothing about food issues and she felt the whole company, including herself, could benefit from some awareness training.
3) The “party planning” committee will be made aware of nutritional issues.
4) Maybe you should create an “FYI Information Sheet” to hand out to the people in your department.

Very frustrating. I spoke to my supervisor after I got this email, and she told me that the gist of their conversation was that if we have potlucks, people had to bring stuff that I could eat. Which is next to impossible unless people are gluten free themselves, as there is too great a chance for cross contamination. Not only that, I have been very vocal with my supervisor and everyone else in my department since day one, so I don’t feel there was a need to drag my supervisor into HR to tell her she had to include me in luncheons. That was not the point of our meeting.

So I replied to the HR rep (being much more professional and diplomatic than I am being right now) stating that I was very disappointed the company was not willing to do any training since I personally know of 4 people in my area alone that can’t eat the treats the supervisors bring in for “appreciation”, and that it’s very alienating. I also explained my concern that merely advising these “party planners” that they have to be aware of “nutritional issues” won’t do the trick, since the issue is way too complex to be considered on a casual basis, and that unless they had someone on their committee that actually had to deal with food sensitivities they wouldn’t have a clue how to handle it. I told her I was not as concerned about my personal situation as I was about the affected employees as a whole. And I offered to meet with the HR manager myself in the hopes that we might find there was more that we could do in this area.

I received a very curt email back stating that nope, it’s not going to happen: I already met with your supervisor and she will be more sensitive to your needs from now on. Pretty much “see you around”. But she did copy her manager on it, and didn’t remove our earlier emails.

I have to say as disappointed as I am, I’m not surprised. This is a company with a very toxic work environment. It’s also a company that uses intimidation and fear as their primary form of motivation. I’ve know several people who have taken problems to HR and not gotten resolution.

What is most distressing to me is the fact that this HR rep, after all her (apparently fake) enthusiasm, felt the issue all boiled down to a complaint against my supervisor. Or else, she just wasn’t willing to make an effort.

I’m toying with going to the HR manager anyway, but it occurs to me that since I work for the company, they will never view this as anything more than a complaint about my supervisor.

Okay, I’m done venting. I’m not giving up on this. I am currently in the process of educating myself thoroughly about all forms of medical food issues, from celiac to allergies to intolerances to diabetes. I do have to figure out how to make all this information into an interesting and informative power point presentation. And I’m moving forward because I think there is a huge need for this kind of education.

What the heck; I'm up for a fight...

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:19 pm
by Tituba
Yeah, politics and budgets and concern about lawsuits. Do your research and create something you can talk about to community groups (PTA etc.)

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:45 pm
by punkmebillie
Nope, not good enough. My mission is to change the corporate culture regarding medical food issues. This may not take the form I am currently envisioning; I may end up with a non-profit or running for public office, but this is going to happen.

I'm talking revolution here...

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 9:00 pm
by Tituba
You could write some articles for the newspaper as well

Re: Need some feedback on an idea for a possible income stre

PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2012 9:16 pm
by punkmebillie
Yup, that's a possibility too. Any way I can draw attention to the issue.