This was Jack’s first visit outside of the US. He was just made Senior Manager in his company and he was visiting his company’s headquarters in Singapore for a sales training program. And the one thing that he was extremely wary about was food, like millions of other travelers who visit a foreign country for the first time.
And to make matters worse, Jack was allergic to tree nuts. The huge cultural difference between his country and Singapore was surely going to make eating difficult. The thought of experiencing a food allergy-related complication was frightening. Before planning his trip, he had spoken to quite a few people in his office — the local guys — who had assured him that they would help him sort out his problems.
So for the next few days, while he was in office, a colleague of his, a Singaporean, helped him understand what he was eating and ensured that the food contained no tree nuts. So far so good.
But Jack found it difficult to shop for foods at the local supermarket since he had no idea what it was made up of, nor was he confident enough eating at a restaurant alone.
One morning, he decided to visit the nearby McDonald’s outlet to get breakfast. At least this was a place he recognized and felt confident going to. After ordering a Mac and coffee (and getting confirmation from three different staff members that his meal did not contain any tree nuts), he started wondering about all the foreigners who visited Singapore and had the same problem — what to eat, and how, when you are allergic?
Each year, on an average, 650,000 Americans visit Singapore for business or leisure. Considering the general statistic of 10% American adults and 13% American children suffering from food allergies, that makes around 75,000 American visitors just like him. What would they do? How would they eat? What help would they get? And this got him thinking about the power of information.
Can information be shared about the ingredients that make up a food item, or a meal? A quick Google Search told Jack that almost 2.5% of the global population could be allergic to foods, and more so, around 5% Singaporeans (mostly children) were suffering from food allergies. So what could be done to help these people? How can information be collected, compiled, and more importantly, shared easily?
Jack looked at his phone. It was like his mobile office — documents, files, presentations, e-books. He stored everything on his phone. He read news, kept himself updated with the happenings in his sector through information he received from his smartphone. So was it possible to get food related information through a smartphone? If there can be an app that helped him sleep better, can there not be an app that can help determine potential food allergens in a food? And can this information be shared to a larger community of sufferers?
Jack’s thoughts were disturbed by the ringing of his phone. He was getting a call from his wife. He picked up his coffee and received the call as he started walking out of the McDonald’s.