This seems like as good a place to start as any, since LDS Young Women Camp (commonly called Girls’ Camp) is what spurred this series in the first place.
I feel like I should disclose something here: I don’t particularly care for Girls’ Camp. I haven’t liked camping since I was pretty small, and Girls’ Camp is no exception. In that rough first year of diagnosis, the silver lining that kept me going is that I would never have to go to Girls’ Camp again! Now that I have many other allergies on top of gluten, I would just decline going. I can’t imagine trying to deal with all of my food issues while camping. Other people, though, love camping, and love Girls’ Camp, and aren’t about to let a silly thing like Celiac keep them from going. More power to them, I say!
My friend Joy e-mailed me, asking about a girl who will be attending with her this year. For one of the meals, they’re planning to do a stir-fry, and Joy hasn’t had any luck finding a gluten-free teriyaki sauce.
My initial response was letting her know about the existence of San-J gluten-free tamari. I told her that I know of a very simple teriyaki sauce recipe (seriously awesome, by the way), and that she could make some in advance, and take it up to camp. I mentioned this to my mom, who vouched for Seal Sama brand gluten-free Teriyaki Sauce.
As I was thinking about it some more, I remembered that most of the cooking at Girls’ Camp was done in dutch ovens. Dutch ovens aren’t stuck in the dishwasher with soap. They’re cleaned with hot water and oil. After this, my brain just spun out into all the cross-contact dangers with camping.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley and rye. It’s in flour, bread, pancakes, and any other baked good that uses flour. Gluten can be very, very sneaky. Do a Google search for “hidden sources of gluten,” and you will find lots of good information for how to make sure none of the products you take have it. Gluten is even used as a thickener in sauces and dressings, so really be careful there!
How do I know whether she’ll be able to eat what we’re planning?
Talk with the girl and her mom before even solidifying the menu, and run all the meals by them. They will have some helpful tips, and may even have some spare ingredients you can take with you.
I’ve heard about cross-contamination or cross-contact. What is it, and is it a big deal?
Yes. It’s a big deal. Cross-contamination (or -contact, they’re used interchangeably) is when something that touches gluten touches something else that is supposed to be gluten-free.
For example: If you wash a dish that had pie crust in it, and use that same cloth or sponge to wash out the pan for cooking for the gluten-free girl, it will be contaminated, and there will be traces of gluten left in that pan the next time you use it to cook for her, and she could get sick.
Another example: If you drain regular pasta in a colander, and use that same colander to drain the gluten-free pasta, the gluten-free pasta will have traces of gluten from the pasta that just went through it, will be contaminated, and the girl will get sick.
A third example: If you have pots of stuff cooking on the same stove, and one of them is gluten-free and the rest aren’t and you use the same spoon to stir all of them, the gluten-free pot will be contaminated and the girl will get sick.
The last example: If you use a knife and cutting board to slice some bread for everyone, and then use the same cutting board and a different knife to cut some fruit up for the girl, the crumbs left on the cutting board (or the knife, if you use the same knife), will contaminate the fruit with traces of gluten, and the girl will get sick.
What can I do to avoid some of these pitfalls?
If you can, work with the girl and her family so that everyone feels as comfortable as possible. Clear the menu with them first, and give them a chance to weigh in. They may even have some ingredients you can take with you.
Offer to put the set of pans and utensils and you will need for this girl in the dishwasher, and ONLY use them for her. Have a sponge or washing rag that is ONLY for these dishes. The safest way to handle this may be that the same leader (and only that leader) cooks and does the dishes for this person, for the whole week, so people don’t get confused. (Make sure this person and the girl in question have a good relationship!) If your circumstances allow, have a completely separate cooking area.
If your dutch oven has ever contained gluten, don’t use it for gluten-free anything. It’s too risky.
If your stake or ward has a rule about people not bringing their own snacks, please allow this girl to be an exception. This will significantly reduce your stress and their stress. It’s a win-win situation.
Make sure ALL the adult and youth leaders are aware of the situation, so everyone can keep an eye out.
Other than that, the biggest thing I can think of is “don’t make a big deal out of it.” It’s new to you, and it may be a lot more effort than you’re used to, but it’s not going to be a big deal to her, and she’ll just want to fit in and feel as normal as possible.
For Girls (and their parents):
Talk with the leaders in charge, and the leaders over food. Talk to everyone, so they know what’s going on. You may feel self-conscious (I almost always do), but it’s really not worth getting glutened. Be proactive. People mean well, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.
If you’re not comfortable with going, don’t go! Who wants to spend a week in the wilderness glutened, away from your family and doctors? Not me.
Take snacks, even if it’s “against the rules.” Always (always, always) make sure you have something you know you can safely eat, just in case.
Thank your leaders if they’re willing to attempt working on this with you. They’re going to be nervous about making you sick, so make sure you give them your appreciation for their work.
Be willing to help with your meals and the clean up. They’ll appreciate the help, and then you can keep an eye on things to make sure they stay gluten-free.
Enjoy Girls’ Camp!
If you’ve been to Girls’ Camp gluten-free, I’d love to hear your stories!