Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Camp Food


I'm a big believer in summer camp.  I think everybody should go.  Both of my kids went to Girl Scout camp as well as church camp.  One year Elizabeth went with her best friend, Karen, to a Girl Scout camp that would focus on riding their bikes. So we packed up the girls and their bikes and sent them on their merry way.

A couple of days into the week Karen's mom called me in a panic.  She read Karen's letter over the phone.  She hated camp.  The counselors were mean. The food was gross.  She was going to either die from a horrible bike accident or she would starve to death. She wanted her mom to come get her and take her home. Her mother wanted my advice on what to do. In my usual warmhearted way I told Ann to not read any more letters until after Karen got home.

Sure enough, when the bus unloaded the tanned girls they greeted us jabbering about what a great camp it was, how they couldn't wait to go back next year, how far they had biked and invited us to feel their leg muscles.

But camp is even more of a challenge to some kids. For some kids camp food is not just yucky, it's poisonous.



To a child with Celiac disease, the average meal that most kids eat is dangerous.  Even the best tasting brownie, if it's made with wheat flour, can make them physically sick.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the small intestine attacks itself when gluten is ingested. Even the smallest amount of gluten can cause a reaction, which ranges from upset stomach to vomiting, diarrhea and other painful issues. Long term affects are cancer, osteoporosis, and infertility.

Suppose you are an eight-year old kid and somebody in your class has a birthday and everybody gets a cupcake except you.  Because cupcakes make you sick.  Now everybody in the class knows you are different.  And every time anybody has a birthday they’re all reminded you are different because you can’t have a cupcake.

You have Celiac disease.  The gluten in wheat, barley and rye flour damages, permanently damages, your stomach.  It hurts. 

Suppose your family goes out to dinner and they spend a lot of time going through the menu looking for something you can eat.  And there’s not many choices. Pizza is out because the crust will make you sick.  A hamburger might be OK if you ate it without the bun.  But the bun just touching the meat might spread bad stuff and you could get sick anyway.

Suppose you go to church and everyone but you gets to go up for communion because the communion bread can make you sick.  Yes:  even the Lord’s Supper is dangerous. Even that tiny bite in communion.

And here's how difficult this is to manage:  when my church went to a gluten-free wafer for communion at church we had to make sure the gluten-free wafer didn't even touch the regular bread.  We couldn't even put them on the same plate.

At a young age you are conditioned to be cautious about your food.  You have to learn fast how to choose what is safe and what if dangerous. Danger lurks three times a day.  You barely get enough calories to grow and you’re probably smaller than the rest of the kids.

Summer camp would be only a dream.  Forget about it. 

But suppose there is a camp where everybody has the same intolerance to gluten that you have.  You wouldn't be different.  Then suppose ALL the food they serve is safe to eat.  Then suppose they have all the fun stuff every other camp has.

There IS a camp like this. Meet your dream come true:  The Great Gluten Escape at Camp Gilmont.

The Great Gluten Escape at Gilmont provides a safe environment for kids with celiac who don't have to ask what the ingredients are in every morsel they put in their mouths. Pair that with great camp activities and you have the perfect camp.


Every year Gilmont turns their kitchen into a Heaven on Earth for Celiac kids.  Everything on their menu is gluten-free. Even better, it’s all tasty. You don’t have to worry about making a choice because everything is safe. And everything is tasty.

Beaven went out to Gilmont a couple of weeks ago and when he came home I asked what he had for lunch. I scrolled through the camp calendar in my brain and realized it was the week for the Great Gluten Escape.  I told him, “Everything you ate today was gluten-free.”  His mouth dropped open and you would have thought he had just come home from a spur of the moment visit to the moon.

Nine years ago, a group of parents organized a week-long camp whose main purpose wasn’t horses or the best canoes or archery range; they wanted a dining hall where every food was safe for the kids.  When the Gluten-free families threw down the gauntlet, Gilmont picked it up and ran with it.  They’ve done their research, found recipes that are adaptable and stocked the pantry.  They make most of their stuff from scratch all the time, anyway—pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, fluffy yeast rolls that go straight from your tongue to your soul.  But for the Great Gluten Escape they pull out all the stops.

They’ve gotten so good at this that if you have a women’s retreat with 80 ladies and one of them has Celiac, the camp will make that one lady her very own gluten-free cinnamon roll.  I was there last year when she came into the kitchen with tears in her eyes to tell them that was the first cinnamon roll she had eaten in 12 years.

When I visited the camp on Friday to check it out I met Rose Stevens, Mama Rose to all the campers. She's the camp equivalent of a rock star because she is in charge of the food.  She’s a young and vibrant mother of two girls, one of which has Celiac.  Mama Rose has spent time in the trenches. She spent her whole week in the kitchen cooking and showing the regular staff some new ideas.

Mama Rose told me when the first-timer kids come through the line they are hesitant about making choices or themselves.  Their parents have usually guided them through menu choices to make sure the food is safe.  They will point to a food and ask “Does that have gluten in it?”  It’s an amazing sight to witness the change in the kids once they understand that everything is safe to eat. Nothing is off-limits.  They change from tentative to enthusiastic eaters. Once you take food out of the danger zone, camp becomes camp; they can relax and have fun.  They can enjoy the swimming, canoeing, nature hikes and not worry anymore about their lunch.



Every year Mama Rose and her daughters drive from San Antonio for this week.  When they enter the campground, her daughter says,  "I'm home now."

If you know a kid anywhere in he USA who battles Celiac or is gluten intolerant, send them to this link:
or go to Camp Gilmon't website and look for the Great Gluten Escape tab.

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