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Summer camp, minus the gluten

August 10, 2013|Mary MacVean

ANGELUS OAKS — If you can't eat gluten and you're a kid, life can be tough to negotiate. No thanks to the pizza party, the birthday cake, the trades at school lunch.

But for a week, for 67 kids, there's Camp Gluten Free, about 6,000 feet up in the San Bernardino Mountains. For the most part, it's camp -- arts and crafts, songs, archery and cabin life. But in the dining hall, it's another matter.

On Tuesday, the lunch menu is "bodacious burger, wacky potato wedges, fresh cantaloupe."

So what's so great about Camp Gluten Free?

"The fact that you don't have to ask the No. 1 question," says Megan, 11. And that is? "Is this gluten-free?"

Jadyn, also 11, says, "Not only do they serve gluten-free food, they just treat you like normal."

The girls say their friends and classmates are understanding of their diets. It's not always so easy for the boys.

"It's nice to be around other people like you and not to be discriminated against," says Connor, a 13-year-old from Fullerton. "I am discriminated against a lot at my school. They rub food in my face, saying, 'Yummmmmm.' "

But at camp, says 12-year-old Kieran, "I feel like I don't really have celiac because I don't have to ask the questions."

Outside of camp, the kids are pretty savvy. Charlie, an 11-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz., says he has learned to ask waiters whether cooks will change gloves to make sure his food is gluten-free.

The camp is a program of the Celiac Disease Foundation, which asked that campers be identified only by first names. There's also a Camp Celiac in Northern California, and the foundation previously gave scholarships for kids to go there, but last year it decided to hold its own weeklong camp. The site, Camp Nawakwa, is rented, and most of the staff is already there.

The foundation, however, orders the food. And before the campers arrive, the kitchen staff takes on a huge task.

"I read every single label, which was a very intense job," says Joseph White II, the head cook at Camp Nawakwa. And then a six-hour "deep clean" commenced. The stove was taken apart, and every piece of equipment was sanitized at 180 degrees "to make sure the kids are safe and happy," White says.

Any food in the kitchen that didn't pass muster -- gluten is found in products with wheat, barley or rye -- was put into a storeroom.

Cooking for the campers without gluten takes small adjustments in timing, White says. Campers get pancakes, mac and cheese, burgers, ice cream cones, pizza, s'mores -- all the usual camp food. And, White says, there are rarely leftovers.


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