In the field I can eat anything. Anything except cilantro. For others, though, eating certain foods is more than mild distaste and can have a greater impact on their health. This week, we hear from Collette Lauzau and her experiences with gluten sensitivity and her tips on battling this wheat infested world!
By: Collette Lauzau
In high school I began having some unexplained medical problems. Specialist after specialist informed me that they were unconnected neurological and immunological issues but that there was no underlying condition to be concerned about. I went on with my life, ignoring my fingers and toes going blue (Raynaud’s syndrome), the joint pain (arthritis), the brain fog (ADD), the frequent headaches (migraines), unquenchable thirst (a sign of diabetes), and the myriads of other symptoms that couldn’t be linked to anything specific.
In college, I was determined not to let anything hold me back. I had ambition, drive, passion, and a little luck. I did two internships during college and while in the field those summers, I survived on mac n cheese, spaghetti, and PBJ sandwiches. I’d also taken a real liking to bagel-fuls, a toast-able bagel pouch with cream cheese on the inside. I still believe whomever invented those was a genius. I loved being in fieldwork from the very start. As long as I had Advil, my ADD meds, and pockets or gloves to keep my hands warm at all times, I was ready to take on the world.
Then things changed. Turns out I’m allergic to wheat. Now words like Celiac and gluten sensitivity were being tossed around. I was told I didn’t need any of those medications or coping mechanisms anymore as long as I avoided everything with wheat in it. A million thoughts went through my head – could I ever actually go back into the field? I couldn’t eat pasta or bread! I was clearly going to starve and die! I’d only ever met one person with Celiac and she’d learned to cook but she’d had a real house with a real kitchen. Could I figure this out on a tiny island with no electricity, a tiny little camp stove, and an old lop-sided camping oven? More pressing than all of that, could I do it on a budget? I honestly didn’t know but figured I might as well try.
Fast forward four years and I think I’ve figured out how to not ‘starve and die’ in the field.
- Find the things you like that you can have and bring them with you. For me, it’s Pamela’s Gluten Free Pancake Mix, popcorn, and corn tortillas. I could survive on nothing but these items, they always make me happy. This past summer, I made popcorn nearly every time the popcorn bowl was empty. It was semi-shamefully enjoyed by my whole crew.
- Try the things around your area. This can be cultural food or wild edibles. (Disclaimer: **You better make damn sure those mushrooms are edible! **) The ocean is great for this, but it can be done anywhere. Prickly pear in the desert, leche quemada in Mexico, shellfish in New England, dried seaweed anywhere there is seaweed. Not all of this food is good but it’s so much fun you won’t regret it. I detest snails, but I can happily say I have eaten one. Just one.
- Bring along some gluten free/hypoallergenic alternatives so you can eat alongside the rest of your crew. I could completely live without mac n cheese now, but when the rest of my crew is eating mac n cheese, it feels nice to have some as well. It’s a little pricey but it is worth it on occasion.
- Invent! Alright, full disclosure, this can go disastrously. I’ve had an entire pan of (what should be) brownies boil and then set into a weird chocolate crisp thing that was about impossible to get off the pan. Another time, in the process of attempting to use tortilla chips as bread crumbs in salmon patties, I ended up with what we called ‘cooked salmon slop’. The thing is, we happily ate both dishes and every other invention of mine or my crew. The field’s a great place to try things, and even if they don’t work out wonderfully, everything tastes good in a field camp.
- Be honest. Talk to your crew, tell them if you have an allergy and explain that it’s no insult to them but sometimes you may have to prepare your meal separately. Ask them to keep packaging so you can double check before you eat anything. Realize it’s new for them and there will be times that food isn’t to your standards but it’s new for them. It’s great they tried.
Another thing is to ask others how they cope with food restrictions or allergies because everybody has different methods of dealing with these issues!
Diet issues are important and it’s great to hear the other side of the story for those who don’t have to worry about these things daily. Are there any foods you can’t eat when in the field? How do you cope? Share your thoughts with us @femfieldsecrets!