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18 June 2005

eating gluten-free in Alaska

I finished out the school year in a frenzy of work and excitement. Thursday was the last day before summer, and everything pitched itself forward in a fever. Hard to concentrate, hard to take anything too seriously. And also hard to eat well.

Except, I refuse to give up on eating well now. In the past, the end of the school year meant a haze of wheated treats, sugary smacks, and the glazed expression of someone overloaded on chemical fixes. Everyone looks exhausted at the end of the year. But this year, not me.

I looked at photographs of myself from last year's graduation (I was downloading the ones from this year's, and happened to glance), and I nearly fell off my chair. Oh my goodness, there I am having a gluten reaction. The few times I have mistakenly eaten something with gluten in it during the past seven weeks, I have had the same reaction: headache between the eyes, dull glaze of exhaustion, a return of the neck pain, a feeling of overwhelming fullness as though I had eaten Thanksgiving dinner, and this prickly red flush across my face and neck. That last one is the same "rash" I had every day during the worst of it this spring. But it's also the same flush I have had my entire life. I just thought I ran to red. Every time I spoke in public or drank red wine or after a meal, that flush across my nose and down my cheeks, dripping onto my neck. I just thought that was me. But now, other than the microscopic gluten I have eaten by mistake, my skin is even and glowing. No flush. Just fine.

So now, I can see photographs of myself from across the spectrum of my life, and I can watch myself having gluten reactions. Over and over. I really feel like a new person now.

This was the first end-of-the-school-year in my life that I wasn't flattened with exhaustion. In fact, I felt healthy and alive.

And now, it's summer vacation. But I'm still teaching. I'm up in Sitka, Alaska, preparing to start my first day of classes at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. My favorite place on earth. (If you want to read entries about Sitka and my experience there, go to my other blog: It's magic up here.

But the food sucks.

Even before I had celiac, I hated this cafeteria. Industrialized food, produced on a mass scale. And worse yet, the fruits and vegetables up here are pretty woeful. Think about it--everything has to be brought up on a container ship. So think of canned beans and white iceberg lettuce. Usually, I just suffer through it, and eat lots and lots of veggies when I return home.

But this year, I can't at the cafeteria. Everything, everything is breaded and fried. And the cross-contamination issues are a nightmare.

So instead, I'm going to be having a picnic for every meal. I'll be traipsing to the tiny natural foods store in Sitka, just below Raven Radio, every day. Yesterday, I went for the first time, and they have Bumble Bars! And Gluten-free Pantry cornbread mix! Wow. And I'll make someone from Sitka drive me to Seamart, the biggest grocery store in town, and stock up on bananas and soymilk. And then I'll be snacking in my room.

Hilariously, one of the suitcases I put into the plane was stuffed with food. That's a first for me. And here's what I packed:

cinnamon almonds
golden raisins
Bumble Bars
Larabars (have you tried these? raw food bars from Colorado. Yum.)
Amy's soups
cans of tuna
Ener-G sesame pretzels (oh my god, I like these better than regular pretzels)
Green's and Blacks organic chocolate

And more. So this is what it's like to travel for someone who's gluten free.

But of course, there's always Ludvig's Bistro.....


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