“What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)”? This is what I said when my current PhD supervisor and we were discussing possible research topics. I was given a basic overview of both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and went away to do a little research myself.
During my crash course on IBD there were three details that really stood out to me. Firstly, that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of IBD worldwide; secondly, that while researchers have identified many common features, such as genes associated with an increased risk and immune system anomalies, we still don’t really know what causes IBD; and thirdly, there appears to be a link between diet and IBD in many patients. Having completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in Human Nutrition, and an honours project focusing on gastrointestinal physiology, the topic was a good fit.
Early on in my research I found that although there was an enormous amount of literature on IBD, there was only so much I could understand without having some involvement with the IBD community. This is when I became involved in my local support group, Crohn’s and Colitis New Zealand, and ultimately Camp Purple Live. My initial role at camp was as a group leader. However, I quickly became Diet Coordinator due to the number of campers and volunteers that have food intolerances and/or have removed certain foods from their diet to aid in symptom management.
Dietary planning begins by meeting the chef a few months before camp. It’s only once the campers and volunteers have been offered places, that the real planning can begin. Currently this involves an eight-page spreadsheet, which according to my camp colleagues, is not nearly enough and I need to try harder (a long-standing joke!). Commonplace dietary intolerances include gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian, vegan, onion and garlic free, or a combination of these. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a very individual condition so there are also many different foods that are not tolerated. Quite a few campers are also on a supplementary liquid diet.
This year’s Camp Purple was held from 14-19 January at El Rancho on the Kapiti Coast. The number of campers has grown year on year with 71 in attendance, as well as 37 volunteers, 36 parents on days one and two, and visitors too. This meant on our busiest days we had almost 150 people to cater for, 25% with dietary intolerances. Coming in at a close second - in terms of organisational chaos - is our away day. This year I had the most amazing team (Christina and Rachel) to write over 100 names on labels, label polystyrene containers, wrangle the more than 50 mini ice packs, and make sure that lunch making and wrapping procession went smoothly.
Coordinating the dietary needs for Camp Purple is a juggling act, especially working within the confines of a camp menu. There are always a few curveballs! This year’s standouts included running out of cutlery due to another sizeable camp being catered by the same kitchen and placing a pizza order (from 60km away) for the 70 extremely tired and hungry campers and volunteers stranded in Wellington. Credit where credit is due, the pizza man handled the mix of gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, tomato free (including the usual tomato base), and garlic and onion free extremely well. The highlights always outweigh the challenges though. Whether it be the amazing commitment from EVERYONE to dress in their team colours on carnival day, especially the life-sized carrot; watching a group of camper’s stampede from the camp fire to the dining room at the mention of ‘supper’; the surprise of dressing in an almost identical costume to one of the wonderful floater volunteers (Helen, who I regularly stole to help my team); hearing that the stranded campers (and perhaps some volunteers too?) enjoyed cold pizza for breakfast; or an encore from an anonymous team member (*cough* Rachel) playing the ‘vacuum cleaner’ guitar because it’s late and she’s gone a bit loopy. Finally, the most rewarding aspect this year was catering for a camper following a very specific diet that meant they were unable to have the meals provided by the camp. With some planning and teamwork, the dietary restrictions did not stop this camper from attending and having a wonderful time.
The planning for camp 2021 has already begun!