Alice Bast is passionate about her mission to educate people about celiac disease. Diagnosed with the disorder in 1994, she founded the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in 2003. As its executive director, she has worked with leaders in the medical, business, and media communities to raise awareness of the disease. She has also worked extensively with the public to get the word out. The NFCA is based in the Philadelphia area, but its best-known programs may be the Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees, which have taken place across the country and have introduced many to the joy of cooking without gluten. The latest NFCA initiative — training chefs at 28 Philadelphia-area restaurants in its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program — has been another huge hit. Alice has also participated in strategic conferences and workshops shaping programs to advance celiac initiatives nationwide, including the landmark NIH Consensus Conference on Celiac Disease.
How often do you travel? I’m a serious road warrior — I’m in a couple of different cities each month.
Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve gone to so many cities around the country for Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees: San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles — it’s a long list. I also travel to attend medical conferences; I was just in Chicago. Internationally, I’ve been to Australia, Amsterdam and Istanbul.
What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? Travel can be really wearing, and I don’t like the idea of eating junk food to keep going. I think about health and nutrition when I’m packing. A gluten-free power bar goes right into my purse. I take crackers with me, and a nut mix with raisins — it’s basically trail mix. Also, I keep small gluten-free soy sauce packages with me as part of an “emergency” kit.
What other things do you bring with you? In my briefcase, which is always with me, I have my journal, iPhone, and computer. I take my vitamins with me. If you’re checking luggage, it’s important to have your essentials in your carry-on. I have what I call my “carry-on purse,” which is a big bag that has food, a toothbrush, and other essentials. I have an inflatable neck pillow for flights, and wherever I go, I have something to read.
How do you prepare for a trip? I always do research in advance to find out where I can go in a city. It’s important to be proactive. I look at the Gluten-Free Guidebook, and at the Triumph Dining guide and the Gluten-Free Passport. I’ll do Google searches. But I also challenge myself to find places that haven’t been written about. Sometimes I go to places that aren’t gluten-free to educate; that’s part of my personal mission, to educate and train wherever I go. I carry brochures in my purse. We have a program at the NFCA to train your favorite chef.
Any favorite restaurants? I can’t pick one restaurant in Philadelphia. The restaurants we’ve worked with are passionate about cooking gluten-free; they’re not just making an accommodation. When I go in they want to show off what they’ve learned and what they can do. It’s just amazing. I love Maggiano’s. I had dinner a couple of weeks ago at their Chicago restaurant. I was with a group and we told the chef to surprise us. He really went to town. Maggiano’s has embraced gluten-free, it’s like a challenge to do something really special.
Any favorite hotels? Hyatt has been incredible. They’ve hosted Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees. Their chefs are truly interested and have really worked with us.
What’s your favorite place to visit? My favorite business destination is San Francisco. I love going there. The food is amazing, and they’re really thinking about health and wellness. My favorite personal destination? It’s hard to pick one, but it would involve hiking. I loved hiking in New Mexico, and I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.
What’s your dream destination? New Zealand. I’ve been to Australia but haven’t been to New Zealand yet. Also, I would love to visit Egypt.
Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Make sure you know the words for “wheat” and “starch” before you travel. Always carry a cheat sheet in the local language. Whatever you do, don’t feel that you’re alone; find other people and ask for help. When you’re traveling, listen to your body. Sometimes people think they got “glutened” when they get sick on the road, but the problem was caused by other issues. You have to pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Even if something is gluten-free, it’s not good for you if it’s junk food.
Photograph of Alice Bast provided courtesy of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.