Antarctica through food and garbage

Journey of two women cooking and cleaning in Antarctica

One wanted to clean up the environment; the other just wanted a job. Together they became the first two women to set foot in Antarctica in 26 years.

Carol Devine and Wendy Trusler arrived in the remote continent in 1996 for Project Antarctica II, a civilian cleanup initiative. Both women kept journals of their daily activities, and Trusler, the chef, kept a record of her recipes. The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, combines their personal stories of the expedition and will be published worldwide this May.

Devine was recently at the Centennial College Story Arts Centre speaking to journalism students about the book and her experience of cleaning up Antarctica.

As a child, Devine knew she wanted to become a writer and bring about social change. She graduated from McGill University, “I studied English literature, because I didn’t know Poli-sci existed,” Devine said.

Devine’s journey started when she wanted “to go do something valuable…we know more about the moon than Antarctica,” Devine said.

This led to organizing a 54-person expedition group that included “Canadian geography teacher, a mother daughter and son team from Hollywood,” Devine recalled. The team also included the expedition cook Trusler.

Trusler didn’t always want to be a chef, she went to Western University and studied history and was also an interdisciplinary artist. “I became a professional (chef) after university to finance Art College,” Trusler said.

Trusler worked primarily as a cook for tree planters across Canada. The meals she made were “hardy fairs like pasta lasagna and soups,” she said.

The two women were based in a camp with Russians. They acknowledged that there were definite communication barriers, but found ways of overcoming it, “We communicated a lot through food,” Devine said.

A fond memory that Devine has of Trusler’s cooking was the braided honey oatmeal bread. She saw this as a way of breaking the ice because the size of the bread encouraged diners to use their hands.

The bread was made on the first night of their trip and Devine said that it helped break the ice with the Russians. “This is a way of making the situation less awkward,” Trusler said.

The equipment Trusler was provided with in Antarctica was less than ideal. “The refrigeration was a hole in the ground…the stove constantly smoked producing soot and the produce was in another building on the opposite side of camp, 15-20 minutes away,” Trusler said.

This meant Trusler had to plan her day around freezer, where she would get the produce. She had to plan meals the night before and configure the quantity of what she needed, to ensure she wouldn’t have to make two trips.

Devine and Trusler met each other through the expedition, just as they met the Russians. “We didn’t know each other, we were learning about each other in extreme conditions,” Trusler said. After co-authoring this book they continue to be friends.