A celebration of cooking, cleaning in Antarctica

One wanted to clean up the environment; the other just wanted a job. Together they became the first women to live at one of Russia’s Antarctic research stations, Bellingshausen, in 26 years.

Carol Devine and Wendy Trusler arrived at 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 at Centennial College’s East York campus last week 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, where she studied English literature because she “didn’t know poli-sci existed,” she said.

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

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

The team also included expedition cook Trusler, who 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,” she said in a telephone interview from her Peterborough home.

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

While in Antarctica, the two women were based in a camp with Russians. They acknowledged that there were definite communication barriers, but they found ways of overcoming them.

“We communicated a lot through food,” Devine said. She has particularly fond memories of Trusler’s braided honey oatmeal bread. The bread was made on the first night of their trip and helped break the ice with the Russians, as it required them to use their hands to break it apart.

“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,” she recalled.

This meant Trusler had to plan her day around the freezer, where she would get the produce. She had to plan meals the night before and figure out how much 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,” Trusler said. “We were learning about each other in extreme conditions.”