Community Spotlight: Julia Norton on Celiac Disease & Climbing

Sep 04, 2015Brooklyn Boulders

Julia reached out to us when we first launched awareness for our gluten-free 10 pack punch pass sale– as a valued member of our community, she didn’t want this to become a “joke” against those suffering a non-optional gluten-free lifestyle. We’re glad she did– because community means celebrating different diets and lifestyles and helping each other balance  life, work, food, and exercise.
Julia was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at a very young age. She shares her story of a very different time where dietary differences were a much more formidable challenge.

1. What are your favorite places to eat that promise a Celiac standard + exceptional gluten free treats?
Risotteria in the West Village has been there since before gluten-free diets were the next big thing.I’ll never forget the day that I ate pizza and drank a beer…
G-Free NYC on the Upper West Side is my go-to for stocking up on products.  The other day I came home with stroopwafels, ravioli, peanut butter filled ritz-cracker style snacks (which I used to COVET as a child), and my all-time favorite, gluten-free frozen dumplings.  
My absolute favorite new thing to eat is Ethiopian. At Bunna Cafe in Bushwick pretty much all the food is gluten-free (and vegan!) except for the Injera bread. If you call ahead though you can request gluten-free Injera made with 100% teff flour (a lesser known gluten free grain in this country). 

bunna cafe
Bunna Cafe’s feast for two

2. Your favorite bakeries?
Tulu’s is my all-time favorite. I am all for healthy eating, but I find that a lot of gluten-free devoted bakeries tend to try and also cater to the vegan community… which I am not a part of. 
Whole vegetables
Eat your veggies!

3. What’s the easiest thing to make yourself for dinner? For dessert?
The only way to know for sure if something is completely gluten-free is if you make it yourself.
My standbys are usually mixed veggies, sausage, brown rice pasta (I recommend Tinkyada penne), with lots of freshly grated gouda. My most common meal is probably a stir-fry with rice, gluten-free kimchi, and a fried egg on top. In the colder months I love roasting a whole chicken and then using all the leftovers to make homemade stock. A lot of cheaper stock you find in the supermarket is not gluten-free.
Dessert is harder for me because I am allergic to chocolate (I know… a major bummer) and I am TERRIBLE at baking.  So I mostly eat lots of fruit.  I also have a soft spot for mochi ice cream.

4. Are there certain dishes that are pretty guaranteed to be gluten-free and widely accessible?
Every time you eat at a restaurant you are always taking a risk.  There is always a possibility of cross contamination: places that advertise gluten-free pasta or pizza often use the same boiling water or flour-lined oven as for non-gluten free items. Are those fries fried in the same fryer as items containing gluten?  Is there any soy sauce in that?
5. Can you sum up your experience as a person with Celiac Disease?
When I was diagnosed at 4 years old, my mom completely changed the way she cooked and learned so much new information about ingredients and different preparations; now I consider her one of the best chefs I know!
I have been on a strict diet for 26 years and live what I consider to be a very privileged and normal life. I can afford the pricey gluten-free breads and products that I need, and I don’t ever miss gluten because I don’t really remember having it!  

When I was diagnosed in the 80s it was barely known. When I got a bit older I would to go to restaurants and say “I can’t eat wheat, which means bread, pasta, and flour”.  Then as awareness grew I would say “I am allergic to gluten”… even though Celiac Disease is not technically an allergy.  Now I have to say “I have Celiac Disease, which means I have a severe gluten intolerance and need to be very careful”.  

6. What are any other resources (online and/or offline) to help guide your balanced diet and health?
I am a huge fan of Michael Pollan and his book “In Defense of Food”. It is a big eye-opener in terms of recognizing fads and learning how to navigate a healthy, ethical, and honest diet. If you think you might have Celiac Disease or are just a little bit gluten intolerant, do yourself a favor and see a medical professional for proper testing.
7. You’re an artist! What are you working on now?
I make art about human struggle and overcoming physical and emotional obstacles. I completed a body of work last spring inspired by gymnastics and physical activities of my youth (including a few climbing wall paintings!).
Right now I am working on a series called Dark Level, which depict environments that are based on the dark spooky levels of video games. I try to have fun with my work while also addressing what I consider to be very serious concepts like physical disability and depression. I constantly think about how we move through spaces everyday that are positively and negatively charged. Life is all about a balance of binaries and dichotomies!

julia norton
Dark Level: Climbing Wall (All Eyes)Gouache, collage, and confetti on wood panel 2015

8. How did you hear about Brooklyn Boulders?
Through my friend Brian, though I had heard it mentioned around town. I knew right away it was a place I had to check out.
9. How has climbing helped your lifestyle?
I am still very much in the beginner phase, but I love it.It can take a lot of focus, intelligence, and intuition, and is probably the most physical form of puzzle solving that I can think of. I love how it can be meditative but you can also go as slowly or as quickly as you like. It is also just one of those things that even if you are tired and don’t feel like doing it, you will always be happy that you did because the sense of accomplishment is intoxicating.
Check out Julia’s work at
Julia Nortn Art
Climbing WallGouache and fiber paste on wood panel 72 x 48″2015

#Climbingisglutenfree. Balance your healthy diet with healthy exercise– buy our 10 pack punch pass for $129 today!

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