Let me begin: I love food. I am a person who lives to eat. I eat when I’m hungry and I eat when I’m not, and I don’t understand why anyone would put anything into their bodies that doesn’t satisfy, nurture and taste damn good. I love how flavours ignite as a bite of homemade quiche or spoon of miso soup slides across my palate. I’m not impartial to any specific flavour per se, though I find that bitter, salty and astringent are the tastes I’m constantly on the hunt for now.
Giving into this love would be fantastic, wonderfully easy even, if I wasn’t lactose intolerant (by nature) and largely opposed to gluten (by choice). I found out I was lactose intolerant in 2006 while living in Scandinavia. It was after a rather trying period where I was eating a lot of processed and dairy rich foods, and being in constant pain because of it. Removing dairy (and a host of non-dairy foods you wouldn’t even think had lactose – such as chips, sauces, biscuits…etc) was tricky, but over time I got used to harassing restaurant staff, reading packaging labels militantly and offering to bring a side portion of food when invited over for dinner. I started feeling better mentally and my body also responded by ditching the bloat, shedding unnecessary pounds and performing better overall. Four years following my dairy snub, I ditched gluten as well (at least 95% of the time as I still cannot pass up a perfectly browned loaf of sourdough) and found I felt even better without carbs and protein composite racing through my system.
Despite the restrictions, I continue to crave sinfully rich desserts, tasty appetizers or succulent main dishes; and while many restaurants and establishments have gotten better at accommodating those with a host of food allergies and intolerances, I still find it tricky to navigate eating while on the move. For one, many still seem to think (at least in companies that manufacture cakes, cookies, salads and stirfry for the supermarket shelves) that taking out dairy or gluten is not only blasphemous, but it results in tasteless and unappetizing food. Also, while more companies and restaurants are making a concerted shift towards offering dairy and gluten free options, several of them still use plenty of soy, salt, sugar and/or other additives in order to recreate the gooey consistency of cheese, for example, or compensate for a lack of butter, which winds up creating a dish or item that is nowhere near as good as what it should be and is loaded down with 20-50% extra calories.
What ever happened to whole, fresh and simple food? Good food that is subtly creative, rather straightforward to make, delicious and/or rich and/or sweet and/or filling without being full of a bunch of unnecessary ingredients, and that doesn’t break the bank…much less my waistline.
Eating on the go (or while travelling) is no easy feat, and it’s particularly tricky if you find yourself in countries where butter, milk, cheese and gluten are dietary staples and the word “intolerance” doesn’t really exist. If I had a dollar for every quizzical or suspect look I received when I explained how I would like something made without dairy or gluten, or how I can’t eat certain foods because we just don’t jive, I promise you, I’d be quite rich indeed.
So after many years of moving around and learning more about food in the process, I’ve become much more comfortable with my intolerances and far more confident about shrugging off people’s confusion and nosy commentary to ask for what I want. This is because I don’t think there’s a single thing wrong with, or offensive about, being intolerant (to food at least) and I’m over apologizing profusely for my food-related shortcomings.
Since I know I’m not the only one who is occasionally challenged when eating outside the home I thought I’d blog about some of the eateries, cafes and grocers I’ve come across in order to help out fellow Intolerants and intolerant travellers. These days I find myself between Cairo (yes…that Cairo) and Europe (mainly Paris and Brussels), which will probably dominate most posts; however, since I can’t seem to sit still there will be a little something on every locale I pass through. Whether it’s Ibiza or Istanbul, Amman or Amsterdam, Gent or Geneva and everywhere else in between, you can be sure I’ll find something good to put on my plate and rave about because there isn’t enough time NOT to indulge and it’s high time to embrace all those niggling imperfections.
Let the Intolerants unite.