Dietary Requirements - do you have an advice to share?
Hi there, I'm just back from my year abroad and I'm writing an article for a newspaper about being abroad with dietary requirements - in the UK I'm a vegetarian but I found this difficult while in France, and I have friends with allergies who also struggled with the food culture while abroad. I'm looking for more students to share their experiences - whether you're vegetarian/vegan, have intolerances, allergies, or religious requirements, it would be great to hear what you found difficult (or easy) while away - was there less or more awareness of your requirement? Were certain food products easy to find? How did you find eating in restaurants? Were you given any support from your university? Do you feel your requirements hindered your YA experience? It would be great to have a wide variety of viewpoints, so please get in touch whatever your experience. Although I'm more focused on Europe for this article, if anyone has stories from further afield don't hesitate! Thanks! Fi
This question was asked by Fiona Henry from The University of Edinburgh , asked on 1st June 2015 and has been read 3700 times.
I have lived in France and Italy and don't eat meat, and it was definitely more difficult for me to find veggie food over there! Fortunately for me I'm a pescetarian and eat fish so there were more options for me than for people who don't. That said, I definitely think that vegetarianism is becoming more of a thing in Europe, as I never found that my options were too limited, either eating out or shopping in the supermarket. I was quite surprised, actually, as in both France and Italy I was based in remote villages in the Alps so before I arrived I imagined that a vegetarian diet would be problematic, but people were so accommodating, even if they still didn't fully understand! In France I worked as a Language Assistant in schools where lunch was provided, and in Italy I lived in a hotel so in both contexts I suppose more effort was made to accommodate special dietary requirements, but even eating in restaurants I felt that my range of options was fairly wide. I think maybe this is partly due to society in these countries becoming increasingly multicultural - the schools I worked in were clearly trying hard to provide for pupils who didn't eat certain foods for religious regions (I don't think I'll ever understand France's approach to secularism in schools!). In Italy I worked with British school groups on ski trips and had to ensure that a variety of different dietary requirements were catered for by the hotels and restaurants with which I worked, from children who didn't like pizza to those who couldn't eat gluten or sugar. At first I thought this would be a real challenge but the suppliers were surprisingly familiar with, and prepared for, these sorts of requests. So whilst the options available for diets and allergies may be more limited in Europe than in the UK I think things are changing. I certainly didn't feel like my experiences abroad were hindered in any way. In fact, not eating meat made for some amusing anecdotes - one chef assumed I'd eat a dish containing cubes of ham because "the meat is so small!"
Spain is THE WORST place for this. I can't speak for a city like Madrid or Barcelona, where I have no doubt there are more options (i.e. Veritas, the organic supermarket, LOVE that place), but in CÃ¡diz, where I spent my year abroad, it is very hard to have any kind of dietary requirements. Cooking for yourself is one thing (although even the choice in supermarkets and other shops is limited at best), but eating out is an absolute no-no for anyone who is vegetarian, gluten or wheat free, dairy free, allergic to nuts, or just wanting something that's not fried in copious amounts of breadcrumbs and re-used oil. A vegetarian friend ordered a dish of grilled artichoke hearts, only for it to come covered in ham; the waiter's response was to say he "didn't realise vegetarians didn't eat ham". Other common reactions are: "but you eat tuna right? That's not meat" and "I didn't think you'd mind the prawns, they're covered in mayonnaise so you can't see them".
I eat a mainly wheat and dairy free diet for health reasons, and so eating out invariably came with a price: risk feeling ill for the next 24 hours after eating that tasty prawn fritter and fried marinated dogfish (it's wonderful though sinfully bad for you). There are "dry" organic sections in very large supermarkets (generally not that great), and health food shops (which I relied upon for things like oats, seeds, tofu, whole grains and alternative flours, etc.) but I never encountered any organic fresh produce (fruit, veg, dairy) in ANY of the supermarkets except for in Barcelona, in the special organic supermarket (Veritas). One thing I did love though was buying fruit and veg in season, knowing it had been grown down the road. I had never seen the green bits on carrots or celery before, believe it or not! I got a juicer and spent the year juicing fresh veg every day (after a good scrub to get rid of the copious pesticides obv).
The one effect this had on me was that I learned to cook for myself in a big way - I got inventive, read so many blogs, got the Deliciously Ella cookbook and spent so much time cooking and baking so that I could enjoy nice food that wouldn't make me ill. I also experimented making healthy versions of the Spanish food I loved. I also ended up learning so much food vocab, through trawling through supermarkets, shops and farmers markets, and ended up writing a dissertation on Andalusian agriculture and cuisine! So all in all, a baptism of fire, that forced me to adapt and gave me a valuable skill set to take through life.
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