When I reveal to folks that I have food restrictions – this inevitably leads to questions of how to deal with various dietary concerns while on the road.
- Can you really get the foods you desire while traveling to a variety of rural and urban places?
- Will you feel you’re missing out on cultural experiences if you can’t sample all of the local cuisine?
It can be done with a bit of planning, knowing how to adapt meals & ingredients, asking for what you need, and probably doing more cooking at home.
But really, it’s not all that different than eating when you’re living stationary.
My Food Restrictions – Gluten Free Semi-Vegetarian
Obviously, the below is in no way intended to be dietary or medical advice – and nor am I open to debate on my dietary choices. I’m just sharing so you have some background on my decisions and how I navigate this as a traveler.
I consider myself a semi-vegetarian, and have been since high school. I eat eggs, dairy and occasionally have seafood and poultry. (Did you know that in some midwest towns, chicken is seemingly considered a vegetable?!?)
I haven’t eaten anything made from the flesh of a mammal in nearly 25 years now.
Between a dear friend having great results going gluten free and my 23andMe DNA test coming back showing a relatively higher susceptibility to Celiac, I decided to give the diet a shot.
After a month I was convinced. I felt better. I had more energy, a noticeable decrease in joint pain, clearer skin, and less digestive issues.
So there’s my primary restrictions – gluten free and semi-vegetarian.
Chris, by the way, identifies as a flexitarian freegan opportunivore – meaning that he happily defaults to vegetarian while at home, but “if it’s free – he’ll eat it”, and if it’s a regional delicacy or speciality of the house, he’ll probably take the opportunity to try it.
But in general, Chris and I both have a strong preference for non-processed whole foods, and organics. We prefer a lot of fresh vegetables & fruits, and things that don’t come out of packages. We also avoid high fructose corn syrup. When shopping at grocery stores, we generally shop the perimeter of the store.
There are of course others navigating much more restrictive diets – whether by choice or for medical reasons.
Food Challenges on the Road
Here are some of the challenges of dealing with food restrictions and/or strong preferences on the road:
We’re always navigating different grocery stores and farmers markets. So we can’t get used to what is being carried, or even where it might be located.
If we’d really like to make a gluten free pizza, we may just not be able to find the same ingredients we used last time. This results in us being flexible to adapt to what we can find, and stocking up on harder to find items. And we love stocking up at Trader Joe’s when we find one on the road!
We actually love the variability of food suppliers we encounter on the road, and it forces us to think differently about our own food prep. I’m not big on following recipes. When I’m feeling creative, I love just going with my instincts or searching the internet for ideas.
Tip: For the rare dry goods that we want on hand, we bulk buy on Amazon.com, and have them delivered for free via our Prime account.
We do love shopping at local farmers markets to get fresh local produce, and there are apps and website out there (such as http://www.localharvest.org) that track them. But we tend to just let serendipity present them to us in our travels.
Eating out can be challenging, and some dining establishments just have very limited options that meet my criteria. But usually I can find something without having to resort to a salad. I’ve gotten very comfortable about asking for modifications to menu items to meet my needs.
And some larger more progressive cities just have food restrictions down to an art form. I love visiting Austin, Portland, Madison, San Francisco and others… where it seems most restaurants have several menu selections visibly marked as being GF and vegetarian. I can almost get overwhelmed by all the options and choices!
And there are mobile apps, like Find Me Gluten Free, which help us locate restaurants that take gluten free food preparation into account. There are probably similar apps out there for most dietary restrictions.
And yes, sometimes I do just have to miss out on a region’s known food thing – like skipping VooDoo Donuts in Portland or pasties up in the UP of Michigan. I don’t feel left out on meat-centric local cuisines, as my semi-vegetarian preference is a very conscious choice I’ve made for my own reasons.
As a past event coordinator myself, I never expect organizers of events to cater to dietary needs – they have enough on their plates as is. But that does add some challenges in attending rallies and conferences where food is included in the price. I really appreciate it when an event presents the menu in advance, so that I can make an informed decision about what meals I’ll be able to eat – and when I need to prepare my own food.
Since meals are often times part of the schedule with seminars before & after, I’m left having to decide to skip sessions to cook my own meals or opt out of the social time over meals to eat a home. But heck, I love attending events in my RV home and having the easy option to take care of my own needs.
And potlucks.. oh goodness, those can be very difficult for those with food restrictions. I always prepare a dish I can eat and make sure there is ample in case its the only thing I can eat. And, I label my dish as ‘Gluten Free Vegetarian’ and with any common food allergens listed. It would be so helpful if more food contributions were labeled as well.
As we do enjoy attending group functions like rallies, we just factor all of these things into our logistics of attending. But, it does honestly become frustrating at times.
All and all, I don’t feel that living on the road with food restrictions is too much of a problem. We cook a lot at home – it’s just easier and cheaper. But we do eat out when we have options that are close by, affordable and with flexible menus. And it always touches me when someone takes my food restrictions into account when preparing food to share with us.
Any other tips for navigating the country around food restrictions? I’d love to hear them in the comments, as I’m sure others would too.