Travelling with dietary needs

By Brenda-Lee Olson   Trail Canada

One of the most intimidating aspects of international travel, for those with special dietary needs, is putting one's self into the hands of food handlers and preparers who may or may not have a detailed knowledge of one's needs. Today, the market is rife with those who understand low carb, high protein diets like the South Beach and Hollywood regimes, but what if your own personal safety, your very life, hangs in the balance if a food preparer is less than certain about your food needs?

The big 8 the most common food allergens for those in North America are, according to the Mayo clinic: corn, shellfish/fish, dairy, peanuts, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat. In fact, among the greatest increase in those suffering food allergies and intolerances, wheat and corn are, surprisingly, the most substantially increased. Since these two foods are stables of the Standard North American Diet (SNAD), what is a traveller to do if they cannot have even trace amounts of these foods?

Fortunately, food handlers in Canada have been generally well educated in this area. For the most part, the consciousness about special dietary needs is becoming of big concern to commerce, and the wise restaurateur will be paying attention. Even if the wait staff are not aware of it, the chef and his staff will be, and with a little forethought, the traveller will be able to enjoy the same, tasty and robust Canadian fare in safety.

Begin by preparing before you leave home. Be in contact with your travel agent and insure that they are aware of your special needs. Part of your concerns can be headed off this way, and travel agents can make sure that hotel restaurants, flight staff and layover crews are prepared for your special needs.

Don't leave it there though, or you may go hungry. Double and triple check the preparations. Yes, you may get an exasperated sigh from the travel agent, and she may decline to take your calls in the future, but this is your life, so don't let a little huffiness put you off. Confirm, re-confirm and then confirm again that all of your accommodations are aware that you have special dietary needs. Be sure the agent knows that gluten is not sugar, for instance, and that it's NOT okay to have even a trace of your allergens.

Some organizations are now selling business card-sized cards which contain a list of foods in which a certain allergen can be found. If these generalized cards are not specific enough for your needs, it's simple enough to use your own computer and printer to make these kinds of cards up to suit your specific needs. If you plan to travel in both English and French speaking areas of Canada, be sure to have cards printed in both languages. Present these cards to wait staff, and if you have sufficient time, e-mail them off with a detail of your needs to hotels, B&B, charters and restaurants you plan to visit.

Take nothing for granted though. You may have made all these arrangements, confirmed that your airline meal is correct, that your hotel has stocked specialty foods for your needs, etc. only to find, on your arrival, that someone messed up. Serendipity is a fact of life, and the wise traveller will have taken it in to consideration. Pack some of your favourite safe foods in your carry on luggage, and make contact with local groups like the Celiac Society of Canada, to locate shops which carry products known to be safe for your needs. Keep a list of brand names, items names and sizes in your purse or billfold and take the worry out of accidental oversights.

The traveller will also be happy to know that, in Canada, quick service restaurants are also more on the ball with regard to food allergies. Most chains now produce pamphlets outlining which of the top eight are in their products, and one need only ask to receive. At first glance the pamphlet may leave you wondering what CAN I eat here, but bear in mind one can always go for the "protein" platter, some greens and vinaigrette.

The savvy traveller who happens to have food allergies will already be on the ball about ordering out at home anyway and it will just be a matter of applying these same principals in another locale. Stick to your guns. Pass out those I Have Food Allergies business cards and meet the chef at each restaurant and you will have a great experience in Canada.

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