Q&A: How to travel with dietary restrictions


Travellers enjoying their first night in Malta at dinner. Photo by Fabiana Garzitto

With the rise of dietary restrictions and food intolerances, travelling abroad can be more difficult. Depending on where you’re going and who you’re staying with, it can also be a catalyst for engaging in different perspectives of a culture.

Research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development proves the largest meat consumption in the world is in North America, but according the to Top Trends in Prepared Foods in 2017, “rising veganism and awareness of the impact of meat consumption are driving demand for meat-free products.” People who are seeking out meat-free options may expect the same options when travelling abroad.

We spoke with two people with different dietary restrictions to find out what it’s like to travel. Fabiana Garzitto, 22, struggled with anorexia in as a teen and now limits food as a method of control, and to keep a comfortable relationship with food. Hannah Enchelmaier, 21, has been vegan for three years. Garzitto has travelled to numerous countries in Europe, while Enchelmaier went to Europe and lived with family in Australia for 10 months.

Where do you eat when travelling?

In the beginning of her trip through Europe, Garzitto’s cousin and brother, who she was travelling with, chose most of the meals. “We would mostly go to markets, make sandwiches that we could bring on day trips, or eat on the train,” she said. “We’d eat out a lot of times, too.” She found there wasn’t as many franchises as there are in North America, so when they did go out they were able to find new options for restaurants.

It became more difficult to stay comfortable with the food because the food was so different from what she was used to and she wasn’t able to control it like at home. “Even when we had a kitchen, in France and in Malta, it was such a different setting — you couldn’t get typical ingredients from your typical store,” she said.

When Enchelmaier lived in Australia, she found it difficult to find food available at pubs or BBQs. “When you’re not in a big city or the small hippie towns, there’s not a lot of options for someone not eating meat, let alone dairy,” she said. “I’d end up either bringing my own food, eating before I went to dinner somewhere, or ordering off the sides menu.”

Grilled corn

Grilled corn from a street vendor in Ios, Greece. Photo by Fabiana Garzitto

What were some challenges you faced with food?

For Garzitto, a huge challenge came when buying food to make. She was trying to buy food like the locals did, but with fewer common ingredients, it made the food seem uncomfortable. She said, “it wasn’t going as I wanted, or according to my plan, and that lack of control made me restrict.” Meaning the less control she had over deciding what to eat, the more she would restrict food overall.

The problem Enchelmaier faced was when her veganism caused problems with the family she was living with. “There’s still a lot of pain there, from how I was shown such coldness by the people who are supposed to love and support you, based off my life choices,” Enchelmaier said.

What was a good experience you had while eating abroad?

The first night Garzitto and her family arrived in Malta, they stopped into a literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant on a cobblestoned street by the harbor. “In a new place, everything is magical and exciting on the first night,” Garzitto said. Even though it was late and dark in the city, everyone seemed to be walking around. “We all shared a Maltese platter, with octopus, Maltese cheese, pita and this bean dip,” she said with excitement. “I really remember the octopus. It was like nothing I’ve ever had. Maybe it was just the atmosphere.”

Enchelmaier found some of her best moments in restaurants, which aligned with her diet and who she is. “It’s great seeing how much [veganism] has grown over the past few years. It’s so inspiring,” she said. On weekends, she also went to fresh food markets, which are abundant in Australia.

What was a challenging experience?

“On our way to Pamplona, I had a meltdown in a grocery store,” said Garzitto. Before the trip, she pictured trying different food while travelling, but she found this was a moment she realized most of the food available were things she was used to in Canada.

During this grocery store visit, when the trip had just begun, she was overwhelmed and quickly felt uncomfortable with the food her brother was picking out. Her brother was frustrated and her cousin clearly stunned, so she bought food she was used to from Canada — going back to her old eating habit of restricting food.

Without eating meat, Enchelmaier had to eat more vegetables and carbs to make up for the loss of protein. Her nanny, who she was living with, didn’t agree with her eating habits and complained she took too long in the kitchen. Her nanny eventually left her to eat alone. Sometimes she even went to eat in her room. The tension got so bad about her eating that once when she tried to make toast at night her nanny came out and yelled at her, she said.

Greek food

Eating on the shores of Santorini, Greece. Photo by Fabiana Garzitto

Food and culture are obviously very closely intertwined. How, despite restrictions, do you still feel you had a full cultural experience?

“I think they are so connected that you can’t have culture without food, and each culture had it’s own technique and spin on things,” Garzitto said. Even though she had trouble with certain food on her trip with her dietary restrictions, over the time of her trip her experience got better and she felt more comfortable with food and the culture.

Enchelmaier hopes traditions will adapt more to new dietary restrictions and ways of living such as veganism. “Definitely some parts are good to keep around, but I also think we need to look at and change certain things for moral reasons and to progress. I had a great experience, not that Australia is very cultural,” she said and laughed.

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