Moving to a different country can be daunting enough, but if you have a restricted dietary lifestyle you may be feeling a bit more anxious. While many
countries are embracing different dietary choices/restrictions, such as vegetarianism or nut allergies, natives in some countries may have a harder
Here are some ideas on maintaining your dietary lifestyle AND your sanity during your assignment in a new country.
Stay calm and patient. Do not worry, you will not starve! We cannot emphasise this enough. There is food everywhere and yes, you will eventually be able to get the sort of food you want, but you have to stay patient. For instance, there are some countries where the population simply will not comprehend why you do not want to eat meat. While you may have a hard time making them understand, kindness and persistence will eventually win them over. And it may make you new friends in the process! Also, be prepared to perhaps expand on your food horizons if necessary. Unless it is an allergy that will make you sick, you may want to weigh your choice between sending a plate of food back that has meat on it or offending your host. Keeping in mind that you are a guest in their country and the accepted food lifestyle of the country is key to minimising your frustration in your search for food.
Do some research. Did you know there are apps and websites that can help you find restaurants that serve the kind of meals you are looking for, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan? You can try a site like HappyCow, which allows you to search in any city/country for restaurants that serve vegan or vegetarian meals. They also make a note of which meals are gluten free! You may also download the app VegOut, powered by HappyCow, a vegetarian restaurant guide for your iPhone.
Expat groups are also a great resource for information on food. Do not be afraid to post in the group or ask at gatherings. Chances are you are not the only one with a specialized diet. And almost every country has a national vegetarian dish, you just need to find out what it is. Meat used to be considered a food just for the wealthy, so there are many "peasant" dishes that are eaten still today. In Spain, where meat is considered a main ingredient in almost every dish, you can ask for calamares del campo (country style calamari/fried vegetables). Calamari is normally squid, but in this version it is onions and peppers cut into rings and fried so it looks like calamari.
Learn the language. Learn how to ask for exactly what you want! Use simple phrases like, "I need food without meat", or "I get sick if I eat peanuts". To assist people with food allergies with communicating in a foreign country, the organisation AllergyUK offers allergy translation cards for over 70 types of allergens in 36 languages. The cards are printed in English on one side and in the language of your choice on the other. They state an allergy alert, an emergency message and a message to show to restaurant workers to make sure your food is free from your particular allergen.
If you have coeliac disease or choose to eat gluten-free, CoeliacUK offers travel guides for over 50 countries. The guides not only offer information on where to find gluten-free products, they offer phrases in the local language to help you communicate your needs.
With a little thinking and planning ahead you can easily maintain your dietary lifestyle in a new country. For a funny read on being a vegetable eater in a meat-loving world, read Kate William's article on Veganuary, 'Being vegan and living abroad'. As she says, keep an open mind and most importantly – keep your sense of humour!
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