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Traveling Complicates the Life of a Gluten-Free Consumer

Ernie Shannon's picture
Gluten Free Travel

Midway through a busy forenoon Tom realizes he missed breakfast and his stomach growls him into submission and it’s time to eat. He sets out in search of a quick meal not wanting to take the time to cook. Finding a national chain restaurant, Tom glances at a menu and quickly discerns there’s little on the sheet he can eat.

Some five years ago or so, Tom emerged from months of suffering from gastrointestinal pain and upset with a diagnosis that he was afflicted with celiac disease. The disorder is caused by a reaction to gluten protein found in wheat. It often results in diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, and a host of other problems in the digestive tract. The relief at having his illness explained was offset somewhat by the lifestyle changes he would undergo if he wanted to continue to function.

“Do you have anything on your menu that is gluten-free?” Tom asks the restaurant’s server. “I really don’t know, I couldn’t tell ya,” the worker responds. “I’ll get the manager. “No, I don’t get that question very often and I’d have to check on gluten-free dishes,” the manager offers.

“Normally, I would have left on the spot,” Tom explained, “but I really wanted to find out what was available. So, when the manager provided a number for the corporate office – I called.”

Twenty minutes later, Tom learned the restaurant didn’t offer any gluten-free products. They didn’t have the kitchen space, the corporate spokesperson admitted, to safely avoid the cross contamination of goods, nor did they have the ability to track ingredients through their supply chain.

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Unless Tom’s in the realm of his own kitchen in which he mixes and matches gluten-free ingredients to produce tasty and unique dishes, a sudden urge for a meal while on the road can be a risky lunch break.

The care Tom and his wife Lisa must observe was never more critical than on a business-vacation excursion to Western Europe last summer. Traveling through multiple countries, languages, cultures, and cuisines was both exhilarating and an anxiety filled venture for the couple. Completing his MBA, Tom and Lisa joined a class-sponsored trip to several European capitals. Between meetings, the Utah natives visited the traditional sites, but when it came time to test the cafes and recipes of Europe, the experience was anything but traditional.

Moving from cafés to restaurants, Tom and Lisa struggle with well-meaning waiters and waitresses not well-versed on gluten-free foods. Others simply can’t understand the Americans’ broken Italian, French, and German and the couple is unwilling to risk Tom’s health on a misunderstanding. On several occasions, Lisa resorts to a local grocery store where she buys fruits, vegetables, cheese, salads, and sausage snacks to carry in their backpacks.

“We found that in Austria many foods were labeled ‘Gluten Frei,’” Tom shared. “Restaurant cards were helpful and several servers knew right away what I could and couldn’t eat. In Rome we visited a sidewalk café where our server was himself on a gluten-free diet.”
Back home, the couple in their mid-forties adapt by finding foods which are naturally gluten free. They buy Mexican dishes with corn tortillas or oriental foods with rice. They rarely eat prepared frozen foods because very few are gluten-free.
In Tom’s and Lisa’s cupboards, a host of recipes offer a sumptuous diet with a unique twist on many servings with which anyone is familiar. For instance, gluten-free pumpkin pancakes are as easy as this to make:

1 1/4 cup Jules Gluten Free all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder, gluten-free
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 large egg or egg substitute (¼ cup mashed banana works well here)
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup puréed pumpkin
1 1/2 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
1/2 cup raisins, cranberries or chocolate chips (optional)
High heat cooking oil for the pan

Image source of traveling: Wikipedia



I have been gluten-free for more than 30 years and travel extensively. Although eating away from home can be a be daunting at times, I do not see it as a "risky lunch break." There are many gluten-free resources that can help plan your trip including blogs, gluten-free translation cards, and even gluten-free tour groups. With a little pre-travel research, you can successfully travel the globe while maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle. Erin glutenfreeglobetrotter. com
I concur with Erin above, for the most part. My son has been on a GF diet since being diagnosed with Celiac before he even turned two (that was almost 7 years ago). Back then it was very challenging to find restaurants in the U.S. that understood what gluten-free meant. However, as sites like mine (GlutenFreeTravelSite) and others will show, finding restaurants with gluten-free options (and even dedicated gluten-free menus) in almost any town or city is relatively easy. I will agree, however, that it's a bit of a different story when traveling to Europe. Our family went to Paris last Spring, and we found it harder than expected. We had dining cards (in French), did tons of research beforehand, etc. but we found only a couple restaurants in Paris that we felt safe eating at. Fortunately we were staying outside Paris in a condo where we had a full kitchen. That was our saving grace -- that and the many non-perishable snacks and foods we brought from home for our son to munch on during the day while we went sightseeing. Many people just settle for omelets, steaks, and salads in Paris, but the potential for cross-contamination in the preparation of the food seemed so high since we found awareness of Celiac to be so low. It was almost how the U.S. was 7 years ago. Clearly, others agree, because one gentleman who is gluten-free had such a hard time finding safe places to eat in Paris, that he decided to open his own restaurant, Des Si Et Des Mets, which is the only ALL GF restaurant in Paris (we ate there twice, and it was like a convention of old GF friends from around the world in the restaurant!) Other countries are better, based on what I've heard and read via the reviews being submitted to our site. Italy, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America seem to have either better awareness, a particularly high rate of diagnosis, or are less dependent on gluten in their food to begin with.