Traveling Glutards and Food Allergy People Unite!
Two interactive tools to consider as you move about the globe
By Margaret Shugart, 9:00AM, Sat. Mar. 9
If you are one of those "special-needs-eaters," dining out can be a stressful experience. It's not easy to navigate menus and pepper the waitstaff with questions to ensure you eat a safe meal. We have good news and an introduction to two tools that could relieve some stress, make the process easier, and open you up to new dining experiences.
I’ve been a glutard for seven years now (if you are also gluten-free, I invite you to use that term liberally). Adjusting to this new diet, I cut out a lot of restaurant options, mostly to make social interactions easier at the dinner table. Or because certain foods were a struggle to navigate safely without involving the entire restaurant staff. Or because those cuisines generally have really boring gluten-free alternatives. Your average Chinese, for example. Most alternative dishes have consisted of bland vegetables over rice, personally heaped in Sriracha sauce for flavor. Not to be terribly picky, but it is a real bummer pay one’s hard earned money for such a thing, while the rest of the table is savoring duck hot pots. Or maybe you’re vegetarian, and have found your BBQ-joint meals to consist primarily of coleslaw and potato salad. Life is about to change for you and we have two suggestions for how to make that happen.
Locate Special Diet: Whether you have a special diet yourself or eat out with someone who does, this mobile application and its corresponding website have a lot to offer.
Currently active in over forty cities nationwide, the Locate Special Diet App is free and available for iPhone and Android. It finds your location using your device’s GPS and lists restaurants that cater to special diets nearby. You can browse through all the options, or customize with a filter that lets you choose your diet or diets (for example, you are a glutard and your friend is vegetarian), and type of food you are craving. Each listing gives you all the tools you need to contact and locate the business, navigate its website, and view a menu, if one has been uploaded. And the whole application is customizable with the option to mark favorites and add comments.
In its Beta state, the website gives suggestions based on city, not specific location. You can still tailor it to each special diet option, type of business (restaurant, grocery store and drinks), and by business category/ type of cuisine, as well as use all the other features.
One bonus to the mobile/online format is its potential to stay up-to-date and expand the database quickly. It is set up for additions from both the creators and from users. When I spoke to Jessica Meyer, Austinite and founder of Locate Special Diet, yesterday, she said they were in the process of adding 100 more locations this week to Austin alone. Over the next several months they will also be adding vegan and paleo diets to the list, making it possible to search for specific food items, and making the website searchable by zip code. Businesses and users can also add to the website and app, upload menus, add tips for specific restaurants, and suggest new businesses for inclusion. It promises to be a dynamic and useful tool for people all around the United States, as well as businesses that wish to advertise their diet-sensitive menus.
And it assisted with the Chinese problem. Playing with the app near my house, I discovered there was a Chinese restaurant down the street, moderately priced, with a separate gluten-free menu. There were even BBQ listings for my vegetarian buddy. Thank you Locate Special Diet! I see long-lost cuisines (and newly discovered restaurants) in our futures.
Let’s Eat Out with Celiac/Coeliac & Food Allergies!: A seven-time award winning book designed to help travelers with food allergies negotiate safe meals all around the world. Written by Kim Koeller, someone with celiac, and Robert La France, a chef, the book is designed to inform both those with allergies and those preparing food behind the line. It’s focus is international and it comes with a handy pocket-sized Multi-Lingual Phrase Passport with translations of important food allergy terms in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to describing various world cuisines and potential allergens found in commonly prepared dishes, then gives advice on how to negotiate the menu for each type of allergy. Although it feels a little repetitive, reminding the reader to consistently ask if there is wheat in the sauce, or peanuts in the vegetable oil, it seems to be a solid and consistent guide, especially for those who are new to the world of food allergens. There are a lot of hidden potential pitfalls that take guidance (or, unfortunately, experience) to discover and their design really assists in going through the learning curve more quickly and safely.
As an avid traveler, I found the translation book to be particularly useful. With phrases like “Is this food fried in the same fryer as items fried with breading?” and words like “bouillon,” “flour dusting,” and “malt vinegar” translated into all four languages, it is a very handy little companion. I will certainly be taking it with me this year, and sharing it with others who are facing the same struggles.
The Let's Eat Out with Celiac/Coeliac and Food Allergies! series can be found on in print on Amazon, as well as digitally for your Kindle, Nook, and other tablet devices.
Have no fear my glutard and food-allergy buddies! With tools like this, we can bravely step forward into new territories, try tastier things, explore more confidently. A new world of cuisine awaits us.