Dietary Restrictions In Europe

by Riley Sugarman

Photography Courtesy of Marissa Wu

Countries across Europe are known for their cuisine, and many people travel to certain destinations in search of the food. Unfortunately, finding tasty dishes can be difficult for foodies with certain dietary restrictions, especially when combined with language barriers.

Most countries feature dairy and meat products unique to their cultures and traditions. As a result, those living vegetarian or dairy-free lifestyles find it difficult to navigate Europe’s food culture.

Dairy

Dairy restrictions, such as a sensitivity, intolerance or allergy, can be tricky to deal with abroad. Luckily, they are relatively common. Complete avoidance is not always necessary for those with a sensitivity or intolerance, and Lactaid pills can relieve all, if not most, symptoms.

Unfortunately, Lactaid pills are more common in the United States, and Europeans with dairy restrictions tend to avoid foods with dairy instead of finding a way to combat the symptoms. Any future European travelers should make sure to stock up on Lactaid pills pre-departure if at all planning to consume dairy.

Lactaid pill packs containing 60 capsules are available at Target for around $13 and CVS for $17 and are easy to find at most other convenience and grocery stores.

While Lactaid pills and similar medications are not as common in Europe, some regions provide more culinary options for those living dairy-free lifestyles. People avoiding lactose in Ireland and the United Kingdom rely on brands such as Alpro, which produce various dairy-free products. Grocery stores such as Tesco, Spar, or Marks and Spencer sell Alpro and other competing brands.

Karam Yang (CAS ’18) deals with lactose intolerance while studying abroad in Dublin. Yang’s intolerance varies for different dairy products, but she tries not to rely on Lactaid pills in case a reliance on pills worsens her intolerance.

Dairy substitutes in Europe have skyrocketed in popularity recently, providing more options for consumers with dietary restrictions and those who seek an alternative for other personal reasons.

Sueun Hong (SAR ’19) is lactose intolerant and prefers coffee shops in Ireland and the United Kingdom to those in America.

“They don’t charge extra for soy milk here, which definitely makes it cheaper and easier to buy,” Hong said.

According to The Guardian, “Competition within the mock milk market, worth £52m sales in the year to February, is fierce[…] Dairy alternatives are no longer just something for people with allergies or intolerances, but a positive, conscious lifestyle choice.”

Milk substitutes are available throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom in grocery stores and both corporate and locally owned coffee shops. Alpro’s well-known soymilk substitute, Soya Milk, can be found in most coffee shops, although predominately in urban areas.

Soymilk and other substitutes can be difficult to find in less westernized countries, especially those whose primary language is not English. To avoid confusion, ordering black coffee is the simplest option when at a café or restaurant.

Meat

Many European cities attract meat-lovers from around the world, but some meat-avoiders seek the cultural experience that these cities provide. In response to the needs of vegetarian and vegan visitors, the European Vegetarian Union and other unions across the continent have been working to make a difference in the lives of vegetarian citizens and tourists.

The EVU predominantly deals with proposing laws and policies and researching how the fruitarian and vegan markets could improve. In April 2016, the EVU’s German affiliate organization passed the first International Law Symposium on its “people’s right for access to a plant-based diet” initiative. Since September 2015, the EVU has worked to redefine the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian,” with vegetarian labeling finally set to be standardized and widely used by 2018.

More countries have been embracing the vegetarian lifestyle. Tourradar lists the six most vegetarian-friendly countries in Europe as Italy, Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Greece.

Haley Pereira (CAS ’19) studied abroad in Greece and Ireland and has firsthand experience with the meat-free options in both countries.

Pereira believed Greece offered more vegetarian options, since it is common to order dishes made solely with vegetables, and salads are also extremely popular. Farmers’ markets are also popular in Greece, providing relatively inexpensive produce for vegetarians.

“Ireland provides fewer alternatives, and it tends to be more difficult to find vegetarian foods at restaurants and gatherings,” Pereira said.

“I went to a dinner event at the University of Limerick, and the ‘vegetarian’ option was fish with no stand-alone vegetables to make a supplemental meal,” Pereira said. “People who don’t eat meat or fish had no options.”

Each country has its surprising strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cuisine alternatives, but planning ahead of time can save any foodie from the hassle of lacking meal options.