Navigating the gluten-free lifestyle has become easy for me. At this point, I enjoy the challenge of finding amazing restaurants and bakeries that meet my dietary needs while traveling. Quite frankly, I’m really good at it! Finding hidden culinary gems makes my heart happy, so I was beyond excited to surprise our kids at Christmas with a two week road trip to Quebec and Montreal that we would take the summer of 2019.
All of my excitement turned into panic with the onset of my acute alpha-gal symptoms in February. One month before our trip, I was still battling motion sickness and heart palpitations that none of the medical professionals could resolve. Tests and bloodwork came back “normal,” including an MRI of my brain, but I still didn’t feel like my normal self. To say that I was nervous about traveling was an understatement. I had no idea how to navigate this new allergy, let alone in Quebec, the French speaking region of Canada. Would it be hard to find vegan or gluten-free options? Could I explain that I was not truly vegan because I eat poultry, fish and eggs, and still convey the danger of eating mammal products? Would cross-contamination be an issue and send me into a more severe reaction while in another country? French Canadians speak English as well as French, right?!
One thing I did know, from my more than 12 years being gluten free, was that I not only had to do my research to find hidden ingredients, but I would have to stand firm as my own advocate, especially when dining out. That meant writing down a list of questions to ask every server and to take the time necessary to talk with them. Every server needed to understand that this was a severe medical condition, not a lifestyle choice.
Boy, was I shocked when we arrived in Old Quebec City and visited our first restaurant! They had an entire gluten-free menu and a totally separate working space in the kitchen to prepare my chicken, away from any mammal products. With every restaurant, I fell even more in love with Canada! Everywhere we went, the servers were knowledgeable and accommodating. I found several French patisseries that were gluten free and vegan, vegan restaurants with dazzling reviews, and amazing places with tons of whole food options. I learned that in Quebec and Montreal, there is a HUGE vegan and gluten-free population. My foodie heart was exploding! I never dreamed there would be so many options, not to mention ones that even the gluten-full, animal lover would rave over.
Throughout our two week adventure, I felt relatively good. We walked over 10 miles each day and continued to eat at delicious, safe restaurants. I was stumped when I had a few mild episodes of motion sickness and two nights of waking up with my heart racing. I was being so vigilant and couldn’t figure out the culprit.
Once we got home and I continued my research, I learned that refined white sugar is processed using cattle bone char. What the ever-loving hell?! Could this be real??
Then it dawned on me.
I remembered seeing a label on a bag of cane sugar that read, “does not contain bone char.” I immediately thought of our trip, of the mystery episodes and feeling “off,” of the many delicious treats that I had because they were marked gluten free and vegan. But the sugar…was it organic cane sugar or refined white sugar? Are bakeries aware that only organic and unrefined sugars are truly vegan and animal free? My mind was spinning as I began to think of the many condiments, dressings, gluten-free breads and products that contain sugar. Was this the culprit to having days of just feeling woozy and off? My research continues…
I told Debbie that I am ready to go full-on Erin Brockovich about how sugar is processed, but that may be for another blog post! For now, I will continue to ask deeper questions, advocate for myself and others with food allergies, and meet the challenge of traveling and dining out with a little more confidence because I survived a pretty amazing road-trip North!
Click here to see Peta’s list of vegan sugars.