I don’t have any food allergies, nor have I ever been picky eater. Whether I am eating out or staying in, the menu has never been adverse terrain. However, within my new groups of friends, quite a bit of them have some sort of dietary restriction. Traveling is a great time to invite new flavors onto your palette, but it’s harder for students with dietary restrictions because every country has different food safety standards.
With this in mind, I decided to have a conversation about food with my friend and housemate Reve. She’s been a vegetarian for 18 years and one year ago was diagnosed with a severe tuna allergy. We live in a catered accommodation, so a majority of our meals are provided by the university cafeteria.
Living in the States
Growing up with a certain food lifestyle you get into a routine. You learn what restaurants are safe and how expand your palate beyond salad. Many universities in the United States have dedicated veggie and vegan food stations. When you’re a vegetarian you know the KFC is a no and Indian food is diverse in colors and flavors.
Reve said she made a conscious decision to study in a country she’d be able to easily communicate her necessary accommodations. She didn’t go as far as researching Leeds particular, but looking into generally how well different countries accommodated to dietary restrictions like being Halal, gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian.
Navigating Food in Leeds
Due the sweeping global popularity of non-meat lifestyles, there is a large focus on soy (which in large quantities isn’t the best for you). This is because soy can be made to look and taste like meat. However, if you’re like Reve, that isn’t an important factor to you. Falafel and Jackfruit are very popular substitutions.
The University of Leeds cafeterias have stations dedicated to vegan/vegetarian (mostly vegan) food options. However, a lot of the options are soy-based. Sometimes you are unable to get nuts for protein and eggs are only available if you wake up early enough for breakfast. In that way, it is limited.
Restaurants off-campus are great. Most menus will denote their vegan/vegetarian items. You can easily substitute meat for things like tofu or extra veggies. Additionally, when taking orders your waiter will ask the table for any allergens. This was different than what I’ve experienced in the U.S.; it’s assumed as the customers responsibility to say something rather that staff anticipation. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen veggie stations but now you don’t need to live in a city like New York or London to get delicious and ‘safe’ food. Leeds has many restaurants that offer quality food for people with allergies or any other dietary restriction like Bundbust, Cantina, Ecco Pizzeria, Tharavadu and Lumpur Café just to name a few.
How to Prepare
Make sure you’re aware of your meal restrictions and notify the people who need to know. Disclose any dietary restrictions on your medical form so that IFSA can help arrange support if needed. They can make sure you have meals to eat on excursions. Before you depart, let your doctor know if you think you may be allergic to something. They can perform tests and make sure you have what you need to start school. Bring a copy your medical records to you new doctor. If you get sick this can speed up the doctor’s visit. Eat a balanced diet. The British have a carb heavy diet (potatoes, fries, fried fish)- so make sure to include veggies in all of your meals. If you have severe allergies, you can try to look up your school’s menu for the week online. Spice things up literally and figuratively. Don’t just eat wraps and pizza every day. If you find the food bland, don’t be afraid to buy your favorite sauces and seasonings.
Chioma Uwagwu is a double major in Communication and Cultural Studies at the University of St.Thomas and is studying abroad with IFSA at University of Leeds in England in Fall 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.