Warning: the below post contains images of foods that some people can never eat, most people shouldn’t eat, and some foods that really shouldn’t be classified as “food”. You’ve been warned.
Eight months ago I have travelled from Australia to South-East Asia. From there I went north to China, then further north through Mongolia before taking a turn to the west across Russia by train, arriving in Moscow. I flew to Berlin, traipsed south to Nuremberg, then flew to London, then caught a train to Paris. Then I stayed in the French countryside of Normandy for three weeks, before catching the train back to London and spending three months in the UK, including a two week camper van trip across England, Wales and Scotland.
Six weeks ago, I flew from Manchester to Lisbon, in Portugal. Since then I have caught trains across Portugal, Spain, Southern-France and Italy, capping it off with thirty-six hours of travel on two ferries to get me to Naxos Island in Greece.
And? I hear you ask. Why are you telling me this?
Because this epic journey has been a learning experience in so many ways. One massive lesson, that is ongoing, is about my health and the food I put into my body.
Before this trip I was earning enough money to buy the foods that I wanted, without really worrying about a budget. The organic foods, the special breads, the delicious–expensive once a week treat–coconut yoghurt, so many amazing products at my fingertips. I had a car to drive to wherever I needed to go to purchase them. I had the means and the will to have a tailor-made diet. My health was great and my weight was at a pretty good level too.
Asia was fantastic for the wheat and dairy free peeps. More rice and rice noodles than you could poke a stick at! Advice: caution for coeliacs or those allergic to peanuts due to proximity and accidental contamination. Vegans might squirm a little too. But otherwise, top notch! The biggest lesson here was to forget about asking for soy milk. Actually, this lesson took me seven months to learn. I asked for it every where. Successfully in Germany, sometimes in the UK, but not always. I digress!
By the time I reached Vietnam I had begun to accept that Asia wasn’t big on soy, and began to drink the special Vietnamese drip iced coffees, which I then found myself addicted to. I also began caving in and ordering the baguettes the Vietnamese love–a product of the French influence.
From there it has been a hilly adventure, where I completely abandoned the idea of sticking to a diet to just embrace whatever local cuisine I could find, which has had varied consequences.
In China I sampled local dumplings, with no idea quite what was in them.
Mongolia I feasted on whatever meals were dished up, which mostly consisted of hearty country-style stews and broths of meats and vegetables, with very gamey-flavours. The capital city of Ulaanbaatar also had a thing for bakeries, with pastries I’d never seen before! Never-mind the fact that most flavours of said pastries contained cheese and some kind of cut-up hotdog, I couldn’t bring myself to knock them back. Yes, I should have. But I didn’t. No, I didn’t feel good afterwards.
The train ride across Russia was four days of instant noodles, loaves of bread bought quickly during ten-minute station stops accompanied by the kind of foil cheese that doesn’t need refrigeration, blocks of chocolate (no, I doubt it was fair trade or organic in any way), and 3-in-1 instant coffee. The kind that only slightly tastes like coffee, and is accompanied by an overdose of sugar and “instant milk” powder. Mmmmmmm, yum! (not.) Safe to say, even after only four days, partner and I felt malnourished.
Germany was great fun. We visited four cities during our stay, indulged in all kinds of delicious sausages, mashed potato, sauerkraut, along with discovering the Germans not only love their fresh foods and delicatessen foods, but also have a raging health-food fetish! Best health food stores we have found in the world so far. We also noticed in any other city or country where we found health food stores (Lisbon was one that surprised us, Valencia [Spain] and even here in Naxos) the stores are chock-a-block full of German products. We spent our time in Germany gorging on whole foods, as well as the local delights, which due to freshness and quality, were actually quite good for us.
Normandy was fantastic. We worked on a small hobby farm in the country-side in exchange for accommodation. The lovely woman we stayed with cooked all our meals (although I loved helping–and learning–in the kitchen) and we pitched in for the weekly shop. Mrs G is an Aussie-born French resident who spent twenty years in SE-Asia; loves wine, cheese and fresh produce; and is “Le Cordon Bleu” trained in the kitchen. This combination led to some truly blessed culinary experiences.
Next it was off to the UK. Access to fresh produce and all the allergy-friendly products I was accustomed to in Australia were once again, thankfully, at my finger tips. The UK had the most similar “grocery” stores to Australia; I was able to find everything I loved, including Bonsoy, which I hadn’t seen since leaving home. We improved our diets while here, bf’s grandmother was extremely accommodating to me, even testing out her tried and true recipes with some of my alternatives, which was beyond amazing.
Back into the EU we were greeted by espressos, fresh orange juice and croissants. Every where, every day. Ever since leaving the UK, I have abandoned soy and embraced the espresso. I am now very happy to begin my day with an espresso, and the fresh orange juice is wonderful. I will explore the effects of a soy-free diet in a future post, although I will say that so far it has been very positive.
There are two major downsides to the European way of life, as far as health is concerned: 1) so much pastry. Oh, for the love of all that is good and holy, so so much pastry. 2) Smokers. Everywhere. Yes, I used to smoke. But even when I was smoking, the level of smoke over here still would have assaulted my senses. Every table comes with an ashtray. I wish they came with air-bubbles for the non-smokers or an extractor fan. On the positive side, they also have a healthy attitude towards fresh ingredients and inject good oils and fats into many dishes, along with well-balanced herbs and spices.
So, after all of this, where do I stand? My asthma, most surprisingly, is better than ever. However, I am carrying a little extra weight in my mid-section (who am I kidding: it’s all over me), my face has far more breakouts lately than I’d like, yet I have no rashes behind my legs, my stomach is…sensitive. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s not. It probably has something to do with the almost-3-meal-a-day pastry diet I was on in Italy that I am still trying to detox from. And Nutella. They put Nutella in everything, and as they say, when in Rome…I must eat the nutella treats.
What are the plans moving forward? Well, near-future posts consist of a few things I’ve been pondering lately, such as “Oil Pulling” (a process of swishing oil around your mouth for 20minutes each morning, allegedly with great health benefits, and yes, I’m serious); benefits (or lack thereof) of salt and coconut oil in our diets; information about Paleo diets and Vegan diets–which are at once polar opposites yet similar in other ways; recipes created using ingredients I’ve been gathering across the Mediterranean and cooking up in the cute kitchen of our Naxion apartment; and my experiments with vitamins (for the second time in my adult life, I’ve been able to stay off preventative asthma meds for over a month!) so HEAPS to look out for.
Lately, I have been thinking less about conforming to the strict guidelines of a diet, instead preferring to investigate the health benefits of foods and their effects on my body. I want to fuel my body with nutrients it needs to perform well, yet I want to indulge in things that I desire without them having detrimental side effects. I know the “healthy” side is not particularly evident from the photos in this post, but it is something I want for the future. Let’s look at all the photos as my confession. Now that I have purged and been honest, we can all move forward. This has what Living In Tolerance has always been about, but now I feel more focused, and I’m excited to share the journey.