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Travel Challenges: Diet

Posted by on 27 June 2010

One challenge we've had on our various journeys has been eating. There are two reasons for this:

  1. When it comes to restaurant food, I'm pretty fussy; I'll take home-cooked anything over overpriced mediocre restaurant food; and closely related to that:
  2. I have allergies which certain foods seem to aggravate, turning into a vicious cycle

Now, for you wonderful folks who've offered a place to stay along the way, not to fear. Once you see the details you'll see how easy it is for us to adjust, and how you won't have to lift a finger. Honest.

My biggest health issue is that I don't drink cow's milk. Being a Wisconsin boy, that hurts. No ice cream. No sour cream. No Wisconsin cheddar or pepper jack.

I'm not lactose intolerant. What happens, for reasons my health care specialist has explained but which I've neglected to remember, is that the dairy products amplify the effects of my other allergies. Since we moved to Sacramento, I've had what feels like a mild flu. The whole time. Allergy meds tone it down, but I have a mild headache, scratchy throat and eyes, runny nose, dry cough.

When I cut out the cow's milk in all forms, the symptoms were almost completely controlled by the over-the-counter meds I take. Slip up, like I did yesterday, and have cream sauces, cheese, blah blah blah, and today, it's like the flu. Except, I don't get to call in sick to my life, 'cause I know I'm not contagious or even actually sick. I just feel lousy. (Note to self: come read this next time you're tempted to eat every single thing friends bring to the picnic.)

It's pretty easy to compensate. We drink tea every morning; love coffee, but just can't deal with the blast of caffeine, and can't make really good coffee without expensive equipment. But tea is easy. More on that in a bit.

We drink our tea Irish style, with milk. Sue uses regular cow's milk. I've discovered that goat's milk has almost no effect on my allergies, and tastes great. No, it doesn't taste like a goat, any more than cow's milk tastes like a cow. Another Wisconsin boy note: I say goat's milk and people make faces and noises about the taste, the smell, etc.

Have you ever smelled a cow? Great googlymooglies they stink. Live on a dairy farm. You will learn to love goats.

I've had goat's milk in my tea every day since I made this discovery in January 2009. It tastes like extra-creamy cow's milk. That's all. Sue can taste a difference, and doesn't like it in her tea, but if we put milk in our mashed potatoes, we use the goat's milk, and nobody else has ever noticed.

The goat's milk ice cream I've found is pretty good, but I've discovered something that ensures I'll never eat regular ice cream again, even if my allergies are miraculously cured: coconut milk ice cream.

Our local Whole Foods has three brands, and the two I've tried are amazing. About the same price as any premium ice cream, it's made with coconut milk and agave syrup, and premium natural additions like chocolate, nuts, whatever. It is simply amazing.

I can eat goat cheese, cheese made from sheep's milk, probably cheese made from pig's milk if it existed. But goat cheddar is about $10/pound where a very nice cow's milk cheddar is about $2/pound. And somehow, the goat cheddar just hasn't reached the level of complexity and maturity the regular cheddar has. I've tried it, and I wouldn't pay the same price, let alone five times as much. So, I eat about one percent of the cheese I used to.

I mentioned tea earlier. For our American readers, please note that tea does not come in bags. Tea is a tin of dried leaves, and you scoop them out with a spoon. One spoonful (a teaspoon, please note the name) for each cup and one for the pot, as they say. Boil water. BOIL, not just heat. Pour the boiling water into the pot, then pour it back to reheat. Put the tea leaves in the pot, and pour the boiling water back in. Wait six minutes. Use a timer. Stir the tea, let the leaves settle, and pour the tea into the milk you've already poured into the cups.


As long as we have access to boiling water and goat's milk, we're good to go.

We've learned to adapt while we're traveling. We're also determined not to ask our hosts to adjust to us because that's not how to be the World's Greatest House Guests.

7 Responses to Travel Challenges: Diet

  1. caitlyn

    After much experimenting with soy, we have settled on fat-free Silk Soy as the closest equivalent to skim milk. Many others just don't cut it.

    Now, I have to try the coconut milk ice cream. I indulge in Haagen Daz from time to time - the expense of it keeping me honest, as it were.

    In the past couple of years, I have found a number of things that aggravate my allergies: cow's milk, pecans, cashews, maybe rice, cinnamon, garlic - many of the things that make life worth living. Unfortunately, along with this is a new appreciation for my gall bladder - you know what they say fair, female, fifty, fat and the gall bladder is at risk. I like to think that my extra 15 pounds isn't a huge risk factor, but the body sometimes says fat/no fat not "how much fat" so I'm taking care and minimizing huge feasts of fatty foods. Which brings me to coconut milk. All the delicious curries we used to enjoy are toned down. We use low fat, organic coconut milk when we can and that helps. Will the coconut milk ice cream be a problem ... I'm willing to find out!

  2. Joel D Canfield

    I studiously avoid soy unless it's sauce on my stir fry. Just don't like the taste. But coconut apparently has all to happy fats we're supposed to be eating.

  3. Felix Olschewski

    Joel - you might want to completely cut all kinds of grains and legumes form your diet. That may help in controlling your allergies without medication. Grains are known to cause autoimmune diseases (and more: )
    Also, you _may_ get along well with unpasteurised (i.e. raw) milk.
    Have a lot of fun on your journeys!

  4. Joel D Canfield

    Thanks, Felix. I'm thinking the real solution to my allergies is to go back where they weren't a problem! It amazes me that, living here, I have to jump through hoops just to avoid feeling lousy, but other places, I can eat whatever I like and feel great.

    It seems to be some combination of diet and environment, which probably makes sense in some macroconceptual way.

  5. ElizOF

    Please delete my last post as I incorrectly added a copy from my post other than my website address!! I need my cup of tea! Sorry.
    Hi Joel,
    I totally get the allergies thing; it’s killing me. How are you coping on your travels if you can’t eat much. Poor Sue! By the way, even though like you I’m lactose intolerant, I can handle goat cheese and milk too. love, love, love it!
    I knew we were kindred spirits when I read you enjoy drinking tea; same here as I grew up in England drinking great tea. I don’t joke with my tea either.
    Any way, I suppose I need to read earlier posts to see where you folk are headed right? When are you in NY? Peace, light and safe travels to you and yours! Thanks for visiting my blog.

  6. Joel D Canfield

    Howdy, Eliz!

    A few clarifications:

    1. I eat a lot. A LOT. Of almost everything. Just not cow's milk and products made from it. Otherwise, not much is safe from my fork. I try not to mix starches and meats, but that's another story.

    2. Not lactose intolerant. When I'm not in Allergyville, I can drink all the milk I want, eat whacking great bricks of cheese, no problem.

    3. We'll be in New York as soon as we find someone in the area who needs a house sitter . . . hoping for weather that's not totally horrific, though.

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