I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, being a coeliac (and also vegetarian) does not need to hold you back when travelling! Yes, it presents its own unique challenges and is not always easy but hey, isn’t that what life’s all about, learning new lessons and adaptation management skills?!
In fact, one of my hosts said something which made me very happy. I was saying that I felt like a difficult guest and she simply said “But eating without gluten really isn’t that hard, you eat plenty of vegetables and rice, potatoes and fruit, lentils and beans. It’s not difficult.” I think my shoulders sank about 3 inches down from being bunched up close to my ears with the tension of worrying I was “difficult”.
So to kick start 2015 I went WOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at a beautiful organic farm in the south of La Réunion. With WOOFing, volunteers exchange their time to work for food and board. I slept in a cabin in the woods with hedgehogs burrowing about in the bushes, all different coloured birds singing in the morning and endless rows of palm trees offering shade from the sun.
For me, one of the best ways to get to know a new place is to work with the land, live with the locals and share meals together. This is why I absolutely love WOOFing, it has got to be one of the best ways to travel. It is a mutually beneficial exchange where everyone involved prioritises people and planet above profit.
There is a lot to learn and each farm has its own unique way of doing things, depending on the environment, climate and soil. At the farm in La Réunion we planted palm trees to harvest the core of the trunk which can be eaten in salads. Before staying with the farm I had only eaten “coeur de palmiste” from cans which were nothing in comparison to the real thing, fresh from the ground.
When potting up the very beginnings of the palm trees, I felt grateful to be a part of the start of the trees cycle. I was filled with awe that something so small could grow into something so big and strong.
We also did lots of weeding, which helped me to get to know all kinds of different plants, to be able to identify which ones we could use as herbs/medicine/in salads and which were seen as pests. We planted courgette, ginger, root vegetables, pineapples. I also got to harvest passion fruit, pineapples and guava fruit to make jams which will be sold at the local market.
With WOOFing, the idea is often to work and live as part of a community so I’ve found it’s actually a great place to be gluten free because the ethos of the group tends to be about making sure everyone is happy and has what they need. The hosts were very accommodating, even though they eat meat and gluten, they adapted to fit me in whilst I was staying. Of course, when the others are eating things I can’t eat then I just prepare something else for me.
In creole cuisine, rice is a staple dish alongside carry which is a mix of spices with vegetables, fish, meat or beans. This is great for coeliacs! Some of the other dishes I have tried here include sweet potato cake, fresh mango juice, local greens cooked with lots of garlic and onion, tropical fruit salads, omelette and corn pancakes.
You never know until you try, and once again I am left feeling grateful for my coeliac because every day it helps me to discover new things, to be assertive about expressing my needs and to focus on my health, no matter where I am in the world.