Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dining out sans-gluten in France, Italy and Spain

After recently spending six weeks in France, Italy and Spain, I have been pondering why there is so little awareness of coeliac disease in France, in comparison to their European neighbours.

While the French were very helpful in trying to ensure my choice of meal was gluten-free, I didn't strike a waiter or chef who had heard of coeliac disease and most were unsure what gluten-free was.

This contrasted with Italy where if restaurant staff weren't familiar with the condition they knew what gluten-free was.  The situation was similar in Spain although there was a little less knowledge of coeliac disease. 

The website of the Associazione Italiana Celiachia has a comprehensive list of coeliac-friendly restaurants throughout the different regions. The Federacion de Asociaciones de Celiacos de Espana (FACE) does not offer as comprehensive list but significantly more than their French counterparts.

The Association Francaise Des Intolerants Au Gluten (AFDIAG) has information on where to buy gluten-free products in France but when it comes to eating out blogs of gluten-free travellers are more useful.

So why is there so little awareness of coeliac disease in France?  

Perhaps there haven't been any awareness campaigns, such as those conducted in Australia each March during Coeliac Awareness Week.

Maybe it's more of a cultural issue. The French are very proud of their food (quite rightly) and are reluctant to tamper with it. They also don't like fads, which is probably why I seemed to have more success with waiters when I switched to the AFDIAG translation, which explained that, "For medical reasons I am not allowed to eat any products made of wheat, rye, barley or oats etc."

I know that Italy is one of the leading countries in terms of research and diagnosis on coeliac disease and that every child is tested for the condition around eight years of age. This would certainly increase awareness among the Italian population but why so far ahead of France?

What do you think? Have you got any ideas? Maybe you have had a different experience?

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