Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!
For being people who have a food intolerance, Ashley and I eat out a lot. Often, the perception is that a food intolerance requires us to only eat at home, or that eating out is a huge hassle and not worth the risk. This could be true if someone is allergic to a particular food, but, as we've previously talked about, it is possible to safely eat dinner outside your home even if you have a food intolerance.
Ashley and I actually eat out a surprising amount. We feel comfortable taking calculated risks (and making educated guesses), and are not afraid to ask about a food's ingredients if necessary (important note: this can be scary!).
There are really two different types of eating out: going to a place you've been to before, and going to a place you've never been. We often frequent the same restaurants over and over again. This is easy to do with a food intolerance as we've identified soy-free meals at these places and Ashley knows that she can order something that she will enjoy and can be pretty sure is soy-free (be careful though, as sometimes ingredients change and a meal that was previously soy-free may not always be. That being said, we've never run into this problem at a restaurant).
The harder challenge is eating out in a new place. Not knowing the menu or knowing what ingredients they used can be stressful. Traveling is a great showcase for this situation. When traveling, most or every meal will be in a new place. (Chain restaurants are possibilities, but the number of soy-free options at these restaurants is limited... and what's the fun of eating only at chain restaurants when you are traveling?) At home, when we try a new restaurant we have a backup option: we can always go back home where we know that we have soy-free food. When traveling, this backup option doesn't exist. (This indicates the importance of a backup snack.)
Additionally, both Ashley and I really enjoy sampling local cuisine when we travel. We love trying new things that we couldn't make at home. The good news is that it is possible to eat local food when traveling and maintain a soy-free diet! The key is to make smart choices about food. By selecting food that is likely to be soy-free, you can safely take reasonable risks when eating at a new place
How we avoid soy when we travel changes depending on where we are traveling. For domestic travel, we use similar strategies to when we eat out at home: we do some research, look up menus, and talk to our servers.
International travel is an entirely different situation. When we travel we have limited access to the Internet, so research is difficult. This means we have to make smart choices about the food we choose. Depending on where we are, it can be relatively easy to incredibly difficult to avoid soy. For example, soybean oil isn't very common in Europe (canola oil is much more prevalent). When Ashley and I are in Europe, we know that foods cooked in oils are likely safe to eat. Outside of restaurants, this is important information to know when ordering food from street vendors or small stands. That is good to know, but, here is the catch, we have also seen more things with soybean oil in larger European cities than in the smaller cities or countryside. We take that knowledge into consideration and know we take more risks with food in the countryside than in the larger cities.
How do we know that soybean oil is less prevalent in Europe, but still shows up in the larger cities? We go into grocery stores when we travel and read ingredient labels! This tactic helps us identify what things are available in the country/region we are in and what is likely to have soy. In the grocery store we check out the common places to find soy: breads, oils, and packaged food. If these foods are soy-free in the grocery store, then we know that these types of foods are likely okay at a restaurant.
When we are at the grocery store, we also pick up some soy-free snacks! Since the grocery store offers the chance to read the ingredient labels of food, we pick up some backup snacks to carry with us. To help with the grocery store, look up the word for soy in other languages before you go. It is often something easy to identify, like "soya". Food labeling laws are much better in many parts of the world than in the US (such that all allergens are called out in the ingredient list, even soybean oil), but even in the countries where labeling isn't great, it is possible to read the ingredient list and pick out soy.
We also often select foods to eat while traveling that are pretty much guaranteed to be soy-free. A great example of this in Europe is sausage. We don't hesitate about eating bratwurst from a street vendor because we know that they are essentially always soy-free. (We would question if the bun is soy-free, however, and we may not eat that.)
We aren't sure if traveling in the US or internationally is harder to stay soy-free. It probably depends on where the international travel is. The likelihood of running into soy in the US is pretty high, but speaking the language is a huge benefit to figuring out if a specific food contains soy. Internationally, soy can be less prevalent (notably, it can be much more prevalent in some parts of the world), but the language barrier can be really challenging to verify that a specific dish is soy-free.
Even with all of these tips and our confidence in being able to go out to eat, there are still places in the world that will be challenging to visit. One place we'd love to visit is Japan...but Asian cultures tend to use a lot of soy, and the language barrier would be pretty high. That being said, because we want to go, we'll figure out a way to get there. We'll keep you updated when we figure out our strategy for avoiding soy in Japan (it hopefully doesn't consist of Ashley living off ProBars for a week).
Enjoying local food when traveling can be an incredible experience, and is something that can be done safely even with a food intolerance. Happy Travels!