Dietary restrictions prevent students from fully exploring other cultures

Diets keep students from immersing themselves when studying abroad

In this day and age, and especially within the last several years, nearly everyone seems to have individual dietary preferences. Whether that preference is vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or dairy-free, there are options to accommodate different dietary habits in most restaurants, hotels and grocery stores across the country. 

Even in ASU’s dining halls and marketplaces, alternative choices are available. In one’s own daily life, a person can and should have the right to eat how he or she chooses and make the changes necessary for optimum health and personal well-being. 

However, these preferences have transformed from simple dietary changes to extreme forms of restriction. 

As actor Ryan Reynolds acknowledged in a tweet, “People in LA are deathly afraid of gluten ... You could rob a liquor store in this city with a bagel.” 

Even I am guilty of refusing food in the past because it did not fall in line with the unattainable level of health that I aspired to reach at the time. Nobody can eat a perfect diet, but nobody should. 

As students decide whether or not to study abroad, it is important that they understand the value of experiencing other cultures' diets while traveling. 

I would never expect to impose my personal restrictions on others as a visitor in another country, with the exception of legitimate food allergies. 

Eating healthy is key to maintaining physical strength and long-term vitality, but no diet should force a person to completely abstain from experiencing the food and traditions of another country.

"Food is part of the culture," Audrey Chery, instructor of French at ASU, said. "It's quintessential (and) an important way to socialize." 

Chery, born and raised in Nancy, France, moved to the U.S. when she was 18 and studied abroad in Spain as a high school student. When traveling, she said, "you experience a different way of perceiving the world. It opens your mind, and you become more tolerant."

As a tourist in a foreign land, travel with the idea of blending in with the locals — when in Rome, do as the Romans do. The goal of traveling should primarily be to explore and appreciate a different way of living, not to worry about planning meals ahead of time and later regretting not taking advantage of everything a country has to offer. 

"You can't go to France and not have French food," Chery said. "There are a lot of foods in other countries that you don't get to experience here in the U.S." 

For example, she mentioned that France has "more than 300 different kinds of cheeses" and each type of cheese is specific to its own region.

"There's a whole other world out there," Chery said. "There's so many different kinds of people that you can learn from."

Nutritional aspects aside, it is simply becoming too easy to miss out on potential social experiences and connections because people are opting out of certain events revolving around food. After all, food is supposed to double as nourishment and enjoyment. 

The meaning of “healthy” does not solely denote physical health; it also encompasses the mental effects of eliminating major food groups from a diet. The stress that often comes with extensive dietary restrictions takes away from the adventure of exploring new and exotic foods, especially foods with history and authenticity. 

From a greater perspective, food is much more than calories or macros — it is a way to interact with people from around the world and become fully immersed in a culture without even having to speak the same language.


Reach the columnist at cdilger@asu.edu or follow @camdilger on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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