Natalie is soy-free: The snacking queen goes to Columbus

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natalie walton soy column Natalie Walton/THE REVIEW
The snacking queen attempts to survive soy-free through careful research and planning.

I have, for quite a bit of time, had the reputation of being someone who always has snacks on hand.

Whenever my parents, usually my dad, are going to be in the car for more than 45 minutes, a bag of snacks is always packed. I have fond memories of munching on pre-popped popcorn on the way to many a Philadelphia sporting event.

My mom is a fan of carrying snacks in her purse for any occasion, regardless of distance. She almost always has something, whether it be a granola bar or a bag of nuts, to munch on if the time comes.

She also has the habit of eating lots of small meals throughout the day rather than three large ones, something that I have also picked up on.

My own habit (which is going to seem somewhat unrelated but stay with me) is overpacking. I have made a terrible habit of saying things like, “Yes, the trip is only for a weekend, but I do think I am going to need six shirts. I can give you a pros-and-cons list to explain why.”

This mainly applies to clothes while traveling, but it also applies to snacks. It is a habit that has increased tenfold since finding out I have a soy sensitivity because it is exceptionally difficult for me to find food anywhere that is not my own house.

To tie my points together, I went to Columbus, Ohio this past weekend for the 2019 International Writing Centers Association conference. As expected, I overpacked and brought what can only be described as too many clothes, and I also brought what could be considered too many snacks.

I packed, quite literally, an entire grocery bag of various snacks, ranging from seven packs of Welch’s fruit snacks to three snack-size bags of Snyder’s pretzels. I also brought along a significant amount of specialty allergen-friendly foods from brands like Enjoy Life (specifically the Cinnamon Apple Breakfast Ovals and Chocolate Chip Soft Baked Mini Cookies) and Bobo’s (the Apple Pie Stuff’d Oat Bites), both of which I highly recommend regardless of if you are soy free or not.

At one point, I made a joke to the fellow university student I went to the conference with about how I was probably carrying $35 worth of snacks in my backpack. But, realistically, that estimate is not far off base.

Allergen friendly snacks are, to put it lightly, not cheap. I spend about $1 on average per item in each box, meaning one box of Enjoy Life breakfast ovals are somewhere between $5 to $6 for five bars. My cookies are about the same.

Fruits tend to be slightly better, but they can be a bit harder to protect during travel, especially when flying.

The snack bag usually gets me through sitting around in the airport, the plane ride and then whenever I get hungry or take any day trips (I, being my mother’s daughter, brought snacks with me in my purse when I visited the Columbus Museum of Art). But beyond that, my body, as most bodies do, requires more than just fruit snacks and various forms of grains.

My ideal option for food is finding some sort of grocery store wherever I travel so I can load up on basics like yogurt, bread, some form of pre-sliced deli meat, cheese and fruit. These are the usual basics that make up a lot of my lunches since they offer necessary nutrients and do not require a microwave or oven.

But finding grocery stores is not always easy. Since I flew to Columbus, I did not have a car, and the closest grocery store was about a 40-minute walk with no bus stops.

My next best choice is local coffee shops, which are slightly better since they usually at least sell fruit and yogurt, but these usually do not tide me over; I eventually crave something more substantial. This is where restaurants come in.

Restaurants generally require two things for me to be able to eat there: first, an extensive allergen menu and second, at least a few options that do not contain soy. Typically, this limits me to chain restaurants and then limits me even further to just a few select chain restaurants. This gave me two options near my hotel, Buffalo Wild Wings and Panera, so I at least had food for two meals.

For dinner on my second night, I had to use another method that goes into eating out when you have a food sensitivity. I simply hoped that I could choose a meal that is safe when the restaurant does not offer a great allergen menu. This is a pretty common problem for soy; despite being one of the top seven allergens, restaurants are frequently unable to tell me confidently whether or not menu items contain it.

I ended up ordering room service for dinner since I was craving something that felt ‘real’ and satisfying but was not as pricey as the numerous steakhouses surrounding my hotel. I took a guess while perusing the menu, hoping a basic protein/vegetable/rice dish would be okay.

My predictions tend to be wrong, so I can assure that I did experience a minor allergic reaction my last night in Columbus. But as is my new motto: “Nothing a little Benadryl can’t fix!”

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