What better time than in quarantine to revisit the backlog of drafted posts I’ve had in the hopper for months, and sometimes years? These are nuggets of wisdom I have wanted to drop on my dear readers for ages, and now, with more time to do it, I’m sharing them with you! Our collective and relative loss of freedom is your gain if your eyeballs need something to read!
I’ve been dairy-free for about 14 years now, and have learned a lot as a result of it. So much, in fact, that I wrote a book about it! I put a lot of what I learned into that book (very worth the read, and I’m totally not biased), but here are a few gems I couldn’t keep to myself.
The top 10 things I’ve learned since going dairy-free:
1. People think mayo has dairy in it. A lot of people.
You will encounter this question at restaurants, family functions, work events, you name it. If you’re just starting out going dairy-free, I’m telling you this now so that, 1) it doesn’t surprise you down the road, and 2) you know, in case you didn’t already, that mayo is dairy-free.
There are some types of mayo-containing products that may have dairy in them, like Parmesan in aioli, but if what you’re eating is mayo, you are going to be just fine.
2. Most big events won’t think to accommodate you, so you have to plan ahead.
When I’m headed to a conference, wedding, or other big event where I may not have access to food I can eat, I bring along protein bars, nuts, granola, fruit – anything that doesn’t need to be temperature-controlled, just in case.
Pack something, anything, with you so that you don’t lose your mind or only have rabbit food to pick at when everyone else is chowing down on mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, or some other dairy-laden dish that you can only look at with disdain. Prioritize protein, like nuts, and you’ll be able to hold out longer or supplement whatever they have that you can actually eat.
3. When in doubt, ask.
Some really surprising foods have dairy in them, like salad dressings that don’t seem creamy, breads, and even lunch meat. If you are eating somewhere new, and they don’t have ingredient lists or allergens labeled on their menu, ask!
On the other hand, I’ve run into food I was sure had dairy in it, but after asking, I realized I was safer than I thought. You may also be pleasantly surprised.
4. Goat & sheep cheese work for me, and they might work for you, too.
I go into more detail in my book (like John Hodgman says, “Always Be Plugging”), but if you have a hard time with cow dairy, you may have much better luck with goat and sheep dairy. They have a slightly different makeup that can make them easier to digest. If I hadn’t gotten the tip from my old roommate, I might not have ever gotten to enjoy goat cheese.
5. Dairy-free options keep getting better.
When I first went dairy-free in college, there weren’t too many options for dairy-free milk, for example. You really had soy, almond, and rice milk to choose from. Now, you have coconut, macadamia, cashew, hemp, hazelnut, oat, you name it!
Dairy-free options in the mid-2000s often tasted fake and strange. Not anymore. Whipped creams, nut cheeses, ice creams, cream cheeses – I have tried so many things that taste as good, if not better, than their dairy-full counterparts. Coincidentally, if you want more information on nutrition values of different dairy-free alternatives, or my favorite dairy-free products, you can also find those in my book (ABP).
6. You will inadvertently avoid office temptation.
In a conservative estimate, 99% of what gets brought into any office is a food I can’t eat – cream cheese with bagels, donuts, pizza, cheesecakes, candy bars. In stress-eaty moments, I’m thankful I can’t eat most of the food that people bring into the office.
7. But you may also feel left out in the process.
It’s hard to avoid feeling like a rude a-hole saying “no” when people are passing around cake and ice cream for someone’s birthday, or not being able to participate in National Donut Day without bringing in your own food. Any time I’ve worked in a new office, I’ve felt an adjustment period of getting people used to what I can and cannot eat, and then seeing how much they try, or don’t try, to bring in food for me.
Everyone’s different, but I mostly prefer having people not bring in food for me, especially because it’s disastrous when they get it wrong, either buying terrible-tasting food, or accidentally feeding me butter (both of these things have happened more than once). But sometimes, you feel that twinge of sadness not getting to participate in something that feels so human and normal.
8. Restaurants cater to gluten-free diets in a way they never do for dairy-free.
When gluten-free food went from being vital to some to trendy for others, many restaurants follow suit. No matter how small the town is where you live, chances are, you have at least a couple restaurants that cater to gluten-free diets. That is not the case for dairy-free options.
9. But, find the right restaurants and you’ll feel almost normal.
Your best bet is probably finding a restaurant with a vegan menu, or vegan options, but seeing a menu specifically marked up for people who are dairy-free is a rarity.
Still, you can find your places and your people who get it. I have found over a dozen restaurants in Milwaukee, the city where I live, that cater to dairy-free diets, and other special diets, really well. I would tell you that I cover that list in my book, but I bet you figured that out already.
10. It doesn’t take long for you to stop missing dairy. I promise.
At some point, you’ll just find the prospect of eating something made from cow’s milk to be super gross, even if you’re still eating sheep and goat products. You really won’t miss it at all.
If you’ve gone dairy-free, what are some of your words of wisdom? Comment below or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them here!