I had a pizza last weekend! At a restaurant! It was glorious:
I said, I had a PIZZA at a restaurant last weekend! Ok, so what? I hear you say. Well, to understand how exciting this was, you probably have to be lactose-intolerant like me, or have an intolerance or allergy to anything that limits what you can eat on a daily basis and means you often or always have to ask about food before ordering or buying. My Helsinki pizza was in contrast to my recent experience at a Liverpool restaurant I won’t name, where I asked for a pizza with the cow’s milk cheeses left out as I can’t have lactose. I was brought a pizza from which they’d left out the mozzarella but covered it in cheddar alongside the goat’s cheese. I had to send it back, it came back underdone, my friends had already finished eating so I just had to eat it as it had already been too much fuss, cue my massive frustration at the lack of education among ‘food professionals’ about very common food intolerances. If you don’t know how to provide something I’ve asked for, just say so and I’ll have the penne bolognese. It’s fine.
Laktoositon (lactose free) is becoming my favourite Finnish word. I arrived in Finland with an emergency stack of these little milk pyramids that I am usually armed with in the UK when I go out for a coffee or a meal with friends, or when I’m travelling anywhere abroad:
As you can see, I still have a stack of them, because I have used precisely four: two while travelling over here from Edinburgh and two while staying at a youth hostel in Helsinki (by which point I was already so used to the otherwise ubiquitous provision of lactose free milk that I was near-indignant at its absence. We get used to the easy life so quickly).
Almost everywhere here in Turku (and in Helsinki), from our uni cafeteria to supermarkets to Italian restaurants, offers lactose and gluten-free options as standard. Many places use exclusively lactose- and gluten-free ingredients, meaning it is so much easier for people with an allergy or intolerance to go out and relax over dinner/coffee/tea without worrying about the vengeance their digestive system may visit on them the next day. On my first day in Turku I had an actual ice cream from a normal ice cream van in the market square – not a sorbet, ladies and gentlemen, but a proper, creamy lactose-free ice cream – it was such a treat and I’m not even into ice cream in a big way.
It just makes me more amazed that this sort of thinking isn’t more widespread, at least in countries where it is achievable. Food intolerances and allergies are a problem, and I have often thought that it might be a good business idea in the UK to open up a cafe/restaurant where everything is lactose/gluten-free, because you’d hardly notice the difference between that and ‘normal’ food in terms of flavour, and if bought in bulk the extra costs associated with it could be cut drastically. It turns out Finland is already doing it, in a logical way and without fuss, because it just makes sense.
Look out Finland, I might just stay.
(P.S. I think there may be a debate to be had about how expensive and energy-intensive the process of removing lactose from milk is, and whether treating cow’s milk on such a large scale is sustainable long term. I’ve seen it described as a filtration process, followed by the addition of lactase enzyme to break down the remaining lactose, but I am not familiar with the science and the environmental impact of the process. Soya farming isn’t great for the environment either and I really tried to like goat’s milk but that didn’t work out for me. For a long time I just had soya products but my nails and hair suffered from the lack of calcium, and by extension I was quite worried about my bones. If I can get the vitamins I need from food rather than tablets I will, so lactose-free dairy products seems to offer the best option. What are your thoughts? Is anyone out there more clued up on the science bit? I’d be interested to know.)