Sue's Blog

7 things I loved in France – a failsafer’s survival guide - with a recipe

Howard and I walked 900 km (over 500 miles) mostly in France on the Camino pilgrim trail. Here are some highlights:

The “holiday effect”


How does a failsafer, normally low to moderate in salicylates, amines and glutamates, manage in France? We usually try to self-cater while travelling, but pilgrim inns in France serve communal meals.

Basically, the holiday effect says that you can manage more salicylates and other food chemicals while on holidays because you are more relaxed. Stress is one of the 5 non-food factors contributing to food intolerance reactions (the others are illness, chemical exposure including medications, hormones and age):

“My (failsafe) sister recently spent a week in Fiji and was puzzled that she was able to eat a lot more of the foods/chemicals that she would normally avoid when living in Sydney without ever reacting …”

Like the failsafe sister in the quote above, we seemed to manage many more salicylates and amines than usual. French people are almost as fussy as we are about food additives so we didn’t have to worry about those too much – although that is changing. We did discover that some of the sirops (cordials) used in welcome drinks contained artificial colours and quickly learned which ones to avoid.

The exercise effect


We walked for 45 days from the volcanic spires of Le Puy in France to Los Arcos in Spain. That’s an average of 20 kms a day – about 6 hours including lunch and stops. Most days involved hill climbs. We carried either day packs or our full backpacks (about 10 kg each). By the end, we felt supremely fit.

Perhaps there’s another theory to go with the holiday effect:  the “exercise effect”.  Sometimes we suffered from an overdose of sals or amines but mostly we got away with much more than expected. In particular, difficulty falling asleep, frequently night waking or any other sleep disturbance was simply NOT a problem. If we walk that much every day, we sleep well! And we felt good.

Subtle fragrance

The RPAH Elimination Diet recommends avoiding fragranced products because they can be high in inhaled salicylates and amines.  As in the quote below, I too am sensitive to fragrances:

“Do people without allergies realize how badly they affect people that have allergies? The answer would be NO! For instance, well, I’m allergic to perfumes ... So, when in class, I have to find just the right seat, where a girl isn’t overly perfumed, but then they take out their fragrancey lotion and I have a nice allergy attack in the middle of lecture”- Starving student

I had been concerned that fragrances might be a problem in France. However, unlike Australia where we have to carry our own air purifier for accommodation when travelling, NOT ONCE did I feel uncomfortable due to for example, fragranced cleaning products or automatic fragrance dispensers in toilets or bedrooms.

French people seem to have a certain restraint when it comes to fragrances - and food, and wine - and don’t overdo it. The only dishwashing detergent I have ever actually enjoyed is a French brand of clear uncoloured liquid with an almond aroma listed on the label. When you take the lid off, there is the merest whiff of almond fragrance that disappears almost immediately.

 If used at all, this is what fragrances should be like.  Perfume fixatives called phthalates that make perfumes last a long time are now regarded as nasty chemicals. This is why there are so many new products labelled ‘fragrance free, no phthalates” appearing for sale. (The good news in Australia is that we can now buy Morning Fresh Eco fragrance free dishwashing detergent in supermarkets)

French potato recipes

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We would have preferred to choose our own food. But we did enjoy that French cooking is generally so good.  Most French people appreciate quality and are prepared to put effort into buying fresh food (which is a lot cheaper there than here) – although there are signs that is changing.

Salads were always superbly fresh and likewise the French bread. The meat dish was nearly always pork or ham (not failsafe), but we enjoyed the vegetables.

We rarely saw French fries – potatoes were cooked in so many different ways, and I learned to regard mashed potatoes as something special, not just a meal that helps to get vegetables into children.  We ate everything from Tartiflette (slow cooked layers of potatoes, onion, cheese and bacon in wine, not failsafe), Retortillat (potatoes, cheese, garlic and parsley (amines) and Dauphinoise (layered potatoes and garlic baked in cream, failsafe) to garlic mashed potatoes, and my favourite: Aligot.

A specialty of the Aubrac region, Aligot is originally a peasant food made from potatoes, garlic, cheese and salt, now served in restaurants with a flourish, see recipe below.

Wine is listed as very high in Salicylates, Amines and Glutamates by RPAH and we don’t drink it at home (gin, vodka and whisky are the failsafe drinks of choice).  We compromised by choosing the pale, dry, milder tasting French rosé for its lower alcohol and seemingly lower salicylate content whenever possible. 
A2 milk and yoghurt


Traditionally, the French have enjoyed goat and sheep milk, yoghurt and cheese, and French milk in the past has been predominantly A2. This is presented as one possible explanation for the French paradox – how do they eat such a high fat diet and have such a low rate of heart attacks, the red wine theory having been disproved. I love sheep milk yoghurt and was expecting to get through France OK, but it soon became obvious that I was getting A1 dairy-type reactions (allergic rhinitis and hayfever). It seems to me that yoghurt from multinational companies such as Danone is unlikely to be made from local French milk so I avoided the mass produced yoghurts that we were sometimes offered for breakfast and drank black coffee. 

As with other aspects of food in France, it seems that industrial food is creeping in – though more slowly than in most Western countries - and traditional ways are changing, so I regarded the sheep milk yoghurt that I could find as very special.

The people


We had been warned that the French could be arrogant (and there was one particular waitress …), but we also met some remarkably kind, interesting and brave people and loved the French talent as comic mime artists who had us laughing out loud.  When people found out what I do – write books and raise awareness about the harmful effects of food additives - I was surprised by how many men thanked me for my important work. In Australia, my supporters are most likely to be women.

Aligot for failsafers

Originally French peasant food, Aligot is now regarded as an Aubrac regional speciality that is particularly warming in winter.  We found this delicious recipe that tasted like what we ate in France, although it is too high in amines and fat for me to want to eat regularly.  However, adding garlic and even a small amount of any kind of cheese including cream cheese or quark (failsafe if you can manage dairy; soymilk and Nuttelex if not)  and mashing the potatoes in a Thermomix or food processor for that weird stretchy texture can make a special dish. 


800g steamed peeled white potato, drained and still hot (Sebago is a good mashing variety)
up to 4 cloves crushed garlic
up to 400g cream cheese, quark (or grated mozzarella if you can tolerate amines). As little as 100g gives flavour, but 400g mozzarella is required to give the stringy aligot texture, by which time the fat content is 7%.

Stove-top: mash the potato and garlic in a saucepan with 100-200mls water to a soft texture. Heat on a moderate setting, stirring in vigorously the amount of dairy product that you want. Serve immediately, often with a sausage.

Thermomix/food processor: add 100-200mls water and whizz the potato and garlic for 1 minute at moderate speed. The texture should be very creamy. Still stirring and heating, add the amount of dairy product you want for about 1 minute. Serve immediately, often with a sausage.

The scenery 
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From the pretty French countryside with chestnut and birch forests to medieval villages and lively street markets, there was always something fascinating to look at. My favourite day was spent walking alongside the Canal du Midi under a canopy of sycamore trees.