B’s 8 rules for gluten-free festival-goers

My second year at Latitude Festival this year wasn’t too muddy and was lots of fun! When I was packing for the weekend I contacted the organisers for some advice on food, but to no avail. There isn’t a lot about gluten free festival going on the web, so I thought I’d consolidate my advice. I don’t normally blog outside of London but friend Emilie insisted on featuring as she scouted me the only gluten free cake in the whole field! Hopefully of use to any other festival-goers, or parents packing their teenagers off!

Rule Number 1: Pack as if you won’t eat again

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Festival prep. Wetwipes are an essential, even if you aren’t GF.

To be frank it’s best to assume the worst: that you will not get fed all weekend. Over-pack on food, paying particular attention to what you will want for drinking munchies and cold wet weather. The best option is to self-cater if you can, using a camping stove and a cool box, but this is pretty impractical if you are the only one who needs to or are camped a 30 minute muddy trudge away from the arena. My packing essentials are:

  • GF cereal/nut bars like Eat Natural
  • Mini pots of tinned fruit/pieces of fresh fruit/dried fruit
  • Cakes/biscuit/crackers/chocolate snacks (to avoid any food envy when your friends munch doughnuts)
  • GF bread rolls or pitta (so you don’t miss out on the festival burgers/bacon rolls)
  • Sachets of GF hot chocolate or soothing peppermint tea bags for cold moments (ask the coffee shop to just do you a hot water)
  • Cans of your tipple of choice (everyone else brings beer)
  • Since writing, Ilumi have launched a range of free-from ready meals which don’t require chilling. These would be just perfect for a festival! Thanks to Ruth and Carrie for the suggestion.

I also recommend Rule number 2: Be a camping geek

Festivals are an excuse to wear whatever you like. Sadly not to eat whatever you like.

Ignore the jokes and funny looks (like they have the moral high ground in that hat) but also take:

  • A spork in your pocket and maybe a plastic plate/bowl to make sure you can eat the things that are normally served wrapped in bread
  • Washing up kit (to keep the above plus your fingers clean- alcohol gel just doesn’t do it)
  • Sealable sandwich bags for your packed lunch & to keep things dry
  • Some festivals might limit what you can take in, so it might be worth taking a doctor’s note just in case.

Rule number 3: Upgrade your takeaway

Grilled red snapper with herb butter. Are you sure we’re in a field?

If you just can’t be fussed with trekking back through the mud to the camping stove 3 times a day (or you are just sick of Eat Natural bars) and have an appetite for risk you can decide to brave the festival food stalls. It’s best to suss out your options before rule number 6 kicks in, because there’s not a lot of choice and cross contamination is a big issue. My best advice is to make like you live in Islington and try the ‘posh’ takeaways first. They are more likely to know about the ingredients and less likely to have hidden nasties.

Your food friends are:

  • The poshest organic burger bars (100% organic beef, dahling) in the bun you cleverly brought from home, cut open with your spork.
  • Knit your own yogurt vegetarian/vegan stalls for curries/vegetable chilli
  • Grilled chicken kebabs (hold the flatbread)
  • Baked potatoes
  • Bowls of (venison) chilli and rice
  • Paella (I know, this was a very middle class festival)
  • Indian food (hurrah for gram flour)

Our posh festival actually had a pop-up restaurant (Giant Robot) where we had a fabulous sit down meal. It’s becoming more common so worth researching and booking in advance with your dietary requirements. But mostly stalls will be staffed by clueless teenagers and incredibly busy so onto:

Rule number 4: Use the VIP queue

Celeb spot!

The queues are pretty big, and you will need to ask questions about what’s in the food. I recommend watching from afar for a bit at the food being made to check for obvious cross contamination issues – I queued for a long time for roast pork only to see them getting breadcrumbs everywhere as they served it in floury baps.

You are special so go straight to the front to ask about the ingredients before queueing to order. If it helps your confidence, wear some aviators and an air of aloof nonchalance so people think you are that bassist from that awesome band they know. You need a thick skin, so if you are worried about causing a fuss, best to try and eat outside of peak lunch/dinner times, or invest time at the start of the day to suss your options out when stall holders can talk to you in more detail. Don’t be afraid to ask them to change gloves or use a clean utensil to serve you. Some places will also give you a discount or an extra helping if you are having something adapted- like a kebab without the wrap.

Rule number 5: Friends make good food scouts

Where there is cake, I will find a way.

You’re probably not at the festival alone, and friends are a great help when it comes to getting fed. Thanks to one I found the only GF cake on the site! I’m sure yours wont mind asking the vendors for you about gluten when they go for their next meal, it makes traipsing round every stall much less arduous. You might also make new friends who give you free things, like Percy Pigs; or other coeliacs (like the waitress in the restaurant).

Rule number 6: Cider
Let’s face it: you didn’t really come to a muddy field for the food. You came to drink too much and dance in wellies to an obscure Swedish folk-indie band who’s name you can’t remember or pronounce but were awesome at the time. Whilst everyone else is swilling back the overpriced watered down lager, you will drink cider. This creates problems. a) cider is quite strong b) cider looks a lot like lager. Take carbs, pace with water, remember to take your hangover remedy of choice and if you’re anal like me, advance to rule number 7:

Rule number 7: Adopt a cup

This is MY cup!

Our festival had an ingenious reusable cup system to reduce litter. Which is brilliant if the cups get washed properly, not so brilliant if you accidentally switch with a beer-drinker. I found a cup to keep as my very own. Marking it with a sticker or a marker pen means there’ll be less chance of a mixup. Of course you could go the Pimm’s/bad wine route to avoid this problem altogether, but you may end up shouting “help I need a festival wee and have mud on my pyjamas!” loudly at your husband whilst tripping over a guy rope at 4 in the morning.

Rule number 8: There’s no place like home
Sometimes the best thing about going away is coming home to a proper bed and a hot shower. Double the pleasure by planning your first meal for when you get back before you go. You will have eaten a lot of sugary rubbish and grazed nonstop so have something hot and healthy waiting for you to look forwards to. We’re having yummy fish pie with mashed potato and the world’s biggest sleep.

I’d love to hear any other good tips you have for festival-going so I can be even more super-prepared next year!

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10 responses to “B’s 8 rules for gluten-free festival-goers

  1. This is quite an interesting blog. It’s hard to live on a gluten free diet but the points mentioned in the blog help.

  2. Pingback: Gluten Free Olympics – London 2012 (Part 2) « gluten free b·

  3. Going to a big festival is on my bucket list of travel adventures. We don’t really have the same thing over here in the states. Great tips!

    • Oh you definitely should! Lots of fun, exhausting but usually such a great atmosphere whatever the weather.

  4. OMG yo met Peppa Pig! Great blog as usual. I always take some home made flapjacks camping, never been to a camping festival – would love to but put off by the food and mud issues! perhaps I should be brave and go to one… you have inspired me. Also a few pouches of ilumi meals and a few portions of rice just in case the festival food is no good, but I’m avoiding a few more things I think. Great blog ;o)

  5. Thank you, I’m off to festival no. 6 in September and so far I think I will be living off paella. I’ve tried sending a message but their system isn’t working. Since the law changed at New Year don’t places have to know what their allergens are?

    • Yes, that’s true! Hopefully it should be a bit easier now. I have seen some mobile traders at events with clear allergy signs now (but also a few who are behind the curve)

      • Maybe there can be so,e system for easy identification but I guess cross contamination will always be a problem

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