If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s karma. Time and time again, I’ve found that whenever I pass judgment about something, chances are good I’ll eventually do it.
For example, I spent a good decade rolling my eyes at the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world, who inconvenienced restaurants and dinner hosts everywhere with their elaborate diets.
So, naturally, I found myself in Salt Spring Island recently, regaling a fresh-faced waitress at the Treehouse Café with an endless list of foods that must not pass my lips. I was on an elimination diet recommended by my naturopath – no gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, refined sugar, every fat except cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, most meats and fish, chocolate, coffee, citrus, nuts and most seeds, plus nightshade vegetables.
Reciting this list, I suddenly cringed. What the hell was I doing?
I had to blame the Sixties. Raised a reluctant hippie child in Vancouver, I rebelled in the only way possible: moving to Toronto, donning stilettos and getting a job at a celebrity magazine.
I logged marathon hours at the office, went out every night to cocktail parties, and ate a steady diet of Starbucks, Purdy’s chocolates and sushi. That kind of lifestyle takes its toll.
This summer, karma kicked in. I found myself back on the West Coast, desperately seeking a healthier lifestyle and spending time on Salt Spring, an island famous for its natural beauty, countercultural residents, thriving wellness centres and decades-long tradition of local, organic food.
A picky eater’s guide
Gluten-free, dairy-free or just anxious about finding the right food on the road? Salt Spring Island has got you covered.
The hippie health-food hub is a food-sensitive traveller’s dream vacation spot, with delicious dining options that cater to every dietary restriction.
morningside organic bakery cafe & bookstore: Don’t let grumpy online reviews scare you off of this exquisite organic and plant-based kitchen.
Peruse its stellar collection of books as you sample wood-fired heritage sourdough bread, soups, smoothies and shakes – and, of course, a cup of world-class chai tea. 107 Morningside Rd.,morningsideorganic.com
Here’s the thing: If you are nutty enough to travel while on an elimination diet, Salt Spring is the ideal place to go.
But the real gem of the trip was Morningside Organic Bakery Café and Bookstore in Fulford Village, the charming south-end harbour near the cabin we’d rented in the woods.
Morningside, you should know, is an acquired taste. Its owner, an eco-chic woman, is a bit of a tough nut to crack. Online reviews of her customer service lean toward moral outrage; one poster refers to her as “the angry vegan.”
A blog post on the café’s website breaks down the ethos: “If you are bringing your snooty consumer ‘me first’ attitude, I suggest you move along. If you want to stay in your monocultured, supersized, Starbuckified box, then you will be sorely disappointed.”
Not having read any of this, the proprietor and I didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. The café keeps random hours, and my blood sugar was dangerously low when its doors finally swung open. As a result, I sent back the noodle bowl I ordered as it did not contain a single ingredient listed on the menu. (The bearded male server shrugged and explained that sometimes they cook with whatever is in the fridge.) I was less than thrilled.
And then I took a sip of the owner’s famous chai tea.
Gorgeously spiced with a hint of heat, made with coconut milk and served at the perfect temperature – it was so ridiculously good I was determined to give the café another chance. Anyone who could make chai with this much heart and soul was clearly worth knowing.
And so I returned the next morning. The owner and I eventually bonded over our shared aversion to canola oil, and I told her that the chai was the most magnificent I’d ever tasted. In the end, I enjoyed her gruff, no-nonsense manner.
I bought another steaming cup of the tea, and several cookies made from rice flour, pumpkin seeds and anise, and met my friends down by the wharf. On the dock, a barefoot concert pianist was playing an ancient piano. We sat, rapt, as the music washed over us. I gave silent thanks for the island’s strange magic.
“Is the tea any good?” my friend Sheina asked, hugging a cup of strong coffee. “The best,” I replied.
My friends, it must be noted, had been very good-natured about my food restrictions. Which is lucky, because we’re planning another trip – and now I’m on the Spleen Qi Deficiency Diet.