Vegging Out

Navigating Florence’s Food Scene with Dietary Restrictions

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

By Elizabeth Rolen

Italian food is infamous.

To most people, evoking the country’s name immediately garners images of overflowing bowls of fresh pasta, steaming pizza straight from a stone oven, and cones of gelato to help beat off the Mediterranean sun. However, to those with dietary restrictions, the lure of Italian food may not be so strong. As a woman with dietary restrictions, with many loved ones with dietary restrictions, moving to a foreign country with no understanding of the food scene was terrifying. For future students whose diet is more restrictive than mine, unclear access to the food they need could dissuade them from visiting this city I’ve grown to love. For these reasons, I set out on a mission to see how Florentines are accommodating the traditional Tuscan diet for those who are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan.  

I started my journey at the grocery store. According to my fellow classmates, Conad is the grocery store most frequented by students, so this is where I began my search. Conad has 8 storefronts in various neighborhoods of Florence. These stores vary in size and content, yet, I found that each store had a generous gluten-free selection of cookies, crackers, pastas, breads, and even a frozen pizza. Since 2011, Conad has included a senza glutine line of products specifically designed for Celiac and gluten intolerant customers. For future students and visitors to Florence who dread the idea of being surrounded by pasta and pizza every day, the selections in Conad allows everyone to enjoy a Tuscan dining experience without fear. For gluten-intolerant students and visitors who wish to partake in another favorite Florentine pastime - an evening at a fancy ristorante, The Florentine recently published a list of popular gluten-free restaurants in Florence.

Between the variety of gluten-free items in Conad and Florence’s gluten-free restaurant scene, gluten intolerant visitors to the city shouldn’t worry about going hungry in the land of pizza and pasta. But what about vegan and dairy-free visitors? With a vegan loved one coming to visit in January, I dove into research on the best vegan food in town. Florence’s iconic dish is the Florentine steak, a huge T-bone cooked only on the outer crust, so I wasn’t hopeful that I would find a generous array of vegan options. To my surprise, I didn’t need to look past the traditional Tuscan dinner table. Many traditional Tuscan dishes are already vegan. For example, ribollita, a hearty autumn and winter soup composed of vegetables, kale, beans, and bread, is a beloved staple of cold-weather Tuscan cuisine, and is naturally vegan! Another favorite vegan dish, found on almost every restaurant menu in Florence, is the marinara pizza - like the world-famous margherita, senza il formaggio. In addition to these vegan options found in the kitchens of most Florentine restaurants, local restaurants have also found success in all-vegan menus. For any new students looking for a quick bite to eat near JMU’s Palazzo Capponi, #RAW Vegan Firenze and Santo Spirito Falafel both boast all-vegan menus filled with a variety of different Mediterranean inspired lunch and dinner options. Other European vegan fast-food chains, like Flower Burger and Universo Vegano, have also been successful in serving all-vegan menus. The Florentine has also published its own guide to vegan eating in Florence. Though less up-to-date than their gluten-free guide, this overview of vegan restaurants in Florence demonstrates another example of restaurants accommodating their menus for common dietary restrictions, and thriving because of it. 

Living in Florence for the past nine months has allowed me to bear witness to the ways that the city adapts to the ebbs and flows of foreigners and tourists who come to witness Florence’s art, history, and of course the thriving food scene. I have seen streets blocked off to allow more foot traffic. I have witnessed shops, some closed for nearly two years, able to reopen again thanks to the renewed tourist wave. Florence visibly and logistically changes with the influx of tourists. Like all other aspects of city life, Florence has adapted to become accessible to those who flock here to engage with its beauty and culture. Local restaurants like #RAW Vegan Firenze and Santo Spirito Falafel allow for tourists and Florentines with dietary restrictions to enjoy the city and eat well. Florentine steaks are certainly not coming off the menu of any trattoria any time soon, but Florence has proven that everyone, regardless of their diet necessities, is welcome at la tavola.

Elizabeth Rolen is an EUPS student pursuing the Foreign Policy and Internal Security track and the EUPS program’s Communications and Recruitment Graduate Assistant. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs, with a Middle East Regional concentration and minors in Arabic and Economics from JMU this May. After graduation, Elizabeth plans to pursue a career in post-conflict recovery and international diplomacy. 

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Published: Thursday, June 9, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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