I was invited to give a presentation at BikeShare #4 in Oakland. The idea behind BikeShare is for bicyclists to share experiences, knowledge, skills and stories about exploring the world, nature, and nearby countryside using easy, hands-on, do-it-yourself skills on a bicycle.
The theme of this fourth installment of BikeShare is “Eat,” held at the Jack London Square Farmer’s Market. In addition to a bunch of rad workshops on other food-related topics, I decided to present a talk on vegan campfire cooking.
Whether or not you are an everyday vegan, it makes a lot of sense to stick to a plant-based diet on camping trips. Animal products spoil fast; milk and meat quickly go bad within a day or two without a heavy chest of ice. If packing lightly is your goal, take dry goods you can slip in a backpack or bike panniers. Besides, eating plant food goes well with the idea of doing no harm while traveling. Think like a forager, not a hunter.
SIMPLE STRATEGIES FOR VEGAN CAMPING
There are a lot of ways you can adapt your eating to go camping, but here are a few key tips for eating well while bike camping or backpacking. If they remind you of hippie food, that’s fine. The goal here is to use what’s simple and what works.
- GO RAW.
If it can be eaten raw, you will save time, fuel, and firewood. Salads are a great way to eat fresh produce on the first couple days of your trip. Keep produce out of direct sunlight; wrap in cool moist handkerchiefs to retain moisture. You can make salads from sturdier vegetables like kale, cucumber, avocado, peppers, tomato, onion, and raw corn off the cob. Dress with sea salt, lemon juice and olive oil. For extra calories add dried nuts and seeds, dried fruit, or tahini.
SOAK BEANS, SPROUT GRAINS. Forget canned and dehydrated food. You can bring dried beans and whole grains with you. By soaking or sprouting them ahead, you will save time and fuel cooking them, or bypass cooking altogether by eating them sprouted and raw. There are a lot of “raw food” resources available on the web for learning how to soak and sprout beans and grains. Good candidates for soaking/sprouting include red lentils, wild rice, quinoa, chickpeas, fava beans, spelt, and heirloom beans (like Rancho Gordo beans). Rinse them clean after sprouting is completed, dry them in a clean towel. Dress them and eat them with sliced vegetables in a salad. Some things, like red lentils or wild rice, can be eaten raw. Others, like beans and spelt, cook in less time after a 24 hour soak, making it more fuel and time efficient. I like to simmer beans in a pot over fire, rather than bring along a camping stove.
BRING SEA SALT AND SPICES. Camping food can be just as complex and delicious as cooking at home. I like to bring small amounts of a variety of spices with me, packed in muslin tea bags. Some favorites include cayenne, whole black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, whole white peppercorns, whole cinnamon sticks, whole fennel seed, and whole cardamom. Fresh chilis and a knob of ginger are nice to have. Nutritional yeast is tasty on campfire popcorn.
- BRING OIL. Oils can be used for cooking, adding calories to soup, beans, and stews, or used to make popcorn over an open fire. Olive oil and sunflower oil work for vegetables and beans, coconut oil is great for popcorn.
- BRING ACID. Fresh lemon or lime turns up the flavors of homemade soups, stews, and beans. Freshly squeezed citrus makes a great salad dressings as well, and can help your digestion when fresh produce is scarce.
COLD CAFFEINE. If you’re addicted to caffeine, you can get your caffeine fix sans fire by cold-brewing coffee or yerba mate leaves. To cold brew coffee, stir 1/3 cup coffee grounds to 1 cup cold water in the evening; leave to cold-brew 12 hours overnight, then strain through paper or cloth and dilute with more water to taste. For yerba mate, steep 1 tablespoon mate leaves to 1 cup cool water for 10 minutes, then strain. Sweeten to taste.
BRING NO-COOK EMERGENCY FOOD. There are going to be times you reach low blood sugar while biking or hiking and need food ASAP. Some people like trail-mix. I recommend bringing peanut butter and coconut oil. A spoonful of peanut butter and coconut oil mixed up with some currants or dried fruit, salt, and spices or sunflower seeds, will soothe your brain until you have time to make a proper meal. Even if they seem like heavy items to carry, you will be grateful you have them and can reuse the glass jar when it’s empty.
FORAGE. Learning to identify edible plants can help supplement the ingredients you bring. Common wild greens include nettles, watercress and celery; common herbs include mint, sage, fennel, and bay leaves.
- LEAVE ZERO WASTE. I believe really strongly in putting zero-waste principles into practice while camping. This means you bring food in refillable containers (cloth bags are super light, a couple glass bottles for liquids) and produce only compostable food scraps, which are buried away from water resources.
- CLEAN WATER. I recommend the First Need Water Purifier for purifying drinking water longer trips where you expect to draw water from a natural source. It means you can gather water along the trail. In order to keep wild waters clean, avoid using detergents which harm wildlife. Here are three tips to reduce your environmental impact while camping: scrub your dishes with sand instead of soap. Wash your hair with baking soda in place of shampoo. Condition your hair with apple cider vinegar in place of commercial conditioner. These alternatives are more compact, require less packaging, and break down more quickly into the elements.
Happy summer. Connect with the wilderness, travel lightly, and make no trash.