The Portable Pantry
Food for the Long Haul
By Tamia Nelson
May 20, 2003
There's no doubt about it. Provisioning for a Big Trip can be a
daunting chore. You've little or no margin for error, for one thing. Miss a meal on
a weekend outing? No problem. Miss every meal for a week, though, and you'll
begin to feel the pinch. Cost is often a concern, too, and weight and bulk almost
always have to be kept to a minimum. Personal tastes and special dietary
requirements also need to be considered. The list goes on and on and on.
That's why otherwise level-headed camp cooks can find themselves gripped by
panic as the departure date approaches. But this doesn't have to happen to you. The
key to staying cool is organization. And organization usually means having
one person in charge. Unless someone has ultimate responsibility for provisioning,
it's very likely that something will go wrong.
Look beyond the swinging doors of a well-run commercial kitchen and you'll find
a chain of command that any general would envy. And the commander-in-chief is the
Executive Chef. Subordinate chefs and cooks each take their orders from him (or
her). It works for four-star restaurants, and it can work for you, too. Of course
planning for a Big Trip should be fun. But that doesn't mean you can get by without
having clear lines of responsibility. You can't.
Let's suppose the care and feeding of your group is in your hands. You're the
Executive Chef, in other words. (Call yourself Cookie, if you think Executive Chef
sounds too fancy.) Where do you start? By asking questions:
- How long will the trip last?
- How many mouths will you
have to feed?
- How much can you spend?
- Does anyone have special dietary needs?
- What kind(s) of boats will you be using?
- How difficult is the route?
- What's the weather going to be like?
- How much time do you want to spend preparing
- Is your menu balanced?
Let's consider each of these in turn.
How Long? Take it from me you stop having fun when the food runs
out. So always bring more food than you think you'll need. How much more? An extra
day's food for each week you'll be on the water is about right. If you think your
trip will last two weeks, carry enough food for two extra days. Four weeks? Add
four days' extra rations. And so on. Then, if you fall behind schedule or if a food
bag opens in a capsize, you won't miss too many meals. It's always better to be
safe than sorry.
How Many? This isn't rocket science. Notwithstanding the parable of the
loaves and the fishes, each extra mouth means extra meals. Solo paddlers have it
easy here. Everyone can count to one, after all! Larger groups pose bigger
problems. Some paddlers may prefer to split their group into several smaller, more
or less independent parties, linking up only at lunchtime and camp. (Really big
groups may have no choice but to camp separately.) Unless you're sure you'll be
able to eat together at every meal, however and unless you're also certain
you'll want to it's best to plan for each party to be
self-sustaining. Work the details out well in advance of D-Day.
How Much? Many folks are lucky. They don't have to pinch each penny till
it squeaks. But if the sky isn't the limit, don't despair. Just set a budget
and stick to it. It's possible to eat very well without spending a fortune, though
you'll have to plan more carefully than the Platinum Card brigade. Take a few hours
to see what's on the shelves of your local HyperMart. Check out neighborhood food
co-ops and ethnic markets. Buy in bulk. Wait for sales. Dry your own. You'll be
surprised at how cheaply you can eat.
Yuk or Yummy? Don't assume that everyone in your party likes green tea.
Ask. People's food preferences vary widely. Vegetarians won't warm to meals based
around beef jerky. Meat and potatoes types may think that texturized vegetable
protein (TVP) is only good for plugging holes. Religious practices and medical
conditions limit many folks' food choices, too. Just because you're the boss cook,
you can't order people to eat only what you like. Consult your partners. Learn
their needs and preferences, their likes and dislikes. Some folks become grumpy if
they don't get sweets, while
others couldn't care less. Some crave breadstuffs
with each meal, while others think no day is complete without a piece of cheese or
a mug of soup. Make
sure each person gets what he or she likes to eat.
Appetite plays a role, too. Teen-agers and hard-chargers will want extra-large
meals. Make allowances. A weekend shakedown trip can be an invaluable planning tool
here. Identify the big eaters in your party early and adjust accordingly.
Boat Type? Large expedition canoes can
accommodate dutch ovens and sacks of potatoes with ease, but some sea kayaks don't
have space for anything much bigger than a thermos. Do a dry run before you leave
for your put-in. Be sure there's room in your boats for all your food bags, as well
as your other gear and don't forget to make certain there's a place for you
too! Unless you like the idea of paddling a weather-vane, resist the temptation to
pile gear high. And don't overload. A boat with too much weight in it is already
half-sunk. No boat can do everything. On any trip, be sure the boats are up to the
job you're asking them to do.
How Hard? Open-water crossings, heavy whitewater, and frequent portages
can take a lot out of paddlers, whatever their level of fitness. Hard trips mean
hearty appetites, but hard routes put a premium on weight and bulk. It's a
difficult balance to strike, but you have to get it right. Experiment with
concentrated, high-energy this means high-fat foods. The back of
beyond is no place for nouvelle cuisine. There's a reason why the voyageurs
lived on pemmican. A mixture of fat and pounded meat isn't my idea of a gourmet
treat, but it certainly keeps the engine running.
How's the Weather? Kayaking down an arid, sun-baked sea coast is
dry work, and you'll soon learn the importance of fresh water.
Along many arctic rivers, on the other hand, firewood is
almost impossible to find, so don't plan on cooking and baking over glowing
coals. Cold-weather trips also mean big meals and hot drinks. Better carry plenty
of fuel for
Where's Cookie? Is toiling over a campfire for three hours every day your
idea of a good time? No? Then you'll need to rely on meals which come together
quickly. Quick-cooking boxed main dishes from the HyperMart, freeze-dried foods,
and retort-packaged entrées make the job easier. This is a good thing. A
miserable cook makes for a miserable trip.
Some paddlers attempt to forestall mutiny in the kitchen by taking turns as duty
cook, and this can work well. It's important to try it out first on a short trip,
though. Not everyone can cook, and eating other people's mistakes is a drag.
In Balance? Nutrition fascinates many folks, but I'm afraid I'm not one
of them. Still, you can't ignore your body's needs over the long haul and hope to
stay happy, let alone healthy. It's wise to remember a few rules of tum. Eat as
varied a diet as possible. Pack plenty of dried fruits
and include vegetables in every supper dish. On really long trips, it certainly
won't hurt for everyone to take a daily multi-vitamin tablet. And don't skimp on
meals. If you're an adult, even if you live on salads and rye toast at home, you'll
need around 3500 calories a day to keep going on a long trip. This is roughly two
pounds of food. (That's two pounds dry weight, and it includes a rule of tum
allowance for no-calorie "foods" like tea and coffee. Water is essential for life,
and life without tea is
unthinkable, but neither has significant food value.) Seem like a lot? It's not.
Strenuous trips may require twice as much, particularly in cold weather.
Want to know more? Check out the "Kitchen" chapter of Colin Fletcher's
Complete Walker. His food lists are showing their age, but there's no better
short course in the nuts and berries of backcountry nutrition than his section on
the "Scientific Nutritional Method." Just be sure your calculator batteries are
fresh! (Are you bothered that it's a book for backpackers? Don't be. Fletcher's had
a lifelong love affair with the Colorado River, and his latest book is about a
source-to-mouth solo raft trip. And, anyway, whether you're backpacking or
paddling, you still need to eat a lot.)
That's it: a short course in meal-planning for the long haul. Overwhelmed?
Relax! Approach the job of provisioning for a Big Trip in the same way a master
mason crafts a cathedral one building-block at a time. Lay the first blocks
level and true, then just keep working steadily away. The rest will follow. It
helps to have a good building plan, of course, and this is where your Master Menu
comes in. But that's a subject for another time.
Hungry? Whether you live to eat or only eat to live, you'll want to
check out our "Alimentary, My Dear" archive.
Copyright © 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights