What is one thing you must bring to the Burning Man Festival? Food!
Hubby Jeff and I have been going to Bman every year since 1997. (Wow, time flies!)
So if you are Vegan and plan on doing the same some day, you might find it helpful to learn about the meals I prepare for our week-long adventure.
Because, as you might know, there is NO food sold at Burning Man so you must bring your own.
Firstly, please know that you can absolutely bring vegan food that is much easier to gather together than what we do.
But I am a Foodie through and through. And forgive me, but I'm not going to force myself to subsist on peanuts, potato chips, cereal, and sandwiches out there, although they definitely make an appearance in my menu. :)
We learned a loooong time ago how important it is to have WARM, tasty, and comforting meals when we're out there, especially at night. Burning Man is such a crazy, energy-consuming and mind-blowing experience that it's important to keep your body fueled with the foods that will allow you to "keep on ticking".
Of course, all of the information on this page can be used for other festivals, camping, etc.
Most people who go to Burning Man bring superbly easy food to munch on throughout the week, such as nuts and seeds, protein bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (My adorable friend Red squirts Cheese Whiz in her mouth and eats cold beans right out of the can. ha!)
But us? We have the full-meal deal.
I can't tell you how many people over the years have looked at our breakfasts and dinners in disbelief that we have FULL MEALS out there (like this meal of Vegan Chicken Divan with crispy flatbread on the side).
And I sit in disbelief when I see them munching on their little snacks and wonder how in the HELL they have the energy to survive out there in the harsh environment, but more power to them if they can pull it off without being a total burned out zombie by the end of the week. ;)
Over the years I have tried many different takes on our Burning Man food, so what you will learn below is what I discovered through trial and error.
For instance, one year we actually brought all the ingredients for making a sandwich spread -- I can still remember Jeff sitting in our army tent cutting up vegetables on a cutting board, then spooning some vegan mayo into them along with herbs and spices. OMG, it was soooooo much work!
And believe me when I tell you that you want to do as LITTLE work as possible out there, not only because it's usually too hot (or too cold!), but because it's hard work just to LIVE out there! And also because many times your brain is completely fried and you just want to chillax. ;)
Again, this is just what we do and recommend -- you can certainly pick and choose from any of these ideas and find a way to make them your own.
What you'll need in order to pull this off is a VACUUM SEALER -- this is for prep before you leave for the event.
And what you'll need to bring to the desert is a CAMPING STOVE (and extra little propane tanks -- we used to bring one large one, but a bunch of the smaller ones are easier to pack), a LARGE POT WITH A LID (such as an 8-quart stock pot), and an optional CAMPING TOASTER.
Now, this might seem like overkill to some of you but if you have the room to pack it, a camp table like this one pictured works beautifully out there. You have a spot off the ground to put your camp stove, and the table provides a great place to prep and plate your food, make sandwiches, lay out condiments, etc. Super convenient!
Here's what our playa kitchen looks like -- we've been setting it up exactly like this since 1999. The whole shebang opens up to reveal a counter and a little sink. Check out the adorable checker/chess/backgammon board on top. It puts the "fun" in functional. :)
Now, what does this large storage container have to do with our kitchen?
Great question, Grasshoppah. :)
We store our sleeping bags (we have 3 of them) in this sucker. When we get to Bman, we of course set up the tent and place everything inside that belongs in there (like bedding, clothes, toiletries, etc).
After the container is emptied, we place our currently-full grocery bags right inside (we can fit about 4 full bags across).
Not really the time to be all "eco" and use your cloth grocery bags. Use double-bagged paper grocery bags. Why? Because you need the structure of the tall paper bags - and the strength of the double bagging to get the food there without the bag ripping in the craziness, and to survive the entire event.
Always tightly cover when not in use to keep the dust out. And as long as you keep the entire thing in the shade, your groceries will stay amazingly cool like they're in a cupboard at home.
So I highly recommend you purchase these items, most of which can be found at a place like Sportsman's Warehouse or REI. Or you might be able to find some nice used stuff at an Army/Navy Surplus Store. You will be incredibly thankful once you get out to the playa, I promise!
Now, where were we?...
Oh, yes, the grub to shove in our pieholes!!! :)
I like to make the most comforting food I can because it makes me happy when I'm out there -- and it forces me to eat when I know all this fantastic food is waiting for us to gobble down.
You have to know that the city is HUUUUUGE. There's so much to see and do. You're gone from camp for hours, walking or biking everywhere. And by the time you make it back to your camp, you are practically passing out from the physical toll of it all. You have to food that's ready to go!
So the first thing to do a week or two (or up to a month) before you leave is to sit down with a paper and pencil and figure out what you want to eat for your breakfast and dinner each day. It can be ANYTHING you like. Most dishes make more than 2 servings. Since there are two of us, I usually repeat each dish once on my menu.
You can see an example of a menu I made back in 2010 - I think I have this all laid out because a friend asked for some ideas of what to bring. In fact, it's what prompted me to write this page for you now! Click here to see the PDF of one of my Burning Man menus -- and of course you can download it if you'd like. It's a plant-based menu, so even if I say "sausage" I mean "vegan sausage". I hope this goes without saying since you're on a vegan website but if I don't point this out, some numbnutz will write me to say "You call yourself a VEGAN? How can you eat sausage if you're VEGAN!?" Oy vey! :)
The PDF has our menu for Breakfast and Dinners, along with a couple recipes, some links to recipes, and the extra food we bring along for all the other times we're hungry, like quick snacks or lunches.
Did I mention you eat like a horse out there and lose weight? Score! :)
Next, make two lists -- one for every single ingredient you will need for your recipes, and one list for all the stuff that goes along with your meals.
For instance, I like to serve bread with my chili, so on one list I'll write all of the ingredients for the chili, and on the other I'll write bread and butter (Earth Balance). Think of ANYTHING you usually use with any particular dish, such as ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper, etc. This way you won't forget anything because it really sucks to get out there and realize you're missing an important component of your meal.
Now that you have your menus pulled together, go shopping!
Fortunately, the carts in our grocery stores are smaller than this one or we'd all be flat broke and have hernias. (teeee-heeee)
As you make each meal, portion them, then if they're hot items cool COMPLETELY -- a fan works well to cool your food as quickly as possible to keep everything fresh.
Next, take each portion and vacuum seal in a special vacuum seal bag.
The vacuum "bags" don't always come ready made, they sometimes come in a roll and you have to cut them to the size you need. Sealers come with a special cutter built right in so you just pull one end of the roll, cut it where you desire, and then seal one end to make a bag.
Personally, I place both portions (one for Jeff and one for me) in the bag together -- just makes it easier to heat up that way.
Let's talk about one of the Breakfast examples on my Vegan Menu, Sassy Macs. How would I package this up for camping?
Sassy Macs are basically Eggless Egg McMuffins: Tofu, vegan Canadian bacon, and vegan cheese, served between two toasted English muffin halves.
I don't want to end up placing the entire sandwich in a bag because after it boils and you cut the bag open, the muffins could be soft and gross. We want our English muffins lightly toasted, right? Right.
So in this case I would only vacuum seal the sandwich "innards", and while those are boiling in the bag at Burning Man, I toast the English muffins on our cute little camping toaster. Or you can boil the insides first and set the bag aside while you toast the English muffins, depending on whether your camp stove has 1 or 2 burners.
So just keep this example in mind when packaging your food to be sealed -- sometimes you will package the entire dish, and other times you will have to leave off things like bread.
Place the cooled and sealed portion in your FREEZER. You are going to freeze most of your meals because when you are ready to head to the playa, these frozen meals will be added to your cooler along with ice.
This way, if you arrive on the playa when the ice truck is closed for the day, or if you are one of the lucky peeps who get to arrive early (such as those setting up theme camps), your food will act like ice to keep everything nice and cold.
(By the way, I like to package any extra servings and stick them in the freezer separate from our Burning Man food for when we get back home -- because you'll likely be burnt out, tired, and starving!)
Remember, that all that frozen food you put in your cooler will begin to defrost and you WILL need to replace the ice that will surely melt. But it's nice to know you have a bit of a time cushion = less stress.
There will absolutely be foods you do not want to freeze, such as hummus or guacamole, or something like potato salad. It's good to have these types of foods along too so you have easy-grab stuff that you can munch out on while you are setting up your tent and personal camp. I make these types of foods the day before I leave for the desert. I don't freeze them but just keep them on the top of the ice in our cooler.
My favorite thing to have after camp is set up, we're hot, and we need food NOW are these Guacamole and (Vegan) Bacon Wraps. They're filling, satisfying, and faaaaantastic tasting. But this is an example of a food that won't keep long and should be eaten in the first day or two out there.
The "meals" are for when all that work is done and you are set up and ready to sit back, relax, and have a nice hot meal. :)
Your camp stove should be set up.
Fill your large pot with water -- about halfway. Bring the water to a boil. Carefully drop your vacuum-sealed bag(s) in the water, turn the heat down so the water stays at a very gentle simmer. It usually takes about 15 minutes for the food to get hot all the way through. You will certainly learn through trial and error how long to boil your food in the bag. Turn off the heat.
Using a fork or spoon, move the bag so a large corner sticks out of the water and carefully lift the bag out of the pot. It's going to be hot, so be careful! Place onto your table or a plate. Cut the bag open with scissors, and use a spatula to get your food out of the bag -- or sometimes you can just slide it out. Plate, and eat.
You might end up with more than one bag per meal.
For instance, when I make this Vegan Loaf with Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, and Green Beans, the loaf servings will be in one bag, the taters in a separate bag, the gravy in another, and finally the green beans in yet another. This makes it easy to heat up because no single bag is too dense. And this way I can pour the fresh gravy over the loaf and the potatoes.
Very densely packed bags will not heat properly -- they'll take for-ev-er and the middle still might not be hot. After you vacuum seal the bag, you can "flatten" some dishes to make them easy to stack in the cooler. For instance, you might eat a mound of mashed potatoes on a plate, but in order to heat properly (and again so they don't take up as much room in your cooler) you can place the sealed bag on your countertop and lightly press down to smoosh the food to all edges before freezing. Also makes it easier to boil more than one bag at a time when you can stack them in the pot.
Please note: I HIGHLY recommend you take this system for a dry-run at home so you know how big to make your portions so they'll fit in your pot of water. OMG, how much would it suck to get out there and not be able to fit your sealed bags of food in the pot? Oy, I am getting the shakes just thinking about it. ;)
We use (and recommend) large tin camping plates lined with paper plates; the camping plates provide a nice firm surface and the paper plates make cleanup a snap. After every meal we usually just have silverware and a couple glasses to clean. Of course, you can use plastic silverware and just recycle them.
Speaking of plates and silverware, we have a couple containers to hold our kitchen stuff.
Since everything is packed away right now I can't get pics of it. But I found this photo online. It will give you an idea of the size of our large container that holds plates, camp toaster, and cups/mugs. We have a smaller one that holds our silverware, and things like a spatula, large plastic spoon, long-handled propane stove lighters, and SCISSORS! (Don't forget your scissors or you won't be able to cut your bags open!) Check out the photo of our camp kitchen above and you will see these containers in action. :)
After your food is plated, cover the pot of water, remove it from the burner, and set it aside in an out-of-the way place so it is ready to go for your next meal. Water is scarce out there. So be sure to reuse this cooking water over and over. It will stay clean as long as you keep a lid on it when not in use.
Every once in a while you will have to pour out the old water and refill -- use your best judgement. Be sure to close up your camping stove to keep the playa dust out.
Okay, I only include this because people always wonder how we make all this work with our tiny little 1992 Saturn , how we get all our stuff out there, and what the best tent is for camping, especially out in the desert where winds can be verrrrry strong.
Firstly, this is our car and 5'x8' trailer; namely, Orbie and Whitey. :)
Bring your patience -- you will almost always have to wait in looooong lines to get in.
Why do I recommend you invest in a small trailer like this? Because not only can you fit TONS OF SHIT in it, but you can finagle your car and trailer to make one corner of your camp. Here's our camp from the outside.
You can see the angle of our car and trailer. Our tent is on the left of the photo. And we have a 10'x10' shade structure.
Here's an inside view of our camp.
See the camp kitchen in the foreground of the pic? It's always located there, on the end. You'll want it on the end too because it IS a fire hazard after all. But set up so the person manning the whole area can be under the shade.
Home Sweet Playa Home.
We used an old 10-man army tent for YEARS. But it got so freaking hot in there during the day, that when the zipper broke and it started ripping we did our research and purchased a Kodiak tent.
OMG - the thing is gorgeous. Super duper easy to put up and take down because there are just 3 main poles -- one across the top and one on each side. And it stays relatively cool (all things considered) during the day.
Survival aside, I love it because it's big enough to stand up in, and I can fit a long table inside that helps to keep us organized. And if the weather gets super sucky, we can pull a couple chairs inside and eat at the table. And the tent comes with a couple nets that you hang inside -- we toss things up there like our big fake fur coats, hats, gloves, etc, to keep those hot mo-fo's out of the way until we need them at night.
I hope this article has helped to give you a few ideas you can use for getting organized for making Burning Man food -- and of course, most of the info is helpful for any type of camping situation you find yourself in.
Have a blast! Watch the speed traps. And land sakes, people, don't dump your garbage on the side of the road after the Burning Man event!
Please feel free to ask any questions you have in the Facebook commenting section below.
Oh! And be sure to check out this article over at Mighty Goods with some spot-on tips from 12 more experienced Burners who share their best packing advice.
I especially love the advice from Catherine about getting a super easy bike lock with a key attached to a bracelet on your wrist. That's what we do, too. I've seen so many people out there with combo locks that end up hard to spin due to the dust working its way in. Specifically, we use spiral key rings like this one which you can wear on your wrist or pull up to your upper arm, easily hang somewhere in your camp, etc.