This summer I will be attending TTITD (That Thing in the Desert, aka Burning Man) for the fifth time. Eating healthy is challenging when you’re camping in an extreme environment, and when your diet is more specific than “healthy” it’s an even bigger challenge. Last summer I did not do so well in planning my nutritional needs, and ended up fatigued–more often than not (the 100°+ temps didn’t help much either!). This year I will be following the Paleo diet while camping at Burning Man.
Why I eat the way I do
One of the major reasons people change their lifestyle is due to a serious health condition. Even though I had worked at Weight Watchers for almost a decade, I still struggled with eating well.
To help with my health issue, the first phase my doctor ordered me to do was “clean eating.” Something that was ahead of any Weight Watcher plan at that time, and just before it became “trendy.” It meant cutting out processed foods and focusing on adding healthy, whole foods. This did help me manage my health.
But soon the doctor realized that I had other issues going on (autoimmune/digestive stuff), so I had to step up my dietary restrictions. My diet can best be explained as an anti-inflammatory program–not AIP, more like Paleo and no night-shades. Paleo means no dairy, no grains (more than no wheat…but “healthy” quinoa too, and no rice!), no sugar, and no legumes (no more black beans, no more peanut butter, and no chickpeas/hummus). Night shades are a botanical species called Solonaceae. They include potatoes, peppers (bell & hot), tomatoes, eggplants, goji berries, and even tobacco (not that I eat tobacco, but I guess there’s a good reason to keep avoiding it).
As you can see, I’ve been having quite the nutritional adventure. Shifting my outlook, I’ve learned to focus on the positives: what I can eat; learning “kitchen confidence” (or how to cook); learning about nutrition; and learning many new dishes!
Do The Best You Can
It’s also about doing the best I can…I don’t have any food allergies (well, except red wine…so I know the difference between a food allergy reaction and an inflammatory reaction). Every now and then I do have foods that I’m not “supposed” to – like rice (or rice flour) or other things. Usually in small amounts it’s okay. If you’ve been reading my stories for a while, you also know chocolate is my ‘spirit’ food, so it would take a huge reason to give that up!
Camping in the desert food challenges
Following a restrictive diet is one thing, but camping in the desert with limited food choices is another. Last year I learned the hard way that I have to be more careful with self-care. I ended up afterwards diagnosed with adrenal fatigue (similar to chronic stress syndrome).
I am fortunate that I camp with a large camp (200 people) and we have our own kitchen tent complete with refrigerators, grills and a 500 gallon potable water tank. The camp offers dinner every day, and with 200 people it offers meat and vegetarian options. I have been able to usually pick from that for a decent meal. Which means I need to ship out from New York, or buy in Reno, enough paleo/desert friendly food for the two weeks I am at Burning Man (and the prior build week).
Paleo Packing List for the shipping container bin
Here is a round up of what I will be packing & shipping out to Burning Man this year. Please note – I often refer to Costco and Stop & Shop as they are the stores near me. I do have an affiliation with Amazon, and because it’s easy, I’m including links in case you’re interested in learning more about the products or buying them for your healthy lifestyle adventures.
Nuun tablets – these are the lowest sugar tablets I could find. I like the variety of flavors. Their packaging makes it easy to carry around with me all day. I often gift a tablet to other attendees. Drinking all the required water can get boring, so the change up in tastes is nice.
Herbal infusions – Nettle, Comfrey Leaf, Oatstraw and Red Clover. To help ensure I get enough of the nutrients that I need, this year I plan on bringing dried herbs and a gallon container to make infusions. Think of infusions as being like tea that steeps for 4-6 hours, and is loaded with easily digested vitamins and minerals. Previously I brought Nettle tea bags, until I learned that it doesn’t make nearly the nutrient punch that an infusion does!
Teas – one bad habit I slip back into tends to be drinking coffee. When available, I’ll drink it with coconut milk (has a better milk consistency than almond milk, in my opinion). Otherwise I’ve developed a taste for black coffee. To replace my coffee habit, I’ve explored teas.
Yogi Tea makes two kinds of “Stress Relief” teas I will bring out: Honey lavender and Kava. I also buy Pu’erh tea in bulk, adding cacao powder (finely ground chocolate beans) for a little kick. I’m also going to experiment with a Turmeric tea by The Republic of Tea (which is also called Golden Milk if you make it with milk or coconut milk). I love these handy little packets! Turmeric spice is an excellent anti-inflammatory, helps with digestive issues and is also recognized by the National Cancer Institute as an anti-carcinogen.
Assorted salted nuts & seeds – out in the desert, salted anything tastes better as well as helps keep you hydrated. Since I can’t eat potato chips, nuts & seeds are my salty go-to snack. Pepitas (a kind of pumpkin seed) and sunflower work well alone or mixed in with nuts. I’m not sure if hemp hearts belong in this category, but they add good crunch on salads (where I can’t have the dressings.) Pistachios are bought pre-shelled, to create less trash. I pack them in small plastic baggies, and after use the baggies for picking up found bits of garbage. Burning Man has a principal of “Leave No Trace” which means everything you pack in, you bring back out. Including all the garbage you create. Keeping this to a minimum is good to remember ahead of time. The less packaging (or shells) the better.
Nut butters – While Costco does have a good size jar of almond butter, I prefer to bring the small packets by Justin. They make almond butter as well as hazelnut with chocolate. The packets are great for throwing in my day back for an easy way to tame hunger pangs.
Dried fruits – I like mixing craisins in with my nut mixtures. Mangos have that certain tang I find appealing. I’ve tried freeze-dried fruits, but they aren’t very filling. I try not to bring too much dried fruit, as it gets to be a bit too much sugar (even natural sugars I have limits with, as my body is now sensitive to them).
Portable applesauce – speaking of fruit, one thing that even non-paleo people like are the baby-food packets of applesauce. The Gogo brand has flavors which add mango, peach or berries. The packaging, while maybe not incredibly earth-friendly, is easier than the plastic cups versions.
Organic roasted seaweed – Costco sells these for a decent price. The salt in them is satisfying. The packaging is not. All that plastic ends up being bulky and useless afterwards. Along the seaweed line, I also will bring organic kelp granules (Sea Seasonings). Dulse is a sea vegetable that can be a snack, or I hear can be cooked up like bacon. These are great sources for iodine and dietary fiber.
Paleo snacks – there are three available from Costco that I like. Kirkland brand Cashew Clusters (with almonds and pumpkin seeds); Thrive Tribe Paleo Bites (which offers omega-3s); and Made in Nature brand Figgy Pops Nutter & Jelly for those times when it seems everyone is having a PB&J sandwich but you. To add more green to my snack profile, I’ll be bringing some Brad’s crunchy kale (I like the original flavor made with vegan cheese, which I buy at my local Stop & Shop)
Non-granola bars – I am still experimenting with these. My favorite brands that I bring to local outings and meetings are RXBar or Larabars. One little bar is very filling. But, they tend to get mushy in heat, and I’m thinking in the desert they will melt too much. Kind has finally made some bars that are paleo-friendly, and I’ve found some other brands which may also fit the bill (raw food is more extreme in food lifestyles, but I’ve found some decent snack bars in that category).
Grain-free granola – A while ago I was surprised and found a grain-free granola at Costco called Autumn’s Gold. Surprising too because this ‘paleo-certified” breakfast food is made by General Mills. I hope Costco keeps carrying it, because I haven’t been able to find it elsewhere. If not, it may be another item I adventure into learning how to make myself. Note- the item on Amazon is way more expensive than at Costco. If you can’t find it in a store, check out the other grain free granolas on Amazon that seem more reasonably priced.)
Powdered greens – in an attempt to keep up with the amount of green goodness my body requires, I’ll be bringing packets of Garden of Life’s Green Superfood. I will test out how to best mix this before I go (at home I usually put into my blender with my fruit smoothies). I may try mixing them with coconut water to find out if it will taste better. I’ve also discovered Amazing Grass Belly Elixer. It contains adaptogens (plant extracts that help the body resist the effects of stress…and in some cases, gives energy).
All the Meat
Proteins – this is where I’ll have the easiest time. There is a lot of meat that I can eat out there. Recently a camp chef invited me to his camp (“Rootpile“) for pork butt (thanks Andy O!), and another (Catherine) invited me to a camp called “Camp Charcuterie” which gifts many yummy things I can eat!
I’ve become well-versed in different jerkys. The best are Epic bars, which offer bison, turkey as well as grass-fed beef. There are a couple of bacon jerkys out there, but I need to be careful they don’t contain pepper-based spices or soy sauce. Costco has started carrying a grass-fed beef jerky called Pacifico Gold (it’s not 100% paleo, because of using brown sugar, but close enough. It’s about doing the best you can, not perfection.) It’s a lot of meat – one pound! Who knows, I may even attempt to make my own jerky. Another Burning Man kitchen crew offered me the recipe and how to make my own at home (thanks Lauren).
Bone Broth protein powders – I learned about the goodness of a bone broth soup at last year’s Burning Man when a campmate, Diedre, offered me a cup after a rough morning. She says she’s been attempting paleo there for the past four years. Since then, I’ve tried bone broth soup at home on a regular basis. While shopping for protein powders last winter, I came across Ancient Nutrition’s brand. Theirs has no or very little sugar (hard to believe how much sugar, or artificial sugars, are put into protein powders!). The Pure and turmeric ones have zero sugar, but the peanut butter flavor or the French vanilla (1g sugar) are easier to use mixed in other places than a fruit smoothie.
There are some things that you can’t send in a shipping container. Before heading out to the desert, I’ll be shopping in Reno. They have a Walmart (sure, not the best chain in the world, but they have started offering organics – which helps get good food out to the masses), a Whole Foods and other places. I have to be careful with what I purchase, as my big cooler is on the shipping container (I will buy ice once out at Burning Man…one of the two things you can buy at the event).
- Hard boiled eggs…or even pickled eggs.
- White cabbage (to use the leaves instead of bread or taco shells)
- Coconut water, coconut milk (I’ve noticed they have the same amount of calories)
- Green juices (I brought some last year, which helped, but it isn’t enough nutrition having just one a day)
- Water, ice
- Soups (in boxes as cans make bigger garbage)
Other paleo foods to explore
Dierdre, who has been eating paleo at Burning Man for four years recommends I try:
– Fawen, a ready to drink soup made with veggies and coconut water
– LonoLife bone broth powders in easy to carry stick pouches
– freeze dried veggies and zero-carb noodles (made from seaweed and konjac fiber)