What Will You Eat?

As most of you know, we are 'Strict Vegetarians' (Vegans who still wear leather). We are asked 'So what do you eat?' on a regular basis, but even more frequently so in connection with hiking, as the many of the mainstays of trekking vittles (Kraft Dinner, Various Jerkys, Cheese Blocks, Butter, &c.) are decidedly animal-containing. Though it is possible to subsist on granola and GORP alone, the monotony would be hard to bear on a trip of this duration.

There are options, of course. For starters, some of the other mainstays (Unfrosted Pop-Tarts, Oriental Flavored Top Ramen, Jell-O Instant Pudding) ARE, in fact, vegan. There's a good list here of readymade and easily obtainable things that are free of animal products. However, many of these foods, though high in calories, are relatively low in nutrition and contain all sorts of fun stuff that's hard to pronounce.

Though we'll certainly be eating our share of pudding and pop tarts, the thought of trying to subsist for 3500+ calories per day on Top Ramen is distressing, and dehydrated backpacking meals are ridiculously expensive and usually have quite a lot of packaging. Solution? Like many things, do it yourself. We figure we'll be out and about for at least 180 days, some of which will be spent in towns haunting all-you-can-eat buffets. So about 150 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for two are needed. Additionally they'll need to be easy to prepare, lightweight, and relatively high calorie, not to mention nutritious.

Step One: Make a bunch of something.

Here's some Cheez-o (cheese that's not cheese at all, rather it's made of a concoction of tofu, beans, miso and other yummy things) that will be taking the place of Kraft Dinner. This pot contains enough Cheez-o for about 16 2-person meals. As you can see it's quite large, unwieldy, and certainly not light.

Step Two: Dehydrate the something you just made.

Dehydrating food is nothing new. Most food contains predominantly water and becomes lighter and smaller upon its removal (think banana chips, sundried tomatoes, raisins). Conveniently, almost anything can be dehydrated. Beany stews become powdery, tomato sauce turns into a pasta-flavored fruit-roll-up, hummus turns to powder. All you need is a dehydrator and some time. There are many plans for making your own dehydrator (1|2|3), and a lot of appliances out there, but my all-time favourite is the Excalibur Food Dehydrator. It's relatively quiet and efficient compared to other products, and you can fit an awful lot of stuff in it at one time. Here it is in action drying out some peas and mixed veggies for instant samosa filling.

Step Three: Parcel out the now dried food.

Divide it up and put it in a Ziploc or something. I like the FoodSaver, as it vacuum seals all the meals and they stay fresh for a lot longer. Downsides to this are that the bags are heavier than sandwich bags, and sort of expensive. They also only come in a few widths, resulting in some oblong packaging. But when hiking, food often becomes the motivator for the second half of your day, and I personally believe the extra freshness will count for far more than a few tenths of an ounce in pack weight. Plus you can reuse the vacuum bags if you wash them out.

Step Four: Label and Date.

Here are a few of our finished meals. We'll be eating these for most lunches and pretty much all dinners. The lunches are mostly dips and spreads for eating on pita, tortilla, crackers, whatever, and rehydrate without heating. The dinners are predominantly stews, curries, and sauces for pasta.

Step Five: Repeat. A lot. Six months is a lot of food!

Here are our meals. There are a lot of 'em, and the samples (to test freshness, ease of preparation, &c. have been well worth the trouble.

Though we've posted parts of it before, here's a more complete list of our meal choices:

Lunches: White Bean Hummus, Samosa Dip, Black Bean Hummus, Refried Beans, Regular Hummus (Chickpea), Sundried Tomato and Herb Hummus, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchilada Filling

Dinners: Southwestern Three Bean Chili, New Orleans Red Beans and Rice (Homemade, not Zatarains!), Misir Wot (Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew), Coconut Lentil Curry, Spinach and Chickpea Curry, Cincinnati Style Chili, Sloppy Lennies (Joes sans beef), Jamaican Peas and Rice, Pasta with Tomato Sauce, Pasta with creamy pesto sauce, Three-Bean Dal, Chipotle and Corn stew, Boston Baked Beans, and of course Macaroni and Cheez-o.

For those out there who wonder how we know what to make, the recipes are mostly mine, pieced together from countless other recipes and a lot of mistakes. Good recipe sources are Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson, the Post-Punk Kitchen by Isa Chandra Moskovitz, and the Internets. Pretty much anything you want can be Veganized if you're clever, careful, and prepared to scrap it and start over if it doesn't work out.

Some things dehydrate well, others don't. Anything too oily won't solidify - try leaving the oils out and carrying some olive oil to add upon rehydration. Also with soups and such, of course don't add any more water than you need to to cook it... you can always add it back when it's time to cook and eat. I've had success with adding some already-dry ingredients (TVP, spices) at the end of drying: for example, the Cincinnati Chili was brittle and hard to package without puncturing the bag when cooked together and then dried. I made a big batch of just the sauce, and dried that, packaging it with the already-dry TVP and some dehydrated beans (for you purists out there, it's an already-mixed-up four way, no cheese. I know the beans and onions belong on top), and the results are quite good, actually better than when it was dehydrated all-together. Experiment and see.

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