by Danny while enjoying a fresh-picked orange from a friend’s backyard in southern California
As a family in Washington, D.C., we tried as much as we could to eat food that was raised or grown locally and organically. In my experience with eating local, organic food, I tend to feel better physically and I rest better knowing that not a lot of fossil fuels were burned to get our food to the table. As we began to contemplate living for a time in the van, one of the first commitments that we made was to NOT eat fast food. We didn’t eat hardly any fast food in DC, but we did find ourselves in a Wendy’s or an Arby’s from time to time when we were on a road trip. We rarely planned ahead for meals on road trips and found very few other options for eating, so we would stop for fast food. Undoubtedly we all would complain about how we felt after eating it. It’s just not for us, I guess.
In addition to no fast food, we wanted to buy local, organic food to cook as we traveled, without completely blowing our budget. We have a two burner stove, a full set of pots and pans, as well as spices, oils, etc. to cook with. We did not see any reason why we couldn’t be whipping together delicious, organic meals that were local to the region in which we were traveling. We envisioned pulling into the local farmers market in whatever town we were in and stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables and sustainably-raised meats.
So how has it been going, you ask? Well, in the nearly 3 months that we have been on the road, we have not eaten fast food even once (our bodies are saying, “can I get a woot woot?”). However, we have found the local food commitment much harder to maintain. Call us naïve, but eating local when you are not local has been extremely difficult. (At least until we arrived to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a different world up there and traveling through this area in the summer afforded us a bounty of local fruits, vegetables and meats – think locally caught wild salmon!).
Traveling through the northern Midwest states was particularly challenging. We didn’t come across many farm stands or organic stores generally. I recall keeping my eyes out for something tasty to spice up our dinner as we traveled through South Dakota. We didn’t see anything all day long. Finally, when we settled into our campsite along the Missouri River in Chamberlain, I headed out in search of some meat or veggies. I asked around, and was referred to the nearby gas station and the Dollar Store. I resorted to visiting the Dollar Store and buying a couple packages of sausage against all of my better judgment. However, the chances of me finding anything local or organic seemed slim, so mass-produced, factory sausage it was:).
Farmers markets and farm stands are great to stop at, but both tend to be open only a few days a week, and not necessarily according to our travel schedule. We generally have been able to Google organic markets, but as you know, these can be very expensive and so if you don’t know where to go, you could be spending an exorbitant amount of money and it may not even be local.
Also, given our limited ability to refrigerate and store fresh foods, we end up having to buy food every 2-3 days, which certainly complicates our food buying habits. Finally, we have been able to find local restaurants with healthy options, but quickly realized that eating out more than once a week or so can quickly get expensive.
So what have we learned, you ask? First, root vegetables have become our friend. We have consistently been able to find these at farm stands and local markets and they tend to keep longer. Root vegetables are delicious to roast over the fire in some tin foil, which can spice up just about any meal.
Leafy greens, on the other hand, don’t keep very long given our setup (no fridge, just a cooler). We haven’t abandoned them entirely though. Whenever we see it, we will usually buy some kale, chard or spinach and basically put it in everything we cook until it’s gone.
Second, we stock up on non-perishable items that can be spiced up with whatever local veggies or meats we are able to find. Canned beans, miso soup, ramen noodles (I learned from my brother Andrew that these are all the rage now and this has very much been the case for us on the road), pasta and pasta sauce, and lentils can all be found in our food cabinet regularly.
Lastly, in order to not break our always shrinking bank, we have learned when we’re on the road the benefit of stopping and preparing a meal from what we have rather than eating out. Because we travel with everything we need to prepare and cook food, rather than spending a bunch of money eating out, we can buy local ingredients (when available) and cook up a delicious meal for a fraction of the price.
What we need now are more delicious meal ideas. This is a shout out to all of you local foodies – we would love to hear from you about other meal ideas that you think would be fun to try on the road. Come on, dig deep and send us your ideas and maybe when we come your way, we can try it together:).