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Vegetarian Journal May/June 2001

PRODUCT REVIEW

Guide to Backpacking and Camping Food

Reed Mangels, PhD, RD


Do you have any plans for camping or backpacking this summer? What kinds of food are you planning to take? When I think of foods to take backpacking or camping, I consider flavor, convenience, and cost. Nutrition is an issue too, although less so if the trip is only for a couple of days. Vegetarian meals can be quick and easy, tasty, varied, lightweight, use little fuel, and inexpensive. What more could you want? In this issue of Vegetarian Journal we'll look at some handy ideas and products for campers and backpackers. Many of these products are also useful for quick meals, when traveling, and during power outages.

A quick search of the web turns up numerous companies producing freeze-dried foods for backpacking, some of which are vegetarian. These are certainly an option, but many vegetarians discover that they can find plenty of foods for camping and backpacking at their local store. We'll focus on some of the more readily available products for camping and backpacking.

SOUPS AND BOIL-IT-UP MEALS

Ramen noodles are one of my favorite camping foods. WESTBRAE NATURALS makes a number of flavors of ramen noodles. They cook in 5 minutes, and with the addition of vegetables and tofu cubes or dried beans, they're a meal in a pot. Try to use less than the whole seasoning packet to reduce the sodium; half a packet provides plenty of flavor. For vegetables, if I'm only gone for a few days, I may pack some vegetables that don't crush easily, like carrots, potatoes, and zucchini. For longer trips, I buy dehydrated vegetables in the bulk foods section of my natural foods store. they are sometimes labeled "soup mix". A few dried chinese mushrooms could also add variety. If I want to take tofu with me, I take a box or two of aseptically packed tofu so I don't have to worry about refridgeration.

Some campers enjoy a cup of hot soup. TASTE ADVENTURES makes Split Pea Soup and Curry Lentil Soup that just need boiling water and 5 minutes. Taste Adventure also makes 4 kinds of vegan chili that cook in 10 minutes. Finally, you can also bring a vegetarian broth powder and make your own hot drink, adding dehydrated vegetables and tofu cubes if you like.

VRG's Consumer Research Manager, Davida Gypsy Breier, recommends TASTY BITE Indian vegetarian meals for camping. These meals do not need refridgeration and can be easily prepared-- you just drop the bag (or bags) into boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes and they're ready. Flavors include Punjab Eggplant, Bombay Potatoes, and Bengal Lentils. Tasty Bite also makes Thai Vegetarian Entrees. Note that not all products are vegan. TASTE ADVENTURE'S Quick Cuisine products feature precooked rice and beans and are ready in 10 minutes. Vegan flavors include Louisiana Red Bean Jambalaya, Lentil and Rice Bombay Curry, and Black Beans and Rice Santa Fe Fiesta.

Meals or soups in a cup are definitely convenient foods but they may be too bulky for many backpackers and campers. You can make them less bulky, either by purchasing meals in a cup, opening them, and repackaging them in plastic bags, or by making your own meal using couscous, dried bean flakes, and spices. Products generally are ready in 10 minutes or less. FANTASTIC FOODS makes many vegetarian meals in a cup. Additional companies to try include HEALTH VALLEY, DR. McDOUGALL'S, SPICE HUNTER, and NILE SPICE.

QUICK GRAINS AND EASY MEALS

Want to do a little more than just add water? Try products like quick brown rice and couscous along with quick-cooking lentils for a filling entree. Be sure to pack some spices to add flavor. LUNDBERG FAMILY FARMS makes Quick Brown Rice that cooks in 15 minutes (both plain and flavored) as well as one-step rice and lentil entrees. Whole wheat couscous is available in the bulk foods department of many stores and only needs to stand for 5 minutes after boiling water is added. Other quick-cooking grains are quinoa (10-15 minutes) and bulgur (20 minutes). Lentils, including red lentils and split peas, are dried beans that do not need to be soaked before cooking and that need less cooking time than most dried beans. Other dried beans can be cooked on a camp stove, but their long cooking times require more fuel.

Instant mashed potatoes can provide a change, either served as is or made into patties and fried. BARBARA'S mashed potatoes are ready in 5 minutes and can be seasoned to suit your taste.

Other quick and easy meals include many FANTASTIC FOODS products. Want Mexican food? You just mix Fantastic Foods Instant Black Beans or Instant Refried Beans with boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve on crackers or use as a dip with vegetables or chips. Humus is even easier. All you have to do is add water to a package of Fantastic Foods Hummus or Pesto Hummus mix, stir, and eat. CASBAH'S Baba Ganoush also involves adding water and waiting 5 minutes. Feel like a burger? Try Fantastic Foods Nature's Burger or Falafel mixes. Add water, wait 15 minutes, shape into patties, and fry.

Some campers swear by pasta. The only drawback is that you have to bring a fairly large pot and then wait while the whole pot of water heats. If you want to go the pasta route, try one of the more quick cooking pastas like angel hair or orzo. Rehydrate some TVP and add tomato paste, water, onions, maybe some dried mushrooms, and seasonings for a sauce. There are also vegan pasta mixes like ROAD'S END ORGANICS Macaroni and Chreese, Shells and Chreese, and Penne and Chreese, all of which cook in 8-11 minutes.

SNACK FOODS AND TREK FOODS

Good snack foods for camping include trail mix (your favorite mixture of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds), fruit leather (STRETCH ISLAND makes fruit leather from organic fruit), wasabi peas, sesame sticks, and granola (homemeade or commercial). Fresh fruit, like apples and oranges, can add variety. TOFURKY Jurky and STONEWALL'S Jerquee are other snacks that are vegan, good sources of protein and iron, and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They do not require refrigeration.

Many backpackers are looking for high calorie foods because of the large amounts of energy they need to keep going. Nut butters are a concentrated source of calories and can be spread on crackers, bread, fruit, carrot and celery sticks, or just on a finger. Dried fruits, granola, and nuts also provide lots of calories in a small package. Adding some oil to foods or cooking with a little added oil are other ways to add calories if you need to.

BREAKFAST FOODS

Breakfast foods for camping can be as simple as grabbing a few handfuls of granola or as elaborate as homemade pancakes. You can combine dry ingredietns before leaving home and just add water at the campsite, or pack a pancake mix (ARROWHEAD MILLS Blue Corn is vegan and has organic ingredients) and some powdered egg replacer (EVER-G is a commonly available brand). Instant oatmeal is another easy breakfast idea. Several companies including ARROWHEAD MILLS, NATURE'S PATH, and EREWHON make individual packets of instant oatmeal that come in a variety of flavors and are made with organically produced ingredients. HEALTH VALLEY, DR. McDOUGALL'S , and FANTASTIC FOODS all make cups of hot cereal that you can repackage. If you want soymilk for your oatmeal or granola, and don't want to carry aseptic boxes, try BETTER THAN MILK powdered soymilk or SOLAIT soymilk; you can just pack the amount you think you'll need. Couscous with dried fruit is another good hot cereal for breakfast; you just add boiling water and wait a few minutes.

AROUND THE CAMPFIRE

What's camping without hot chocolate? You can either make your own mix before leaving home by using cocoa, a dry sweetener, and powdered milk (soy or cow's), or take a prepared mix with you. COUNTRY CHOICE makes Organic Soy Cocoa in Royal Chocolate and Irish Chocolate Mint flavors in canisters or individual packets. WHOLE KIDS Organic Hot Chocolate mix and LAKE CHAMPLAIN Hot Cocoa can also be purchased in multi-serving cans or in individual packets and do not cotain any dairy products.

CONCLUSION

Many of the convenience foods that are available for backpackers and campers contain lots of sodium-- too much, in my opinion. What can you do? One idea is to check labels and choose the products that are lower in sodium. If you make your own convenience foods using quick-cooking dried beans and grains, you can better control the amount of sodium in your food. If a product comes with a flavor packet, try not to use the entire thing; flavor packets are often mostly salt. Lastly, contact manufacturers and let them know that you appreciate the fact that they make vegetarian foods that taste good buy you wish they'd reduce the amount of sodium they use in their products.

One of the very best websites I've found on camping ideas for vegetarians is The Back Country Recipe Book at www.gorp.com. It does have non-vegetarian recipes also, but it provides a wealth of information for vegetarians.

I couldn't end this article without a few requests. Please pack your trash out; don't bury it or burn it (foil doesn't burn). Don't wash dishes in a stream or lake or even close to a stream or lake. Try to think about your impact on the environment and make it as minimal as possible. Summer is almost here. Why not take a hike and enjoy some vegetarian foods?


Excerpts from the May/June 2001 Issue


The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.



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April 13, 2001

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