Forget Vegetarian Cooking While Camping
Adventures with serious vegetarian camp cooking
I’m not a veteran camper and far from an expert on campsite cookery. I’ve been camping maybe 10 times in my 65 years, for a total of about 3 months. However, most of my camping involved vegetarian cooking. So naturally I feel qualified to talk about it.
My camping experiences have ranged from extremely primitive: a makeshift plastic shelter on a windy beach on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island at age 21, to almost civilized: a modern campground in Florida with hot showers, washers & dryers, electrical hookups, every kind of store and restaurant nearby, even primitive wi-fi at the nature center.
That was the latest experience, 2 weeks tent camping at Oscar Scherer State Park in Dec. 2011. I don’t think that will be my last experience tent camping because I still love sleeping on the ground in the fresh air. But I hope it will be my last experience with serious vegetarian cooking while camping.
I’ve come to the conclusion that to really enjoy all the perks of camping: fresh air, hiking, swimmng, boating, watching wildlife, lying on the beach, sitting around the campfire, gazing at the stars, doing nothing, it’s absolutely necessary to spend almost no time cooking.
Let me tell you what led me to that drastic state of cooking negation, so foreign to my nature.
I love food, and normally I love cooking. It takes up a big chunk of my day, maybe 3 hours with cleanup, plus food shopping a couple hours a week. It’s all for worthy causes – testing and developing recipes for Savvy Vegetarian, feeding us tasty healthy food so we age gracefully and blissfully, plus a creative outlet.
Cooking is pretty easy when you have a modern kitchen with electric lights, hot & cold running water, a good stove, and lots of gadgets & appliances.
But when you’re camping, trying to eat even a stripped-down version of your usual diet takes 3 times as long and is 10 times as difficult. I’m a well-supplied (okay – over-supplied) camper, and pretty organized and energetic if I do say so, but I found myself spending most of my day in camp on food preparation.
That was because of my husband’s special dietary needs, and because I and our fellow campers are in the habit of eating well. My husband is handicapped, and this was his first time ever camping at age 69. It was great for him to have the experience, and he was a very good sport. He hardly complained at all about freezing his fanny off sleeping on the ground in a tent, and peeing in a bottle at night – we all did that, rather than stumble around in the dark.
But if he goes camping with me again, diet or no diet, he’ll eat tofu dogs and other fake meat, canned beans, ramen noodles, instant rice, bread, nut butter, instant oatmeal, pre-washed & cut raw veggies & salads, fresh fruit & nuts – because that’s what you can do in the total daily cooking time I have in mind: 30 minutes tops. There will be lots of eating out, on the way to and from the nearest beach.
And there will be no running to Walmart to buy the cooking equipment and supplies that I deliberately left at home.
This last camping trip, it was absurd. There were four of us camping. We brought 3 tents, a mini-fridge, big & little coolers, 2 power strips, extension cords, double hot plate, crockpot, coffee maker, electric frying pan, spice grinder (yes!), pressure cooker, 5 pans of various sizes, a variety of knives and utensils and dishes and other kitchen equipment. Our handy friend Ken rigged up a light on a pole so we could see to cook and eat dinner (it gets dark early in Dec, even in Florida, and battery powered lanterns don’t do the job).
We were barely able to squeeze all the stuff we brought into the spacious rear seat and cargo area of a Toyota Sienna van and a roof top carrier. There was no room to see out the back window of the car, we had to use the mirrors. The only reason we didn’t bring even more stuff was because we would have had to carry it on our laps for 1400 miles, or tie it behind the car.
As for the time I spent on food prep, it wasn’t that I was the only one cooking or cleaning up. Everybody did their share. It just took s-o-o-o darn long to do everything! And that was civilized camping. The only thing more civilized about it would have been to rent an RV, but I’d rather cook in a motel room than drive one of those things around.
About the time I went camping for a month on the beach on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island: we backpacked everything in with us, slept on the sand under a plastic shelter, cooked over an open fire, walked about a million miles, and I lost 10 lbs I didn’t need to lose. It was like one of those survivor shows on TV, only without the drama. I shudder to think of it, and have never had the urge to repeat the experience.
There is a happy medium to eating vegetarian successfully while camping, and I think I’ve just about figured out what it is. I’m pretty sure the secret is to forget trying to cook while camping. Maybe the next camping trip I’ll get it right, and I’ll have more time to work on my fitness and my tan, instead of spending most of the day producing food in far less than ideal conditions.
Even the most enthusiastic cook needs a holiday from the kitchen. What better time than when you’re staying at a place that doesn’t even have a kitchen?!