Food at Burning Man
We eat well during our Burn. Life is easy with an RV with a fridge and a microwave. But most of the advice below works well with a tent and a good stove.
What We Eat
Our Main Meals
We bring one solid meal for every night, and we are super lazy about it. The morning before leaving we buy 10 full dinners from our favorite Indian and Thai restaurants. All curries and other dishes of similar consistency. We then freeze the food as described below under Food Safety.
We also order a pizza, let it cool for around 90 minutes. With then divvy it up into snack sized servings and bag it in one gallon ziplock bags.
Finally, we round out our pre-prepared food with some breakfast items — three breakfast burritos per person or so, which can just be microwaved, or alternatively heated in a pan with an ajar lid under low heat for a while.
We always bring some tortillas and cheese for easy quesadilla, a few cans of soup (which usually go un-eaten), and a bunch of granola bars (which usually get eaten).
Pudding cups make for easy snacks and desserts.
Salted nuts, quesadilla smoked almonds make great backpack snacks for riding around the Playa, and provide needed salt. They taste good in the heat and cold, so if you like nuts, especially smoked almonds at home, bring some to the desert.
Coffee is an important part of my life. I fancy myself having a sophisticated palate, and all that crap. But for many years my experience of coffee in the dessert was an absolute failure. Making it in a pot in an RV is messy, especially if rushed or intoxicated. I tried freezing espresso in cubes and heating it up…. worked ok, and it’s something you might want to try.
And I hate to put this into print, but at Burning Man I bring a nespresso style coffee maker. It’s the only time of the year I use it, given it’s expensive, environmentally uncool and makes so-so espresso. But my time from zero to espresso is around 2 minutes, with no stove use.
I also buy a lot of cans of iced espresso, my favorite is Rise Brewing Co.. I don’t do this crap at home. But at Burning Man, it’s a ritual and it works well.
Hey, But Why Aren’t We Talking About Drugs!
Ok, so for the most part Trippingly is devoted to MDMA and LSD, so here are a few thoughts on drugs and food on the Playa. First, if you like eating something at home while high, you’ll probably like it on the Playa. Second, if you end up doing MDMA at Burning Man and you tend to grind your jaw, or do other weird stuff with your mouth, spicy food may become challenging for you. Test this at home — roll and then order spicy food the next day. If it hurts, be mindful that you have food you’ll want to eat on the Playa. It would be a real bummer if your entire food source was a bunch of spicy Indian and Thai meals and it hurts like hell to eat them. Yes, we learned this one the hard way.
Finally, people often don’t want to eat much after doing MDMA, especially if it’s speedy. Be darn sure to force yourself to eat at the end of the roll and the next day. Unlike normal life, you are already running on low calories at Burning Man and you really can’t afford to skip eating for a day. We find things that are small but highly caloric work well as we come down from a roll - a good glass of pineapple juice works well for us, despite the mouth burn. But test a few things at home! The next day try some fatty meals, like pizza or mac and cheese to keep your calorie count high enough without having to put too much bulk in your stomach.
Here are more general thoughts about drugs on the Playa.
Packing and Storing Food
Packing Up the Food
Packing and handling your food properly is critical to ensure your food remains safe throughout Burning Man. As described below, we vacuum seal our food in a simple way that requires no special equipment and our food stays frozen beyond the last day of the event.
We load each meal into a one gallon freezer safe ziplock bag, We fill a cooler with water and a lot of ice. We then remove all the air from the ziplock bags using this technique, and keep all the ziplock bags in the water until they are completely cool. So long as there’s plenty of ice in the water bath, the food will be right at the freezing point. This takes around 30 minutes and a lot of ice (a full bag). We then dry off each bag, put it in a second gallon zip lock freezer bag for extra safety (both zippers facing the same direction) and tranfer to our freezer. In a few hours all bags will be frozen solid.
Note, it is important to do the ice bath step, not only to vacuum seal your food, but also to make sure your freezer can handle all the meals you are putting in there. If you were to just put the hot bags in the freezer, your freezer would quickly defrost, causing a food hazard for all the food that’s in there, including your Burning Man meals.
For Pizza we let it cool until the cheese sets up, which usually takes less than an hour. We then separate pieces on with paper towel and wrap in cling film, before putting it in a ziplock bag and freezing it using the techniques described above.
We also make breakfast burritos and individually freeze them in the same manner.
The vacuum seal method not only prevents freezer burn, it also retard bacterial growth since it is a low/no oxygen environment. Note: It’s critical to keep food at the proper (cold) temperature, regardless of the vacuum seal.
How to Keep it Cold: Cooler Techniques
Once our food is frozen in the freezer, the morning we are leaving for the burn we pack up our RV fridge, and two Coleman Xtreme coolers. There are two main techniques we have used over the years, and we’ll discuss both, but we have gravitated to the simple, two cooler, both frozen technique.
We start with at least two coolers always, regardless of how much food we are bringing, because we divide our food into “the first half” and “the second half” piles. The second half food goes into a cooler, which is firmly sealed and not opened until mid week at Burning Man.
Both coolers are packed the same. First we freeze ice in freezer safe zip lock bags, using different sizes ranging from one gallon to one quart. We freeze them flat so they are each only about 1 or 1.5 inches high when frozen.
We put a layer of zip lock bags with around an inch of ice on the bottom, which keeps our food out of any water that may somehow leak out of a zip lock bag during the event. Then we start putting in the food, doing layers of food, then ice, then food. At the top we add a small layer of dry ice (around 10 lbs), which we cover with newspaper to ensure it doesn’t touch the cooler at all (contact can break the cooler). We are careful to try to pack the ice baggies all around the food so there are no major air pockets.
We then insert a fridge themometer like this one in the cooler. This allows us to see the temperature of the cooler without opening it, and has an alarm if the temp rises above a safe level. Trust us on this one…. this is money well spent and absolutely critical for your second half of the week cooler, which won’t be opened to see ice levels until later in the week. An undetected problem there, and half your food is bad.
We pack our second half cooler exactly the same way, but once it’s fully packed we tape the seam with duct tape. If you are using dry ice, it’s critical that you open the drain plug to allow the expanding gas from the dry ice to escape. Otherwise this might happen. Put a little cup under the drain plug once you camp to make sure you get any condensation that might drip out. But if you’ve done a good job bagging your ice, you will get only a tiny amount of water come out. Note, once the dry ice is gone, you can close the drain plug. You’ll be able to detect this without opening the cooler. When you first pack the cooler, the temperature will be well below freezing. We typically get a temperature of around 0 F for around 36-48 hours after we pack the cooler, and then the temperature rises as the dry ice has evaporated. Note, we use a small amount of dry ice given the cost…. if you are using more it may well last longer.
Once both coolers are packed and the second half cooler is taped up, we throw some heavy blankets over the coolers. This really helps to insulate the coolers further. We also put a few frozen ziplock ice bags in our freezer. Each morning when we pull food out of our active cooler, we will switch some of the melting bags for the freshly frozen bags in our freezer. The freezer doesn’t always keep up with the rate of melting in our cooler, and that’s fine. We only need the first cooler to stay frozen until mid week, and it always does. The second cooler is usually still close to fully frozen by the time we open it mid week. Properly executed, you’ll be surprised at how much ice you still have on the last day. But worse case, you can always buy some ice at Camp Arctica if your ice strategy is falling short.
Food Handling: Un-Freezing Food
We start our trip by putting our first two days of frozen meals in the RV fridge to defrost. This keeps the RV fridge cold without using much LP or electricity and by the time we finish our 12 hour drive and get in line, we are ready for our first meal. We continue throughout the week to pull out food once a day out of our active cooler and throw it in the RV fridge. Note, if you don’t have a fridge, consider bringing a third cooler which can be used for defrosting purposes, and be sure to use a temperature gauge to maintain a safe food temp (below 40F).
When we are ready to eat, we’ll use either the microwave or a pot to heat up the food. If using the microwave we always remove the outer layer zip lock bag carefully before opening the inner bag — this keeps cross contamination to an absolute minimum. Always be sure to wash your hands well before doing food prep, and as an extra safety precaution, throw on some latex gloves. Let’s face it, if you are conserving water in the RV, you aren’t getting your hands as clean as they should be for food prep.
An Alternative Cooler Strategy.
In our early days we used a different cooler strategy, primarily because it sounded cool. Over the years we have abandoned this, but others swear by it, so here it is.
You still need two coolers, but all your food will go into one of them, along with frozen water bags. The second cooler will be packed with a lot of dry ice (we would do around 50 lbs, plus bags of frozen water (ziplock freezer bags). Every day in the morning you will pull out the now melting freezer bags from your food cooler and put them in the dry ice cooler to refreeze, while pulling the frozen bags out of the dry ice cooler and putting them in the food cooler. Repeat every day.
This strategy works well, however, you have to open both coolers every day, losing a fair amount of efficiency in the process. In contrast, our current strategy only has one cooler opening every day, and in practice has resulted in us always having frozen food on the last day.