Somehow I lucked out and became a 27 year-old guy with strong organizational skills. Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t apply to all aspects of my life. I couldn’t tell you where to find my own wallet right now but could pull up a document that tracks every single penny of our food budget. So far, that is 35,747 pennies. I know where they all went, so I feel like that is pretty good.
To wrap up my two weeks of full-time food prep, I estimated the cost of all our remaining food, made a shopping list with specific amounts, and estimated how many food bags we will need to pack all forty days worth of food (200 was the somewhat educated guess). All we have left to do this spring is buy dry ingredients and pack food bags. It will probably take a few days, though. The only exception is that we still need to dehydrate the fatty foods (jerky and eggs) in the spring, since they won’t last as long. It feels like I’ve done a lot, but all I have to show for it are a few (9 to be precise) pounds of vegetables and about 6 dozen glass jars filled with dehydrated food, all labeled with their weight and contents.
Here are a few updates on the constraints I mentioned in my last post:
-Minimizing or eliminating the use of one-time use plastics:
Our original goal was to create no landfill waste. After a winter of food prep, I was left with 9 oz of landfill trash. When squished down, it was pretty close to the size of a softball. This trash included stickers from fruits and vegetables, a couple pieces of plastic wrap I experimented with early-on in the dehydrating process, plastic bags food had come in, and 5 pieces of parchment paper. All other waste ended up in my town’s single-stream recycling program (plastic and glass jars, boxes, cans, etc.), in my parent’s compost pile (lots of banana peels, pepper stems, and onion peels), or in my belly (kale stems, for example).
To be honest, some of this waste was produced simply because even though I’ve been super organized with this whole food pack, I can still be very spacy. On three separate occasions, I simply got distracted by an awesome deal and forgot to seek out foods that didn’t come in plastic. I discovered that parchment paper can be used over and over in a dehydrator. That was an accidental and awesome discovery. I used the same 5 sheets of parchment paper for at least 7 rounds of dehydrating. They ended up in the trash after I tried to dehydrate cheese on them (don’t recommend it).
The largest portion of landfill trash was intentional and conscious. I have discovered that it is really hard to buy some ingredients in anything but a plastic bag. The simple explanation is that a sealed plastic bag preserves food well. Nuts are a great example of this. Even when you find nuts in the bulk food section of a grocery store, those nuts were originally in a plastic bag. Produce is also transported in waxed cardboard boxes. The wax coating shifts these containers from the recyclable pile to the landfill category. When I started to put all these pieces together, I began to be more liberal with purchasing foods that came in plastic. My thought behind this was that I wanted a landfill waste number that accurately reflected how much trash had been produced during this food pack and didn’t just ignore the plastic I never saw because it was removed before I purchased a product.
-Budget: As far as my double-checked estimations and triple-checked calculations are correct, we are right on budget, perhaps even a little under.
-Weight: It seems a little mind-boggling to me right now, but we have 9 pounds of vegetables that are supposed to last us 40 days. It seems like nothing. But when you consider that it was over 100 pounds to start with, it doesn’t seem so bad.
-Space: I have drawn complicated diagrams that so far I have not been able to explain to any of my expedition partners. The complicated packing strategy minimizes the amount of food bags we need, decreases the amount we have to dig through the barrels, and maximizes our safety if we lose a barrel. The goal is to fit everything into our four 60L food barrels. We will be baking every day, which decreases our food volume drastically. If you don’t understand why this is true, measure out 1 lb of flour (our 1-day ration) and compare its size to about 8 servings of your favorite cracker.
-A complex palette: So far, almost everything I’ve made has tasted good to my front-country taste buds. I think the exceptions to this are a couple of bean accidents. One batch had waaaay too much cilantro and another had waaaay too much hot pepper. Whoops. They’re both going in the field with us. My mom recently told me a story about how her Hood River expedition team unanimously decided to throw all of their hummus powder into the wind when it made everybody’s farts unbearable. I hope we don’t have to do that. I quadruple rinsed all the beans. I hope that was enough.
For the most part, I would consider the winter’s food prep a success. There were a few interesting learning experiences, though. Here are some of the highlights:
-Most of the fruit leather turned into fruit crisp. I guess the perk is that it will probably last longer, since it has a lower moisture content.
-Dehydrated cheese is absolutely not worth it in my unprofessional opinion. If you are going to try this, do yourself a favor and put your grated low fat-content cheese on a mesh rack and be prepared to clean up cheese grease out of the bottom of your dehydrator.
-If you’re going to buy a dehydrator, get one with a timer. It makes a world of difference.
-Poblanos and chipotle peppers are two very different things. Read the labels before you just dump a couple cans of chipotles in your shopping cart and later into your beans thinking they are poblanos. They aren’t.
Sage and I have moved out of our food prep mansion and are on our way to North Carolina to instruct two different semesters, 50 and 35 days respectively. Beth arrived in Brazil yesterday to instruct a semester course down there. Steve will be cuddling with his cat during all of his free time for the rest of the winter. Actually, I don’t think he really has any free time this winter. So for now, trip prep is getting put on hold. Our prototyped food bags are going into the field with Beth, Sage, and I. We are keeping our fingers crossed, since we already bought the fabric. And thirty-five thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven pennies worth of food is being stored in my parent’s basement.
Farewell for now. Check back in the spring for more updates.
Eli Walker, Food Guru
4 high school dorm rooms, 3 college dorm rooms, an over-sized windowless closet in Minnesota, the back of my Subaru Legacy, a Ford Transit Connect, 3 cabins at 2 different Outward Bound base camps, and a tent that could be found anywhere between northern Maine and Las Vegas depending on the season. What do these places have in common? These are the places I have lived over the last 13 years. Up until a couple months ago I had never paid rent, travelling seasonally with the birds to follow my dream job as an Outward Bound instructor.
This past December, my fiance and I decided to try something a little different and settle down... for three months... in between our New Mexico climbing trip and our return to Outward Bound in the spring. Our short stint living in a heated house with plumbing and electricity has been nothing short of splendid. It has been wonderful to have something that we can call home but has also made preparing food for Canoe Ungava possible. We currently have an entire room in our house, half of our freezer, and a shelf in the fridge designated to Canoe Ungava food prep. The food room, as we have started to call it, is filled with ingredients purchased in bulk, two dehydrators, a small scale, a food processor and blender, and about four dozen mason jars labeled with their contents and weight. It doesn't sound like much, but I don't think this project would have been possible without all the space. We certainly could not have done this in the back of our van!
Last week I quit my temporary warehouse job in order to put in full-time hours preparing, drying, and packaging food. My new-found occupation, although unpaid, is exponentially more enjoyable. I love the problem-solving, the flexible hours, and the way the house smells after making three batches of granola. For the past week, my typical day has started by checking on the trays around 6:30am, often before I even go pee, and usually ends when I put the last batch of trays into the dehydrators right before I go to bed at 9:00pm. I have 10 more days of full-time food prep before Sage and I move out of our house and go back into instructor lives and Beth begins instructing a semester course in Brazil. In 10 days, 99% of all trip planning will be put on hold until May. Luckily, I am nearing the end of what originally felt like an impossibly long list of items to prepare. My goal is to finish the bulk of the dehydrating so that all we have to do in the spring is purchase and pack the remaining foods.
Luckily I love problem-solving, because our food packout is not exactly straight forward. What is the goal? Make as much delicious food as possible that is low cost, high calorie, compact, and light weight. The constraints?
-Minimizing or eliminating the use of one-time use plastics: Hm. Easier said than done.
-Budget: $8 per person per day for food
-Weight: We will have to carry ALL of it on each of our portages. We will be starting with 40 days of food (a little over 300 lbs), and portaging begins on day 1 of our expedition.
-Space: We have four 60-litre barrels that our food needs to fit into to protect it from black bears and water, and the barrels need to fit into our 17' boats along with the rest of our gear
-A complex palette: Four mouths, each of which has eaten countless meals in the field, which essentially just means that each of us has some things that we simply won't eat: for example, instant oatmeal.
Check back next week for updates and accomplishments (and maybe a few failures) on my two weeks of full-time food prep.
A typical morning in the food room.
Eli Walker, Food Guru
That's what I thought. Easy. One year into research and product testing; not so easy.
It's hard to find a product that is not only reusable, but also durable. I experimented with several brands of reusable ziplock bags. Over all, I wasn't impressed. After two months on rugged expeditions, in Brazil last spring, the plastic began to separate from the zipper, the seal wasn't as sound, and there were a few holes. They were way more durable than a regular ziplock bag, though I expect their life span wouldn't last through too many expeditions. Lastly, the higher price tag doesn't make them appealing for a long expedition in need of 150 bags.
Next option. I'll just make my own. Easy right? Ha, no. I'd like to offer a big thanks to all the moms who have worked to make reusable food safe snack bags. Their research became my jumping off point.
First- What is the purpose of a food bag on expedition? It keeps food dry. It's not breathable- it doesn't allow dried food to absorb moisture. It needs to be durable. Weight matters.
Second- The material has to be food safe. This has been challenging to address. This is where those snack bag making moms were a big help.
Third- Construction. Sewing is the most practical. However the seams of a waterproof fabric quickly become not waterproof when sewn. Sealing them opens the door to a huge amount of research- food safe adhesives or seam tape that adheres to said fabric. This question led me down a rabbit hole into the world of industrial food packing adhesive manufacturers. Then I began to ask is seam sealing worth it?
Step Four- Testing the first prototype. I'm not 100% satisfied with the product. The seams aren't sealed, the fabric is different than I expected. They are food safe, machine washable, the fabric is waterproof (up to 300 washes), and they're not too heavy.
Fifth- Keep researching! I'm still investigating more materials and construction methods.