Burning Man: Your Guide to Dining on the Playa
I’ve seen a lot of buzz online about Burning Man this year – in fact, the event is sold out for the first time in its 25 year history! So we can only imagine how many newbies (and even experienced burners) will find themselves hungry because they didn’t pack the right food. Fear not! We’ve made a practical guide to eating on the Playa.
If you’re not familiar with Burning Man, it’s a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. Organizers describe it as an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. Yep. Self-reliance. Means you have to bring and prepare your own food… every day… in the middle of the desert.
But can’t you buy food there? No. In the true spirit of Burning Man, money cannot be exchanged. The only exceptions are coffee and ice (coffee, because who can live without it? … and ice, because it’s in the middle of the desert). Ice is available for $3.00 a bag, or a 6 pack for $15.
TIP: bring dollar bills for easy purchases and so you’re not the annoying person holding up the line.
Here’s how we roll… We drive to Burning man in a minivan that holds our bikes, tent, coolers and clothes. Once we hit Reno, we do all our grocery shopping. This is because you don’t want to drive from LA to Reno with hundreds of gallons of water (think of the gas!).
One thing you’ll want to do before you leave the grocery store parking lot is to get rid of as much packaging as you can. You won’t have any place to store this stuff at your camp site. Add food and drinks first to your coolers, and then fill the remaining space in each cooler with ice. Adding ice first wastes space and make the cooler difficult to fill.
TIP: Freezer packs are a great way to keep drinks cold, but don’t expect them to stay frozen for a week.
One thing you’ll have to consider when buying food for a trip like this is storage. It’s insanely dusty on the Playa, so food must be packed in a box or cooler. I’m not talking a light dust storm or a warm breeze of debris… I’m talking an all out “holy crap I’m going to die and my camp is annihilated” white out.
Also won’t find any trash cans at Burning Man, so you’ll have to pack up and remove all your trash when you leave. TIP: When you select food, try to stick to less “stinky” stuff.
Keep in mind you’ll be on a bike much of the time you’re at Burning Man, so packing a small bag with some key essentials will help keep your energy up throughout the day. See photo below for a great example of a Daily Bag.
So, if you’re looking for a quick list of what to bring, you’ve come to the right place!
After plenty of mistakes, I think we finally figured out which foods work and which don’t. In the spirit of Burning Man… here’s our gift to you!
How the heck do I pack food for a week without a fridge?
Here’s a list of some basic essentials (you’ll find that with all the distractions your appetite may be suppressed and you’ll often forget to eat – try not to do that):
- Lots of water. Buy at least 1.5 gallons of water per person per day. The greeters who welcome you at the gate even check your car to make sure you have enough water before entering. The combination of wind, sun and everything else means you’re going to need to hydrate. It’s best to buy large water gallons and refill a reusable cup or bottle (stay away from the individual bottles of water – they create too much trash). TIP: Drink only bottled water or water that you know is fresh and suitable for drinking. Do not accept water from anyone sketchy.
- Canned Protein Drinks. You can find these at places like Target or any larger supermarket. They are usually available in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. While they don’t taste great, you’ll be surprised how satisfying they are straight out of the ice chest on a hot day.
- Fruit Cups. They stay fresh and the fruit juice is a shot of sugar to get you going. Also, you can easily smash the plastic containers so they won’t take up a lot of room in your trash bag.
- Pudding. I know that at this point your Burning Man diet seems fit for a senior citizen or a 5 year-old, but what’s nice about pudding is that they don’t need to be refrigerated, they’re cheap and come in a wide variety of flavors so you won’t get bored.
- Canned chicken/tuna & crackers. Canned chicken (white meat is best) is a great way to get a little protein in your diet. The small cans are the perfect size for a snack. You can also buy a few cans of veggies to top off your crackers. Just remember, if you buy any canned items, bring a can opener or buy cans with pop tops.
- Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. OMG, delish. For $10 you can make enough sandwiches to last a week. You can also get different flavored jellies to change things up a bit. Just know that this is a sticky meal, and the clean up can be tough with dust hitting you in the face.
- Coconut water. Coconut water is great for hydration, and it will provide a nice change of pace from all the other water you’ll be drinking. It comes in several flavors. You can also bring Gatorade or some other electrolyte replenishing drink.
- Fruit strips. You can find real fruit strips (sans a bunch of chemicals) at places like Trader Joes. These fit in your pocket and are great for providing a little energy.
- Yogurt. There are several yogurts on the market that come in a bottle or tube. They’re great sipping or serving in a bowl with some granola for breakfast.
- Beef jerky. Hey, if you’re into beef jerky, it’s virtually indestructible, easy to carry and full of protein (along with some other stuff you should try not to think about .
- Pre-made coffee. If you’re like me, buying a pre-made bottled coffee at a place like Starbucks is a convenient way to get your caffeine fix. Of course you can buy coffee at the Center Camp Cafe, but it’s a pain to bring cash and the lines are often way too long.
- Pre-cut veggies. With all the dust, it’s best to buy snack items that are already pre-cut in individual size servings (of course you can also do this in-advance on your own).
- Nuts. You’re going to need to keep up your energy between the 2 pm yoga class and the 2 am roller skate party… and nothing does that better than a handful of nuts. Get individual serving packets that you can slide into your bag and take with you on the go (Trade Joe’s is a good source).
- Protein Bars. A meal in a bar. ‘Nuff said.
- Kid-sized juice boxes/cans. You don’t need a big jug of apple juice — small containers won’t take up too much room in your cooler and can be recycled when you get home.
- Beer/Wine/Booze. There are bars all over the Playa, but you may want to have a stash back at your campsite to chill. Stay away from products in glass or non-recycled packaging. Stepping on broken glass can ruin your trip.
- M&Ms or other non melting candy: regular chocolate will melt and make a mess. For a quick snack, try a small bag of M&Ms. Bring some extra to share with friends. (think twice whenever you accept food or drinks from people you don’t know or trust, and always ask if anything “unusual” is added to the food). There’s a funny rice crispy treat story from two years ago that I don’t need to go into…
Just be careful.
- Fresh Fruit. Nothing taste better than a fresh apple on the Playa after a long day riding your bike, checking out all the art and watching a fifty piece band march through town. Most whole fruit should last the week, but you can also buy pre-cut melon or packets of apples that will stay fresh and can sit in a cooler. This also applies to veggies. You’ll find pre-cut veggies in the produce section of every grocery store. What I like about the precut stuff is that you can take the container out, grab a few pieces and put it back. You aren’t dealing with the peels which will have to go into your trash and will start to rot and you don’t have to eat the whole fruit at once. Win Win!
- Chips/Salsa: A perfect companion to a cold beer.
- Try something new: This year I’m going to try to cook frozen burritos by the sun. Basically, take a frozen burrito and cover in tin foil. Leave out in the sun for the day and eat when hungry. Not sure if this will work, but I’m willing to give it a try….
Kitchen Essentials: utensils (fork, spoon, knife), garbage bags (heavy), zip lock bags (to keep the dirt out), hand wipes (baby wipes work well), napkins (be careful you don’t drop these on the Playa), a sponge for dishes, dish soap, plates (we bring paper, but it’s not the most green thing to do).
REMEMBER: you’ll be surprise how much trash one person can make. So before you head out to the Playa, discard any unnecessary packaging. Trust me? this will make sense when you’re out there.
Appetites on the Playa go way down, so don’t overstock on food. Best to have small snacks throughout the day instead of large meals. Besides, it will be hard to get everyone in your group together for meals once everyone is whisked away at various festivities.
Funny story… The first year we went to Burning Man, we brought frozen food, a cooler, a toaster oven and an portable inverter for electricity via the car’s cigarette lighter. Toaster oven 1500 watts, inverter 300 watts. Lesson learned.
TAKE A SHOWER: Go to an army surplus or camping store and buy a Sun Shower Bag (it’s a bag you fill with water in the am and by the time the afternoon sun warms up the water, you can use the nozzle to wash dishes and take a shower. Buy a large bucket (one you can stand in) to collect all your water. Water and Playa dirt don’t mix well and turns to mud. Best to have a bucket to collect your water which will evaporate by the end of the day from the sun.
REMINDER ABOUT GIFTED FOOD (from Burningman.com): Be wary of food and drink offered to you. Know what you are eating and drinking. Burning Man thrives on a Gift Economy. You will probably be offered food or beverages by well-intentioned burners. Always ask if what you are about to ingest contains anything unexpected. Consider the source and use good judgment. The medical tent gets cases every year of people who were dosed without their knowledge.
DRINK RECIPES – after all this is BakeSpace.com!
- from Burningman.com
Gatorade, Wyler’s Lemonade, iced tea, and that old favorite,
Tang (the astronauts drank it!) come powdered, and you can’t
pack drinks more efficiently than that. All you
add is water. Or vodka. Or tequila.
Tang Screwdriver Fill a tall glass with ice and vodka.
Add two teaspoons of powdered Tang.
Stir it up, darlin’!
Gatorade Margarita Salt the rim.
Plunk ice in the glass.
Add two teaspoons of powdered Gatorade.
Tequila to taste.
Swizzle and sizzle!
2 c. tang (medium jar)
1 c. instant iced tea
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
Mix and keep dry.
To serve mix 2 tsp. to 1 cup hot water.
Add brandy for an extraterrestrial treat!
And you should consider packing a “daily bag” with some essentials you don’t have to think about (reload nightly). This one is by XMasons -