Food is a Biggie: The Evolution of Food on Kayak Trips
by Dan Lewis
Food is a biggie, especially on a kayak trip. Take a vegetarian, put them in a pristine wilderness setting with someone whose idea of camping is the sound of bacon sizzling over the morning campfire, and watch what happens!
The bottom line with food is that we need it for fuel to power the engine in our kayaks, and to stoke the central heating system in our bodies. Beyond that, we look to food to provide comfort in a challenging environment. At its worst, food becomes a distraction where it becomes the focus: constant snacking; thinking about what's for supper all morning, etc.
In my experience kayak touring is a constantly evolving activity -- there's always an opportunity to try new or different ways of doing the same old things. Over the years, I've experimented with many styles of eating while on kayak trips.
When I first started paddling over 20 years ago, we took mostly grains and dehydrated foods, a la backpacking. The main fresh food we took was apples and oranges, because they travelled well. We brought multi-vitamins to prevent scurvy on long trips, and ate wild berries or caught fish whenever we could. The main advantage to this food style is that you have at least one reason to look forward to the return to civilization!
In the early 80s, when kayaking first began to take off, a food style developed which I called the 'cream cheese' approach. When camped at Princess Margaret Marine Park, I witnessed a couple from Washington pull from their kayak, several large buckets stuffed full of lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms and other delicacies I had previously believed were too fragile for ocean kayak travel. This began an era I remember fondly. I ate far better on trips than I ever did back home!
In 1987 I ran a kayak touring company. On these trips, we were expected to produce near-gourmet quality meals, and we did. Trips like this are sometimes jokingly called 'float & bloat' trips by guides. It can definitely become a distraction -- conversations often centre on food in the past, present or future.
Then came the rebound: the 'starve later' trip. I headed out on a 3-week expedition with a couple of friends, determined to push the limits of 'live-wild-or-die', eager to shake off the restraints of guided trips and risk management. We weren't thinking straight when we shopped, I guess, because we somehow ended up grossly under-estimating how much food three active young men with a terminal case of the munchies would consume.
However, we dealt with the situation rationally. We looked at the various possible scenarios, and the likely outcome of each. Our conclusion was that the worst of all scenarios would be to carefully ration our food, therefore having to paddle extra weight around in our kayaks and lug it up and down every beach we visited, and then to actually arrive in Kyuquot with a surplus!
We realised that if we were going to run out of food and have to starve, best to do that later. 'Starve later!' became the motto of the trip. When confronted with scenarios such as 'Okay, we have 2 crabs each for breakfast, and 6 eggs and one chunk of cheese left -- should we ration the eggs and save the cheese or eat it all now?', we would decide to 'Eat all the eggs and cheese NOW -- starve later!
Of course, as things work out, we ate our last food 2 crackers each, with a swipe of peanut butter, followed by copious amounts of huckleberries for lunch just before we paddled into Kyuquot.
This approach was refined somewhat when I paddled around Vancouver Island in 1990. This time, we tried the John Muir approach: you know heading off into the wilderness with nothing but a crust of bread in his pocket. The main foods we brought were enough carbohydrates and fats that we would not starve (grains and peanut butter), which forced us to gather all our fresh food, sugar, and protein (seaweeds, berries, and fish) from the lands we visited. And you know what ol' John Muir was right! I felt more in tune with my environment on that trip than any other. We became very aware of which berries were ripe, where they were likely to grow, and we were constantly on the lookout for urchin beds!
The low point of my food style evolution had to be the 2 months we spent in Haida Gwaii in '94. We tried the John Muir approach (my partner Bonny was dubious), but failed to apprehend that due to the introduction of deer to the Islands (there are no wolves or cougars to prey on them, and numbers have exploded), there are no berries growing there. And then our fishing gear blew out. Malnutrition, inadequate shelter and the worst weather seen in the Island for over 30 years did not combine well -- we have few fond memories of that trip.
Since that experience, Bonny has become more involved in planning our expedition menus. We've struck a balance between the 'John Muir' and the 'float & bloat' approaches. Basically we bring enough carbos and fats to ensure survival, enough fresh food to prevent scurvy, and multi-vitamins. A few comfort foods sneak in -- like a rich brew of hot chocolate for apres dinner, and a little espresso machine for mornings. There are some very real advantages to keeping it simple in the food department. Less food means the kayaks are lighter which means less fuel is required to propel them, and paddling is more fun. When the menu is simple you are more likely to be on the lookout for wild foods to spice it up. Foraging is an excellent way to really connect with the lands and waters you are visiting, and a very handy skill to have in survival situations. And not bringing a lot of exotic, smelly foods (especially meat) means you are less likely to attract bears, which means they are less likely to get into trouble for eating your food.
The main point is to do no harm. We ought to be at least as healthy by trip's end as we were at departure.