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The Complete Guide to Eating Healthily on the Road, Part One

by WAMM on July 22, 2010 · 6 comments

On the road, the burrito is king.

Touring musicians have their nightly highs, in which the energy of the crowd, the power of the music, and the spine-tingling force of self-expression combine, creating sensations of vitality so visceral that some musicians only feel truly “alive” when they are performing.

But there are also the daily lows—long periods of driving, flat, empty stretches of highway, the endless parade of the sun across the sky and back again, and the haunting murmurs of family dinners behind golden lit windows in all those towns to which one’s connection feels all too tenuous, and all too brief.

And so the average musician may suffer from moodiness and irritability, migraines and lethargy, sinking feelings in the pit of the stomach, and unshakable premonitions of dread.

But what if I told you that these were not the red flags of depression, but rather the warning signs of a healthy, and ungratified appetite? Yes, it’s true. The feeling of an empty life is often indistinguishable from the sensation of hunger to the point that we confuse the two. Thus we speak of “a hunger for affection,” refer to desire as a “craving,” and seek out those feelings that “fill us” with what we lack.

As the stereotypical Jewish mother reminds her children day after day, “Food is love and love is food.” Having been raised Jewish, then, I see no better way to honor my mother and father, to remind myself of where I come from, and to recreate the warmth and closeness shared among (now distant) family and friends than simply to eat well every day.
With this in mind, I now present to you several useful tips and hints for eating well on the road—a feat not easily accomplished on a budget of ten dollars a day, or less, and in the wilds of rural Montana, where the only place to stop for breakfast is a gas station convenience store specializing in a half dozen flavors of Slim Jim’s.

Prepare For Takeoff
Somebody famous once said that ninety percent of success is showing up. That’s true—but the other ten percent is preparation. Prepare for a long tour by stocking up on your favorite healthy snacks. Pack foods that give you lots of energy and that you could substitute for a meal, just in case there’s no time to stop for lunch or dinner before a show. Dried fruits, nuts, crackers, apples and oranges, pretzels, cereal, peanut butter, pita bread, and granola bars are all safe bets. It makes sense to buy these in bulk, wherever possible. A box of ten granola bars bought in advance will save you the money you might spend on buying individually wrapped granola bars from a series of convenience stores and supermarkets.

As in camping, wherever you go, you should try to leave no trace on your environment. Here, the environment is your tour van, and your impact upon it usually takes the form of foul odors and mysterious stains. So respect yourself, your sense of smell, and your new pair of cutoff shorts; pack only those foods that stay fresh without refrigeration and don’t bring anything you wouldn’t be comfortable spilling all over the car.

Remember Your Rider
Riders are for fresh towels, hard liquor and wine, right? Well, yes, but that’s not the whole story. Carefully consider what you’re asking a club to provide, since this may end up being your dinner. Requesting a plate of hummus with carrot sticks may not as glamorous as demanding a bottle of Jack Daniels, but, when you arrive at the venue exhausted and ravenous, after a thirteen-hour drive, it’s the former, and not the latter, that will prevent you from passing out.

The Rule of the Burrito
Compact and portable, readily available, and offering an entire day’s worth of nutrition at a small price, the burrito represents the touring musician’s superfood. When I’m on the road, I think of the burrito as a kind of Platonic ideal; all other foods are merely imperfect renderings, second-rate facsimiles of the burrito’s perfect form.

Whenever you find a burrito, it’s always a good idea to eat it. The burrito packs such a caloric whop that you may be able to get by without buying any other food all day.  Furthermore, when your lunchtime options are limited, the opportunity to choose not one, but a variety of ingredients—beans and cheese and chicken and guacamole!—feels downright luxurious, as if you were ordering tapas, or a lengthy series of courses from a prix fixe menu.

If, however, it happens that you can’t find a burrito, choose a food that reminds you of the burrito’s best qualities: A veggie sandwich with cheese, available in some form at a place like Subway, and at other fast food joints as well, effectively jams together several layers of the food pyramid, and fills you with the vigorous energy you need to perform.

Be a Lean, Mean, Punk Rock Machine
There are times when it’s appropriate to eat bacon-wrapped meatloaf, but ten minutes before you take the stage is not one of them. Always be mindful of what you eat right before a show, and consider how it will affect your performance. Although they’re great for soothing pre-show jitters, comfort foods will make you sluggish and slow on stage. So, if you’ve got less than half an hour before your set, opt for a sandwich or a salad instead of a full meal. Then reward yourself for a gig well played with a massive midnight snack.

She Who Hesitates is Lost
On the road, there are no guarantees. Your fate is dictated by the the vicissitudes of traffic, of hangovers, and of the will of whatever deity governs the transmissions of old vans. When you never know where your next meal will come from, or if it will even come, you’ve got to strike quickly, at the first sign of a good meal. So, if you spot a place that looks decent, then by all means, go inside and eat. You may run out of time to to eat later, or, worst of all, you may find yourself in the bleak stretch of California desert where nothing—not even a gas station—breaks the harsh sweep of the Santa Ana winds.

So, when stopping for coffee at a little café in the morning, why not purchase a pizza bagel or a veggie wrap to go? You can stow these provisions in the van for later, and you’ll thank yourself when it’s lunchtime and you’ve got no better options than those aforementioned Slim Jim’s. If you wait ‘til the last minute, when you’re starving, to purchase food, then be prepared to suffer the consequences. Better to hedge your bets on the first prospect that arises than to second guess yourself and lose out in the end. If that food looks good now, it will taste even better later.

Watch this space for a link to part two, coming soon!

Amy Klein plays music in Titus Andronicus and Solanin and Hillii. She keeps a tour diary and tweets.

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