Living out of a Cooler Changed the way we eat


Bags of lunch meat. String Cheese. Bratwurst and potatoes. My eating had always subsisted off of the packages within a large, fluorescently lit food compound. I foraged in towering aisles, and sought the unobtainable - the perfect combination of nutritious, and instantaneous for my demanding lifestyle. I used to read food labels like a detective, looking for the highest quality ingredients for the lowest price. Often times, my demands would lag, inching price out as the primary deciding factor for purchase. 

And suddenly, we only had a cooler to eat out of. The cooler required constant vigilance. Temperature levels needed to be measured, and water needed to be drained, as food labels would peel off and float to the surface in the melted ice. The reside smelled, and keeping meats and cheeses properly cooled became less feasible. Often times, we would just toss out food after a particularly warm day. And that was with a Yeti - the crème de la crème of travel coolers. 

Adapting, I would frequent the grocery store more often. Everyday generally, sometimes twice. That lasted for a bit. But, spending that much time each day in a Fred Meyer, or Safeway just started to wear on me. Modern grocery stores are sterile, hostile environments. Everyone is fucking upset about everyone else getting in the way, and the vastness of the store requires aisle trolling to find what ever it was that you came in for - which takes hours. By that time, I would bump into someone, or get the no-eye-contact move, allowing that person to cut me off without so much as an acknowledgement, because let's face it, they really didn't see me fucking two feet in front of them. 

It's not good for the psyche to interact with other humans in that manner. Grocery store chains build contempt for our fellow man. So, I would grab whatever was fastest. No time for meal planning or produce inspiration, just get out before you lose hope for humanity! That often meant some kind of meat, and some kind of starch. 


Cooking 6 links of bratwurst one evening, I realized all the scum that came from that one meal. I had gotten off of work, driven to the gigantic store, got lost and confused, welled further with anger, drove home in traffic, cut open the processed meat product, which rested on an indestructible black foam tray, and cooked it - splashing fat on the wall, and filling the bus with a sustaining, acrid odor. Our tiny living space has the memory of an elephant when it comes to stink. Best not to introduce it in the first place. 

That night, as we ate, we wrote out the ways in which we wanted to change. We discussed going vegetarian, but it wouldn't solve the temperature problem with the cooler. We discussed getting an electric cooler, which would regulate better, but we didn't have the money. Then we landed on veganism. It would help the odor, and veggies handle warmer temps better, but it would require move involvement in meal planning, and were we ready for that?

I knew it would come down to me. I cook the most, meaning I plan the most, meaning I gotta make it work. That night, we emptied out the drawers of all the meat and dairy containing items in preparation of our new lifestyle. As we laid down to bed, bratwurst still lingering in the air, I fantasized about walking casually through a Farmer's Market, smelling produce, having a list of ingredients for that evenings meal, and feeling bliss about shopping, not dread. 

There was a bit of a learning curve. Eating out often filled in the gaps. Having prepared, nutritious food on hand required much more assembling and cooking. I hadn't anticipated the creativity required. But, I slowly began reading food labels less, and recipes more. Going to the store became simpler in the produce section, and more enjoyable as I began learning. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to make a delicious meal from scratch, which made the effort worth it. Our bodies became healthier, and our minds were engaged in the effort. 

You could say that eating out of a cooler taught me how to cook, or at least pushed me to care about what we consumed. It got me away from looking for easy, packaged foods that could last weeks in a fridge. As a result, the more time I spent cooking, the more I enjoyed the process. Will we ever eat meat again? That requires training from an expert in meat preservation. Maybe one day, but until then, I have quite a bit more to learn in the ways of veggie prep and preservation. 

Here are a few websites that helped us in our plant based transition:

 - Minimalist Baker: "We share plant-based recipes requiring 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. All eaters are welcome." 

 - A Virtual Vegan: "I am all about sharing amazing vegan recipes that are absolutely full of flavour and perfect for sharing with those you love."

 - Fresh Off the Grid: 38 Vegan Camping Food Ideas for Plant Based Adventurers