The drives are long, the pay is low, and the time spent actually playing is dwarfed by the amount of time you spend moving your gear around. The life of a touring musician is insane. Yet even with all of the downtime, it can be difficult to eat well and maintain anything resembling a healthy lifestyle.
What works at home does not work while hurtling down the 401 in a leaky van for seven hours and, unless you’re a teetotaller (and I highly recommend having one in your band), you’ll probably ingest more than your fair share of alcoholic beverages and sundry other substances. When you abuse your body like that, eating well takes on an even greater importance than usual. It can be the difference between getting home unscathed and breaking down mid-tour.
The best way eat a wholesome diet is to cook for yourself, but with kitchen access and food storage being extremely limited, doing so can be difficult. There are a few things you can do to avoid having to eat at a highway rest stop or late night pizza joint though, and it could mean the difference between being fatigued and malnourished or having enough juice to get through another gig.
Here are a few tips from one independent musician to another to eat well on the road.
Bring more than just music gear
An old gas camping stove can be had at a yard sale for next to nothing. New propane tanks will run about $15 and will last several meals. This is your main axe, the most indispensable part of your rolling kitchen. Without it you are almost sure to be subsisting on Tim Horton’s BLTs and gas station Snickers bars. Aside from fire, you’ll need one medium sized pan with a lid (holds enough food for four or so people), a decent knife that will save you tons of time and misery, and a small cutting board for well, cutting on. A few rags or towels could save your skin. Don’t forget your can opener (a Super Kim will last your lifetime and more), but if you do you can get one just about anywhere. And you will need it. Add a few bowls, some silverware, and you’re all set.
Stock your pantry
You can fill a large re-usable shopping bag with everything you need. Canned or bottled beans, white rice, dried herbs and spices, and oil will allow you to make pretty much anything. A re-sealable bag of fresh curry leaves will last forever (I had one for over a week in a sweltering van and was still using them a week after I got home). Your chickpea curries will thank you. Some non-perishable food items might seem like a good idea (fermented black beans), but may elicit complaints from your band members (I actually thought they smelled great). And if you’re so inclined, bake a loaf of bread the night before you hit the road. It’ll come in very handy.
Pasta is quick and easy, but boiling water will use up a lot of your gas reserves. If you want your two canisters to last through the week, stick to food that you can simmer at a low temperature with a lid on or that you can fry quickly.
Snack in the car
Dried sausage, fresh or dried fruit, bread, and nuts are all great snack choices. These will tide you over until you get to the next place that you can set up your kitchen. A slice of pecorino romano cheese atop a slice of apple is practically Michelin Star level haute cuisine compared to what you could be eating, and provides a nice balance of fibre and protein.
Know where the parks are
[pullquote]Your life as a travelling troubadour is so consistently crummy that a good meal in a quiet park with a great view could be heavenly.[/pullquote]
Is there a park near the venue? If not, where? You’ll need someplace to set up your portable kitchen and a secluded corner of a park with a picnic table is perfect. If you can’t find a picnic table a Giant Freaking Rock will do just fine (Windsor!), and you may actually impress the locals. Cooking and eating something delicious in a park while being on the road can lead to transcendent experiences. That oasis of happiness, modest as it may seem to an outsider, can bring you to ecstatic heights you may have not thought possible from a decent but not spectacular chickpea curry. Your life as a travelling troubadour is so consistently crummy that a good meal in a quiet park with a great view could be heavenly.
Know where you can buy fresh ingredients
Go out and treat yourselves now and then and buy some meat, fish, or fresh vegetables to cook right away. You’ll need to know where to go but if the friends you’re staying with are having a BBQ, slip out to the nearest market, super or otherwise, and pick up a couple of sea bream or something (two could feed the band and might run you about $10-$15). Chickpea curries and apple/cheese open face sandwiches are great, but you’ll get sick of them eventually.
Take advantage of hosts’ kitchens when possible
You will need to wash your dishes if you’re not using paper plates, but also take the opportunity to cook something for yourself and the folks who are putting you up. Cooking for someone is one of the nicest things that anyone can do for another person, and is a great way to repay them for letting you stink up their couch with your rotting carcass. If possible stay with a pro cook. You just may wake up to a breakfast of good coffee, poached eggs with homemade salsa, and avocado on a toasted tortilla (thanks to our hosts in Guelph!).
Hit the road!
With a set-up like this you have myriad options. It is very possible to avoid eating an awful diet, all while not spending your meager earnings on good restaurant food. With some minor investments, prep, and planning, you can limit the amount of damage you’re doing to your mind and body. And you’ll just feel better.