Monday, February 16, 2009

Eating Part I: Cooking in the van

I’ve always had a voracious appetite. My fondest food memory took place about six years ago—during my eating prime—when my friend Jon challenged me to eat the infamous jumbo-jumbo-jumbo taco from a place called Bobbo’s Taco’s—a joint in Buffalo—that used to give the taco free to anyone who could finish it. Upon seeing the chicken-finger taco of all chicken-finger tacos, I felt small and insignificant—the same feeling I get when looking at a mountain range or the stars.

It was a beast—the anaconda of tacos—measuring from the tips of my fingers to just short of my shoulder.

Visibly perturbed by the daunting task ahead of me, Jon gave a last-second piece of advice:

You want to eat it so fast that your stomach doesn’t get a chance to know it’s full.”

Doubtful of his advice, I chomped away anyways, and seven minutes later, with room to spare, I was my rubbing my swollen stomach like a proud mother-to-be.

I love eating and I knew that, more than anything else, putting a stop to my food binges would be the toughest sacrifice of radical living. Apart from the van and tuition, I figured food would be my largest bill, and I wanted to get it as low as I reasonably could.

Just before I bought the van, I came upon a blog about a couple who ate for $1 a day for an entire month by buying cheap and eating little (http://onedollardietproject.wordpress.com/). If they could survive on a dollar, who says I can’t survive on $3?

But first, I had to figure out how to cook in the van.

One of my most prized possessions is my MSR propane backpacking stove that I bought for $80 several years ago. It’s been a trusty friend ever since. The stove enables me to make actual meals—oatmeal, pasta, soups—that I, of course, wouldn’t be able to make without it. I buy small canisters of propane for fuel; a 16 oz. canister lasts me several weeks. I spent $60 on six canisters—this will be enough to last me for the rest of the semester and beyond.


I cook on top of my storage container and since I cook my dinner meals at night, I park underneath a lamp post so I can see what I’m doing. I’d much rather turn the interior van lights on, but again, I want to draw as little attention to myself as possible. I realize that a giant, creepy-looking van in the middle of an empty parking lot is attention-drawing in itself--but no one, as of yet, has bothered themselves with it as far as I know.



It’s a good temporary set-up, but I recognize between slicing vegetables with a sliver of lamp light, and cooking on top of a 30-gallon tank of gasoline, that I’ll have to make future renovations to ensure safety. But for now, it’s working out just fine.

I carry a water bottle with me to campus. One full water bottle is more than enough water to cook my meals for a day.

I only have 4 utensils—and that’s all I need. My leatherman functions as my can-opener.


I bought a pot and a pan from The Salvation Army for a couple bucks, and I had brought a bowl, which is ideal for cereal. As you can see, I’ve completely done away with washing my silverware and dishes. This may gross you out, as it grossed me out at first. But to wash my dishes I’d need to use precious water, I’d have to waste paper towels, and I’d have to find somewhere to discard my wash water. All of the above are things I don’t want to deal with.



Then I thought, why bother washing at all? I like to think of each meal as a legacy, leaving bits and pieces of itself behind for the next meal. Each coagulated crumb and speck of dried spaghetti sauce are reminders of my meals’ ancestral past, forever seasoning each subsequent dish, sharing its chromosomes like a father passing on genes to his son. Now I don’t give washing dishes a second thought.

But all in all, eating and cooking has been a very easy part of radical living. My meals are economical, healthy, and, unbelievably, delicious.

Stay tuned for Part II: The Spartan Student Recipe Book

13 comments:

Josh said...

Anyone want to start a pool on how long it takes Ken to catch a stomach virus from his fork?

Ken said...

You bastard. At least the virus will make for an interesting entry. On another note, please let me know if I've gotten any of the taco facts wrong; you always had a better memory of the episode than me.

Chris said...

Forget the Fork, I say the pots and pans are going to be the cause...Why not find a way to fill the bowl with water and boil it and toss some veggies in and have a soup? The chicken stock is cheap!

Early Retirement Extreme said...

One word: Spork. Now some more words. Eat out of the pot, saves a plate. To clean, make something wet and use it to wipe the things off. You could also replace the pot with a pressure cooker ... it's self-sterilizing each meal. I still think I'd take the 2-4 utensils into the gym/restroom for a daily wash though.

Ann said...

Why don't you use some hand sanitizer to sanitize your utensils before eating? It can't be that expensive and it could be worth it...

Akasha said...

I discovered your blog today and I'm thrilled by it! I'm digging the adventure and your articulate delivery. I laugh out loud several times during each post. So, THANKS :)

This particular post if fucking gnarly. Dude, start washing your shit! Or, is washing a dish after each use just another way that convention is wasting our time and energy? Maybe you're onto something..

dr dave said...

If you aren't aware of cheaprvliving dotcom you need to become aware...all of your problems, including washing dishes with little water have been solved by other van dwellers who have van dwelt before you. No need to reinvent the wheel while its in motion.

obbop said...

Raid the dorms,look for the laundry room with an in-use washer, toss in cookware, read book in hall or nearby comfy room within hearing distance of clatter then return when gawd-awful noise stops.

After retrieval toss semi-clean clothes some where and unloosen agitator (often needs an allen wrench) pull up and, if lucky, will be the design-type with a hollowed-out space where coins, valuable jewelry, etc. have amassed.

Instantaneous wealth.

Also look under the machines.

tentaculistic said...

I've been with you on every other post. This is just gross, and can get you sick. You can figure out how to wash your dishes and utensils - if nothing else, bring a baggie and a washcloth to campus and moisten it for later cleanup.

That said, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a paper towel to sterilize and clean my fork and spoon.

Anonymous said...

I've gone on wilderness trips where we washed our dishes, not with water, but with dirt and debris like leaves and twigs from the ground. It works great! as good as hot soap and water.

A Gypsy's Child said...

lol. this post was and is gross. since i know you're still alive, did you ever start washing your kitchen ware or did you go the entire time sans washing?

ps. washing with dirt and twigs? come on now.

Marte said...

Is the knife on the picture the same knife you bring with you hiking/backpacking (aside from your multi tool)?