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  • Ken Ilgunas

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 ( 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.

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


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