Sunday, February 7, 2010
One of the programs offered by The Scrap Exchange is a creative arts service called Events by the Truckload, where we take a truck filled with barrels of stuff we’ve collected from local businesses (leftover cones and tubes from textile mills, designer fabric samples from decorators, matte board from frame shops, funky plastic stuff from labs, etc.) to large festivals and events and let people make things out of it. For instance, things like this…
It’s a great, fun activity, though possibly difficult to fully appreciate without seeing it. Or actually participating in it. People definitely get it once they start doing it, though it’s one of those things where the end result doesn’t always reflect the value of the activity. As we like to say, it’s process, not product. (And as usual, we seem to be ahead of the curve — I recently ran across some information about process-based art.)
I’ve been working at events since 2003 and one of the things I’ve had to try to figure out during that time is how to eat on the road without spending too much money and/or feeling gross.
Event staff get paid to work at events, and we also get a per diem of $15 per event day to help defray food costs. I don’t generally count food I get with my per diem money as being out of my normal budget, which may seem like splitting hairs (and/or CHEATING as I am wont to being accused of doing) but the reason I do that is because you really need a different mind set when shopping for things you’ll be eating when you don’t have access to a kitchen. Things that might seem not worth it if I’m comparing it with what I would make at home are likely to seem quite reasonable compared with what I’d be able to get on the road. So I need to make sure that’s how I’m thinking when I’m shopping for event food, and taking it from a separate budget line ensures that I do that.
The thing about working at overnight events is that it’s generally extremely physically demanding — you leave the day before the event, get to the hotel usually late in the evening, then up by 7 or so in the morning to get to the event location, figure out where you’re supposed to set up, unload the truck (20-30 barrels, 4+ bins filled with smaller stuff), move the truck, get back to the location and finish setting everything up, then spend the next 5 to 7 hours on your feet picking materials up and putting them back in the barrels, trying to keep things from blowing away, helping participants make stuff, explaining where the materials come from, singing the praises of reduce/REUSE/recycle, and just generally talking to people about The Scrap Exchange. At the end of the event, you go get the truck, load everything back up, and drive home.
Because the activity is so exhausting, I don’t really feel bad about eating junk food the days I’m working, and often that’s the easiest thing to do, just stop at a fast food place on the drive back and pick something up. (Beans and rice may be one of my favorite meals, but I love a Big Mac as much as the next gluttonous American. I was talking to a friend once who said she’d never had a Big Mac. I was like, “Really? You’ve never had a Big Mac?” She said no, her family had always been completely obsessed with health. I paused for a second and said, “They’re good.” She just laughed at me.)
However, if I’m doing a multi-day event, I’ve learned that I can only take so much junk food before it loses its appeal, and I’m really much better off making sure I have some good snacks with me.
Now that there’s a Trader Joe’s near me, sometimes I’ll make a trip over there to stock up, especially if I’m working at a long, demanding, multi-day event. Trader Joe’s has very good prices on dried fruit and nuts, and good snack foods like pita chips and those great peanut butter filled pretzels.
So for a 2- or 3-day event like Merlefest — which is a total madhouse for three straight days, it’s completely insane — I’ll do a really strategic plan, stocking up at Trader Joe’s and also preparing things at home, so I’ll have snack-type foods I can eat quickly plus something like sesame noodles or hummus that has some protein, along with cheese and crackers, some kind of bread (banana bread or pumpkin bread or something like that) with nuts or sunflower seeds, and a variety of fruit and sweets. Just a good mix of stuff that will keep for a few days in a cooler and will keep my energy up throughout the day, eating a little at a time.
For a one-day event, I’ll usually just stop at Whole Foods and hit the bulk bins for some combination of dried fruit (figs, prunes, and/or mangoes), nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, or pecans), and maybe some granola or other snack-y kind of thing. Sometimes I’ll get a piece of fruit that will travel okay — apple, banana, orange — and usually pick up a Luna bar, which were expensive then cheap then the last time I went to get one were expensive again. I actually love Kind bars but I’m not always able to talk myself into $1.79, even when it’s coming out of my per diem money.
If I remember, I’ll stop at Bruegger’s and get a bagel and then take a small container of peanut butter with me.
This gives me something fairly substantial (bagel with peanut butter) for breakfast or lunch — or both, half in the morning half in the afternoon — plus dried fruit for quick energy and nuts to fill me up. (I find that a few handfuls of nuts really goes a long way.)
If I didn’t bring a bagel, I’ll have a Luna bar, which are nicely filling and very convenient and keep indefinitely, which is great — if I don’t eat it at one event, I can use it for the next, or just keep it in the pantry and eat it later in a pinch.
Sometimes I’ll eat breakfast at the hotel — usually there’s a complimentary breakfast buffet included with the room — but I’m not usually hungry when I first get up, and also I’ve learned that eating a little bit of breakfast, especially a little bit of high-carb breakfast, sweet rolls or cereal and juice, is worse for me than no breakfast at all. So I might have a hard-boiled egg and some milk or something, but in general, I stick with the food I brought.
Often I make my favorite peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies to bring with me, which give me a good shot of energy and are substantial enough with the oats and peanut butter to last for a while. That’s how I started thinking of those as Food Cookies.
So all of that gets me through the day pretty well, then we can stop for dinner on the way home if we want. My preferred option for healthy road food is Subway, I have them put all kinds of vegetables on, no mayo just oil and vinegar, and it’s good and sometimes it really hits the spot. But if I don’t feel like being healthy, I don’t worry about it. We’ll go to Taco Bell or McDonald’s or wherever and I eat junk food and figure it prevents me from wanting it some other time.
However a few years ago, I realized that I had started to associate working at events with eating junk food. This would probably be fine if I was working one or two events a year but I had a bunch of events scheduled in a row and I was already at my maximum acceptable weight and I really didn’t need to be eating junk food throughout the entire spring. But it is true that sometimes a fast food place is your only option on a trip like that.
What to do?
I decided that as a compromise I would let myself stop at whatever fast food places I wanted, and I could eat anything I wanted, except French fries.
French fries aren’t necessary. There’s no way my brain could try to convince me that it really NEEDED French fries, the way it could convince me that I really NEEDED to stop at McDonald’s — because I was hungry and had been working all day and that’s all there is and anyway it’s cheap. It’s fine, whatever, don’t worry about it.
So I decided that everything was fair game but no French fries and what I quickly discovered is that if I couldn’t have French fries, I had no real interest in getting fast food. It just didn’t appeal to me at all.
So that was a good lesson and I go back to that every now and then if I’ve somehow ended up in junk food mode and am having trouble putting a stop to it. You want junk food? Sure, go for it. Just no French fries.
Mmm, okay, never mind.
Last week I went to Charlotte to talk to festivals and events people to try to convince them to hire The Scrap Exchange for events, and I knew I’d get food at the conference but decided to take some snacks with me too, just in case.
I spent $7.04 out of my allotted $30 per diem, leaving me with $22.96 to spend later on the trip, or to save for future snacks or junk food. (I ended up spending about $15 of it on the trip, on dinner on the way home and some juice for the drive.)
I got a tangelo (Tangelos Minneola) , my very favorite but unfortunately somewhat pricey kind of orange, plus some granola (Honey Gone Nuts Gr) and some whole wheat fig bars (Whole Wheat Honey). Also some figs (Unsulphured Turkis) and some nuts (Whole Raw Almonds). I also made some bread using the universal muffin recipe from the Tightwad Gazette, which I’ll write about later in a separate post.
The food at the conference was good, so I didn’t eat too much of what I brought, just the orange and a couple figs and some almonds. But the good thing about getting food like this with my per diem money is that if I don’t eat it at the event, I can eat it later in the week and it lowers my grocery bill overall.
So I had some extra snacks for the week and that was great.
And yes, I know, I’m such a cheater.