Packing My Fears as a Vegetarian
Today I got up at four in the morning and got on a plane to Georgia. It was a bumpy ride, thanks to a ‘bomb cyclone’ this weekend that plunged the temperature in the Smokies below zero. Here in Roswell, Georgia, it’s a chill 30 degrees, with unseasonal flurries of snow.
I’m a vegetarian with unusual tastes, so not eating well on the trail is one of my biggest fears. I chose this particular Atlanta suburb to stage my departure for the trail because it has more stores than you can shake a stick at, despite being only 45 miles from the trailhead. Surrounding myself with organic food stores and halal markets on my way out is a coping mechanism, I guess.
I really made the rounds with my family today, from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods to a Persian grocery, and finishing at Publix for some basics. I was on the fence about mail drops for a while, but finally caved and made a plan for my partner to send me weekly drops at hostels through. Maybe I’ll regret it, but I know myself, and it’s hard to find much I want to eat at a Dollar General. If I change my mind I can always call things off.
So, here’s my devious plan to have comfort food on the trail and avoid facing reality:
1. Pack Protein-Rich Grains
For me, this means farro, bulgur wheat, quinoa, millet, and flax. I might experiment with chia seeds later on.
2. Sneak in Legumes Where I Can
The problem with packing out beans is that they take ages to cook. I dehydrated some before I left with mixed success. In my experience, small groceries have a poor selection of quicker-cooking legumes like lentils, so I’m snatching up stuff like roasted chickpea snacks and lentil-based pasta wherever I find it.
3. Experiment with Kishk
No, it’s not something illegal! Kishk is a Lebanese yogurt and wheat soup base that’s sold as a powder… which means it could be perfect for backpacking. I discovered it a few years back and fell in love with it, though the strong sour taste isn’t for everyone. I can’t wait to try it on the trail! It’s traditionally served with onions and meat in the broth, but I’ll just stick with the onions. A little goes a long way, and it’s packed full of protein.
4. Forage Wild Greens
I’ll need to balance all those grains with something fresh, which I’m hoping to find growing along the trail. Some edible plants are best left alone to avoid over-harvesting, but a few tasty non-natives grow like the weeds they are. I have the most experience with garlic mustard, chickweed, dandelion, and nettle, but also have my eye on cleavers, purple dead-nettle, and Japanese knotweed. Of course I’ll stock up from the produce aisle too when I have the chance.
5. Keep Things Spicy
I like my food with a lot of flavor, so I’m stocking up on some spice mixtures I won’t find on the trail: zaatar, ras el hanout and adobo. I also got nutritional yeast, which adds flavor and protein.
6. Don’t Forget the Oil
I use olive oil in almost all my meals, and I think it will be wise to keep up that habit on my hike. I might also keep some coconut oil or ghee on hand.
If I stick to this plan, I can eat pretty well, and sending stuff to hostels instead of post offices will make the process smoother. In the meantime, I’m enjoying pho and falafel and all the other good food, knowing that it’ll be a while before I can have them again.
Tomorrow I’ll pack up all my groceries, send a box to Dicks Creek Gap, and make the final adjustments to my gear. Then we’ll head to Amicalola Falls to pick up my hiker tag early, so I can head out before sunrise the next morning. This is finally happening!
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