The dedication of my readers to maintain the Primal lifestyle through thick and thin never ceases to impress me. They fly halfway across the world just to go barefoot, eat turkey skin, crawl around on a jungle gym, and hunt for sandcrab carcasses in Oxnard, CA. They research, shop for, and eventually purchase entire chest freezers and then fill the interiors with cow, lamb, and pig pieces. And, if a slew of recent emails is indeed representative of the community at large, they’re deeply committed to eating Primally when traveling, on the road, camping, or in the middle of the ocean. (In the last week I’ve received emails from a band member, a truck driver, a backpacker, and a naval officer.) That’s great, and I’m happy to hear about the dedication, but they weren’t writing in for virtual pats on the back. They wanted cold, hard advice for staying dietarily true in unfamiliar, potentially unfriendly locales, and I thought I’d help out.
So, what is one to do without access to the local grass-fed beef guy, cast iron skillets, bug-eating chicken eggs, and the diner that cooks everything in bacon grease?
Invest in a Cooler and Fill it with Perishable Food
If you don’t want to be relegated to canned items and dry goods on your road trip, this is a no-brainer. Get a medium- or large-sized cooler and two gallon-sized ziploc bags full of ice, plus two more spare bags. When the ice melts, stop at a gas station or fast food joint, dump (or drink) the water, and refill the bags with fresh ice. If a bag breaks, pull out a new one. You’ll have a portable fridge and a constant, inexpensive way to keep it, and your food, cold.
The day before your departure:
Hard boil at least a dozen eggs per person. My method for large eggs: put eggs in pot, cover with two inches of cold faucet water, bring to a roiling boil, turn off heat, put the cover on, and let sit for seven minutes. After seven minutes, dunk your eggs in an ice bath to stop the cooking. This leaves the yolk slightly soft and still creamy. Add 30 seconds to the cooking time if you want a drier yolk. Place eggs in gallon ziploc bags. Keep the shell on and a steady supply of ice in the cooler and they’ll last up to a week. Take some salt and pepper, too.
Cook two or three pounds of meat per person. Be it a roast or a bevy of steaks, get your hands on the best meat you can and grill it, roast it, or sear it. Stick to ruminants (beef, lamb, bison), since they keep better than chicken, pork, or fish (less delicate polyunsaturated fats). Stick to singular hunks of meat you can conceivably eat cold with your hands, rather than stews, chilis, or soups that require utensils and heating. Keep the sauciness to a minimum and stick to simple flavors, like salt, pepper, and a few herbs.
Roast, grill, or bake a bunch of veggies. Cook some sliced carrots, onions, peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, and asparagus – or any physically large vegetables that taste good cold – and pack them away. The easiest way is to throw them in a roasting pan with some salt, pepper, and fat (olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, or palm oil all work great). The tastiest way is to grill them over open flame, seasoned similarly. Include a few baked sweet potatoes, too, which taste incredible cold.
Consider quality cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, and full-fat yogurt. These are worthwhile foods that also do best when refrigerated. You can technically get by keeping them at room temperature, but I’m not a fan of sweaty meat and cheese or warm, runny yogurt. If you like your gouda to perspire, go for it.
Take some fruits and vegetables that are commonly eaten raw. Carrots, berries, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, apples, plums, peaches, and jicama can all hold up for a couple days outside the cooler, and for quite longer within it.
If your trip is long and your supply of food begins to dwindle, you can easily restock at grocery stores with hot bars along the way. Rotisserie chickens will last at least two days in the cooler; disassemble for efficient storage. Keep your eyes out for barbecue joints, as ribs, pulled pork, and brisket will all keep if kept cold. Just be sure to keep those ziploc bags full of fresh ice.
Stock Up on Non-Perishables
There’s nothing wrong with a can of sardines or a handful of macadamias, and not every car, boat, or bindle can accommodate a cooler. In these situations, knowing which foods are both non-perishable (or at least have a decent lifespan out of the fridge) and Primal can help you decide what to buy and bring on the trip.
Get a wide variety of canned seafood. This is arguably your most nutritious, dependable option, with plenty of omega-3s, protein, minerals like selenium, magnesium, zinc, and iodine, and if you choose wisely, bones, skin, and connective tissue. Sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, oysters, clams, tuna, and salmon are all relatively common items. Restocking can be a cinch, since you can find canned sardines and tuna in most places. Keep a jar of Dijon and buy cherry tomatoes when they’re available. Mix the Dijon with a couple cans of the fish of your choice and toss in a handful of tomatoes for a quick and dirty salad. I’d avoid canned meats, however. Maybe I’m not being fair, but something about canned shredded beef creeps me out. And for those of you worried about BPA, I’ll take trace amounts of probable endocrine disruptors over week old soybean oil and deep-fried chicken extrusion encased in wheat flour. Speaking of which, make sure your seafood comes canned in olive oil, its own oil, or water.
Buy, or make, jerky of all types. I recommend taking the extra time to procure a large slab of lean meat so you can choose your marinade and save incredible amounts of money and make your own jerky.
Buy, or make, pemmican. Man cannot live on lean meat alone. No, he needs fat, especially animal fat. Pemmican provides both protein and saturated animal fat, but it takes some getting used to. I still haven’t full embraced it myself… but there’s no denying its ability to nourish and sate. And if you’ve already made jerky, making pemmican is the next natural progression.
Bring some nuts. Nuts get kind of a bad rap for their caloric density and tendency to stall weight loss in some folks, but caloric density in a small package may be what you’re after. If so, take your favorite nut. I like macadamias, for the buttery smoothness and low omega-6 levels, but even walnuts are better short-term feeding options than your average fast food menu item.
Make some kale chips. Not much more needs to be said. Watch the vid and follow along.
Make a Primal energy bar. Honestly, you could probably get by on this bar.
Want more? Browse the Primal snack list (and be sure to read the comments, where readers included their favorites).
No cooler, no canned goods (cause maybe you just don’t feel like all that prep work), surrounded by chain restaurants and fast food joints pumping the area with potent smells, hunger scratches at your belly. You would go without, except it’s been hours and you have several days left on the trip. You’ve gotta eat. There are “choices,” like fast food spots, but not any you feel like acknowledging. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where boys become men and girls become women. It’s a test, of effective foraging in a suboptimal environment, akin to looking for fruit during a nasty drought or berries in the dead of winter. Can you do it?
You may want to bone up on your modern foraging techniques, beyond the basics (“hold the bun,” “cook that in butter,” “no beans or rice, please,” or “can I substitute extra vegetables instead?”):
Scan the menu and identify the biggest immediate threats – grains (especially wheat), seed oils, and sugar – and eliminate them from contention. No buns, no stir fries, no deep fried items, etc.
Run reconnaissance. Does this Mexican place cook in real lard? Does this burger joint grill over open flame (good; slim chance of added oils) or fry on the range (maybe not good; watch for liberal oil usage)? Does the restaurant make their own dressings fresh? Don’t take “reconnaissance” literally and go sneaking around in the kitchen. Instead, ask the head cook or manager those basic, pointed questions to get real, honest answers.
Keep a tiny bottle of extra-vigin olive oil holstered at your side at all times. Salads are the classic go-to Primal compromise, but the dressing can be a deal breaker. Bust out your olive oil and ask for some balsamic vinegar (which is never, to my knowledge, adulterated like restaurant “olive oils” are). Keep the bottle tiny and you may avoid being pegged as the weird guy or being thrown out for “outside condiments.”
Forget celiac; you’re allergic to whatever ingredient they derive their oil from. Is soybean oil used, like at Chipotle? You are allergic to soy. Canola oil? You’re allergic to canola. A Worker Bee even convinced an Indian restaurant he frequented that he was “allergic to vegetable oils of all kinds” and that his doctor “forbade him from eating anything made with vegetable oil.” And it worked. He got everything made with real ghee and butter.
If foraging conditions prove way too harsh, I’ll just not eat and chalk it up to an impromptu, truly random intermittent fast. This is pretty standard for me. I can handle not eating for a day and maintain energy without going too crazy. But that’s me – I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve built up a strong tolerance to going without. You may not, and that’s cool. Just know that it’s a viable option, and often a better one than eating junk.
I’ve found that things change when I’m traveling with family or friends. If it’s just me on business, alone, I’ll often skip meals, but if I have my wife or kids along, or I’m traveling with friends for pleasure, I generally will not skip meals. I’m there to be with them, to enjoy their company, and if they’re eating, so am I. If I have to meet someone for a business lunch, I’m not going to sit stone-faced and staring as the other person wolfs down a plate. That’s just bizarre. For all you parents, I’d strongly recommend not forcing your family into an IF against their will.
I’ve been pretty successful following these general guidelines over the years, but I’m interested to hear what works for you folks. How do you cope with unfamiliar, unfriendly food environments? Do you abstain from food altogether, do you dip into the 80/20, or do you somehow maneuver your way around the dietary landmines to get a full stomach?
Let me, and everyone else, know in the comment section!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.