Finish what’s on your plate, avoid food waste and why you shouldn’t waste a morsel at Burning Man

eat it all sign
    Food gone bad, food not wanted, food packed in excess. Food. Food is one of the more significant forms of waste at Burning Man. Plan ahead to reduce your food waste. One of the easiest ways to reduce food waste is–when offered any food–only take what you’re going to eat. If you do end up taking more than you can eat, or if you don’t want to finish eating something, find someone who will finish your plate for you ASAP.

    Find someone to eat leftovers, even those on your plate

    If you make a meal and have leftover food, gift it immediately. There are many people who’d be grateful for a warm bite (or warm plate) of food. Do anything and everything you can to keep food from ending up in the trash can at Burning Man.

    If you’re part of a camp and have group meals, there is usually someone (excuse the stereotype, but often young men are willing to comply) who will even eat leftover food from your plate.

    A little story

    One year, I was visiting friends at their village around dinner time. I knew many people in this village and was going around from table to table, saying hello. I came to a table of some people I’d met at the D.C. burner happy hour and knew they virgins. The gentleman I knew sat back comfortably in his chair, satisfied with the tasty meal he’d eaten (and it was a tasty meal; they had a chef in their camp running their kitchen).

    I looked at him, looked at his plate, saw that he’d left a fair amount of food on his plate–mostly a large slices of fresh, marinated onion and veggies–and said, “Hey, what’s going on? We don’t waste food waste here. He responded, telling me that he didn’t like onions.

    To which I looked at him quizzically and said, “Then why did you take them and put them on your plate?” Turns out they’d had a serving line and someone had loaded up his plate with food, though rather than being “playa polite” and saying “no onions, please, I won’t eat them” he had been “default-world polite,” accepting the food, knowing he wouldn’t eat them.

    We are the municipality at Burning Man

    I offered to eat his onions, right then and there, and I was glad that he accepted my offer. I then said to him, gently yet firmly, “We’re not in the default world. We are the municipality when at Burning Man, the sewer, the waste disposal system, the garbage collectors. Any food not eaten becomes trash, and trash that is wet and organic sits around for days–sometimes a week or more–and becomes stinky, wet trash that we have to haul out. My dear, it’s important to finish all your food. All the time.”

    I encouraged him and his virgin friends to always find a open mouth for any uneaten food, and, first and foremost to only take the food they knew they’d eat.

    Offer to be your groups LNT lead or volunteer

    Do yourself a first-timer favor, and offer to help load or unload your camp’s trash at the end of the week. Why do I encourage you to help in this role? It’s important to understand that we truly are a Leave No Trace event. Deal with the waste. Smell the stink. Handle a week’s worth of trash that has been sitting, “cooking” in plastic bags in the hot desert sun. In doing so, you’ll forever think about food waste on the playa in a different light.

    Go with a camp that has a meal plan

    As a first-timer, I strongly encourage you to go with a camp that has a meal plan, one where you don’t have to plan for and prepare all your food. Dinner time and shared meals offer a great way to connect with campmates. Not having to manage your daily meal prep is a reprieve on your schedule. And not having to plan out all your meals is a reprieve on your planning.

    Be an apprentice and observer in year one

    If you’re really into cooking, I recommend that for your first year on playa you drastically reduce any plans or expectations about cooking and instead learn from others, observe. Then, in year two or beyond, you can take on a larger role with food prep.

    For your virgin year, focus on the overall experience and learn from others in what they make and bring (in the kitchen and beyond). Volunteer in the camp kitchen (of course!), helping out with a shift or two to make some group meals. Then you’ll have a better sense for future years of how you want to manage your meal prep and plans.

    Be a proud, upstanding member of the Clean Plate Club when at Burning Man.


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    Eat it all photo by Annie Shelmerdine on Unsplash

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