How to feed 150 people in the desert
I’m driving through rolling green countryside when things start to look drier. Then I’m in a cloud of dust. Dust, fine as talc, on the floor and suspended in the air. That’s where I’m going; it will take me four and a half hours before I reach the entrance gates of Burning Man. Windstorms whip my van as I crawl past. There are no gas stations and only a few Porta Potties along the road which I give up to use the truck. The logistics of life on the Playa aren’t for the faint of heart – and I haven’t even officially arrived yet.
Each year, some 70,000 Burning Man attendees make this trip to Black Rock City in the Nevada desert. A community of creatives and adventurers builds a pop-up city, lives together for a week, then turns it all to dust. As the first settlers – mostly people with special passes to build big projects – trickle in, the city seems to double in size and complexity every 24 hours. On Saturday, when most attendees arrive, it looks like you’ve landed in a bustling, futuristic metropolis with lights stretching out into the dark desert night and EDM coming from everywhere, all the time.
Once you show your ticket at the door, the Playa is a currency-free zone – there’s nowhere to buy anything, even basic supplies. What you eat, drink, and experience in Burning Man is entirely up to how well you plan, what you pack, and how generous the people you meet are. This brings me to my first piece of advice for beginners: don’t go it alone. You want to be invited with people who have been there in the past, people who already know what they are doing and will look out for each other. Here are some other tips I learned during my stay.
What to bring to Burning Man
Even if you’re staying at an established camp with a group of seasoned Burners, there are still things you’ll want to bring for yourself. Number one is water. It’s kind of an unspoken Playa law that while people can offer to share all sorts of things with each other – food, drink, drugs, art – asking someone to share their water is forbidden. The attitude is that it’s your responsibility to bring your own and make sure you don’t die. (Of course, in a real emergency, people will lend a hand and medical services are available, but not bringing enough water is considered somewhere between a major party fault and an offense to all that Burning Man represents.)
Start with five gallons of personal drinking water, then add the extra water you need for cooking, bathing, washing your kitchen utensils, and anything else you might need. Need a cup of coffee to start your day? Then you will need more water for that too. If you are staying at a camp, determine in advance what can be shared and who needs to bring what.
This also goes for food. In my camp, we fed 150 people at every meal, every day of the event. But even if you stick with a smaller group, don’t expect to subsist on trail mixes and protein gels. Sharing, being generous with your neighbors, and being creative in what you give to the community are big things here.
As much as possible, I recommend planning each meal in advance and getting ready before you even get to the venue. Measure, chop and pack everything you can in advance, label it for each meal and store it in coolers for travel. It will help with organization and save you time and effort when trying to gather your ingredients in the middle of a dust storm and minimize the waste you have to take with you.
Some people have been building elaborate restaurants and bars during their time, including a group that’s been creating a project they’ve been calling Golden Guy Alley since 2017, featuring an entire neighborhood of tiny cafes and bars inspired by bustling Allies and life. Tokyo night. Another camp creates a New Orleans-inspired French market with chicory coffee, bourbon cocktails and beignets. Some of these pop-ups work throughout the week, others only last for an hour or two and then never again. Everyone at Burning Man is welcome to eat and drink at these pop-ups (if you can find them, that is), but the unspoken rule is that you have to be prepared to invite your camp neighbors over. and others for something at home, too, at least once during your stay.
If you’re a hosting company, you’ll need a way to cook. Try to bring sturdy equipment that can withstand the conditions and bring as few items as possible: barbecues or propane stoves with one or two burners should suffice for a basic set-up. Don’t forget, it’s Burning Man. You don’t want to just show up with a can of beans.
What it’s like to cook and eat on the Playa
Dust and sand are part of life at Burning Man. As soon as you arrive, a greeter throws dust everywhere, no need to try to avoid it; you might as well acclimatize. But that sand isn’t like the crispy, rocky sand you’re probably used to on the beach. It’s more chalky and powdery. Camps will use RVs and structures to try to create inner circles with less sand, but strong winds will still blow it.
Sand doesn’t have much taste or texture when it inevitably gets into food, but it can make you thirstier than you already are. And everyone is always thirsty. This indicates what you want to cook. In our camp, most of what we served were tangy, punchy flavors with lots of salt, like a cold vegetable salad with vinegar, soy sauce and hot peppers. (Nobody wants a dinner of mashed potatoes when they’ve been sweating all day.) Citrus fruits are especially important. Sure, you want the bright, refreshing flavors, but for another reason as well: While I don’t use psychedelics myself, those who do report that lemon juice, in particular, heightens and prolongs the effects of psilocybin.
On decompression and returning to normal life
When you change your routine and go on a big trip, you never come home feeling 100%. And a week in the desert can really take its toll on the body: you’ve just had a week on a crazy, high-sodium diet, you’ve been in the sun, and you haven’t kept up your usual habits. After these conditions, when you return, you will likely be bloated and bloated.
As you re-enter life post-Burning Man, consider reducing your sodium intake and focusing on eating healthy, fresh foods at your regular meal times. Once you have rested, resume your exercise routines. But above all: be kind to yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself for a little gloom when you’ve just returned from this crazy experience. Just know that it’s okay to take several days of hydration and a normal routine before returning to your usual state. But remember: Memories are worth it.—As said to Brittany Martin