Culinary Adventures From A Touring Drummer: How To Keep It Tasty, Healthy, and Cheap On The Road!
by Stefanie Zaenker
A lot of people assume that being in a touring band and living on the road precludes enjoying any kind of delicious, nutritious, and interesting foods. With multiple national and regional tours under my belt I can assure you that is not the case, even for a struggling, DIY band with little to no disposable income. We usually make just enough on tour to cover gas and our meals, and we’ve eaten our way across the country experiencing things from “gourmet” ginger/pineapple PBJ’s, to the smokiest possible Texas brisket, to delicious home cooked meals from couch surfing hosts. I’ve fielded so many questions about what we eat on the road from interested friends, family, and fans, and even other bands that curiously smell our to-go containers of barbecue and dan dan noodles.
I’m in an eclectic heavy rock band from Washington, D.C. called Caustic Casanova, and we’re currently in the middle of our longest ever, six week national tour. The number one rule that we abide by on tour is to do whatever it takes (within reason) to keep ourselves happy. This is imperative for any group of people literally spending 24 hours per day together for weeks. All three of us love touring for many reasons – mostly the music and new travel experiences, but also because of the different regional cuisines that we get to try in new cities. Eating two to three meals every day gives us two to three opportunities each day to experience something new, satisfying, or at least stimulating – and that keeps us pretty happy. Of course situations arise on tour where a two minute pit stop for taquitos at 7-11 is all we have time for, but this happens surprisingly infrequently all due to a minuscule amount of extra planning. Below I’ll outline some of our strategies for eating (relatively) healthy, delicious, and cheap on the road.
*First let me start off by saying that we are all omnivores with a willingness to try anything and few food allergies. I do understand that some diet and lifestyle choices or allergies and sensitivities may make it harder to have access to good food all the time. That being said, I am only speaking about our experiences as a band because that is what I have experience with!
PBJ’s! The night before we leave for tour we all split the cost of many loaves of different breads, crunchy AND creamy peanut butter, at least 5 different jams/spreads (Less than $70 total). Then I make them and mix and match flavors and textures until we have at least enough different PBJ’s to last all three of us for a week – last time I made about 60! Wrapped tightly in a foil/plastic bag combo and kept in a cooler they keep surprisingly fresh for up to a week. Each of us will eat a sandwich for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, and then get something else for dinner so we only have to spend money on food once per day for that first week (sometimes longer if they last). Some winning, band approved pbj combos have included crunchy pb/candied ginger/pineapple jam and creamy pb, Nutella, AND blackberry jam.
The advantages of this method are ten-fold: PBJ’s are delicious and are packed with energy and protein, they are cheap and quick to make, easy to consume in our van, easy to store, and it’s easy to make more by stopping at a grocery store for supplies.
Usually we are a bit bored of PBJ’s once they run out, but have accumulated at least a little bit of money in our band fund to not have to watch every penny. I’ll add here that everything we make at shows off the door or selling merch is funneled directly into our tour fund and is used exclusively for gas and meals. We save a lot of money by not using it for alcohol or any other expenses. The extras (whatever they may be) always come out of our individual pockets, unless it’s music-related.
Another method that we use is doing a bit of research on the next city we’ll be in to see if there’s any sort of regional specialty that none of us have tried. Last time it was 5-way chili in Cincinnati and St. Louis-style BBQ in St. Louis. A lot of these places end up being inexpensive because they are either hole-in-the-walls or non-fancy regional specialties. We’ve used many different resources to find these places in the past – Yelp, asking a local or the staff at a venue, or asking our couch surfing hosts. (This is a complete tangent – but every touring band should check out couchsurfing.com for help with places to stay while on tour, especially in new cities where you don’t know anyone. We’ve been using it for years and have had 99% good experiences. It’s free, and we’ve met so many rad and super generous people.)
Obviously we need to stay hydrated so we buy 24 packs of water (usually around $4) and break down the pack by putting the individual bottles in car doors or any nooks and crannies we can find. That saves a lot of space in a cramped van. We keep Metamucil packets in the van to mix with the water, and each have one every morning to keep our bowels functioning and happy. TMI?!
We always have protein bars or other protein rich snacks in the van that we can grab and go in a pinch. Most of them taste alright, they’re relatively cheap, and they’re packed with protein which will keep you full longer if you’re late for sound check and don’t have time for lunch or dinner.
The only thing missing from our culinary touring ritual is a van with a built-in coffee maker! We love our van, Ruby Hillard, regardless.
Our touring motto is “always and adventure” and being adventurous and thrifty with our tour cuisine helps us live it out! You can follow our tumblr blog at www.causticcasanova.tumblr.com for food posts, tour musings, and other compelling, behind-the-scenes content.