“Am Macro, can travel!”
Whole foods to go…Think like a scout – be prepared!
Traveling can prove challenging for individuals who are accustomed to preparing their own meals and balancing their energies with wholefood and/or macrobiotic principles.
It can be even more daunting for those practicing a healing eating plan for a specific condition. However it can be done – and very successfully at that. Usually it requires some planning and forward thinking. Just remember to think ahead, investigate options and lay your plans. Then let go of any worry and enjoy the journey. Sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry and sometimes it is equally healing and necessary to be spontaneous. No food of its own is that harmful, especially if eaten occasionally. Often the guilt and the worry cause more problems. Here are some tips to prepare yourself as best you can and use the journey to learn more about yourself and how your respond to different energies, environments, situations and foods…
A short time before you leave, tune into and investigate the climate of the region to which you are traveling. If it is different to the one where you live, try to start adapting your diet slightly to include foods that would be appropriate at your destination to give your body a head start in acclimatizing.
While traveling, eat according to your appetite which may change vastly depending on your physical, mental and emotional activity. Honor your needs.
If you travel frequently or at short notice, it may be a good idea to have a bag full of non perishable staples ready to go. You can add the perishable items at the last minute, or just use the staples, and supplement it with some careful choices on the road.
If you travel frequently by road, it may be a good idea to buy one or two butane burners (little stoves often used in restaurants for table-top cooking). They available at camping and outdoor stores, as well as through some macrobiotic suppliers and mail order companies. The energy they provide is good and they are safe and easy to use. If you use them a lot you can buy the replacement cartridges in bulk from the distributors. Perhaps they are not the most eco friendly option because of the disposable cartridges, but they can be very useful and safer than other gas appliances. Never take butane or any gas cartridge on an airplane. You can take the cooker with you (it is very light) and buy the butane cartridges on arrival if traveling by air.
Pack a good knife, but don’t take your best one. Buy an inexpensive vegetable knife such as a Caddie and pack it with your food, especially some fresh produce to make it obvious to anyone who may inspect it, that the knife is for cooking purposes. I have heard some funny and not-so-funny stories about people being stopped and searched while traveling.
If you will have the opportunity to use them, take a small grater and a salad press. Pack some eating utensils, natural dish washing detergent and hand washing soap (some can be used for both – to save space) and napkins.
Thermal cookers can be useful. I have one from Nissan. It is like a stainless steel crock pot without electricity – a glorified wide mouth thermos really! You put it on the boil and simmer for a few minutes, then place inside the outer cover and allow to “cook.” I sometimes cook porridge in it or softer millet or rice (rice and buckwheat together works out very well in it for some reason). The texture of the grain is different because of the long slow cooking. Beans and vegetable stews work out well in it. There is also the Aircore (“walk away cookware!!!”) which would have some interesting and useful applications on the road, especially if you only have one or two burners and need to prepare more dishes. You can also “cook” in a wide mouth thermos. This is especially good for rolled grains. Just put them in the thermos and fill with boiling water and a pinch of unrefined sea salt. Experiment with how long you need to leave it to get the texture that you like. Just be aware that the energy of the food is different. Less heat, perhaps more yin. But longer, slower cooking, more yang. You decide…
If you are on the road for a few days at a time regularly, it might be a good idea to buy a car refrigerator. These are quite good. They can also be plugged in at motels etc. For shorter journeys, a cooler may suffice.
Shop around for some good containers. Have different varieties on hand. I like the small stainless steel “bento” style boxes available at oriental grocery stores and some camping shops to store fresh cooked grains and veggies. Some flat plastic containers with partitions (like for chips and dips) for meal sized serves and when traveling with others. A small thermos is handy for tea and single serves of miso and a wide mouth thermos for stews and for cooking in.
You can also put some leftovers for the road such as extra steamed vegetables or oatmeal or cornmeal (this is quite good to put in a bento box. It will harden and then you have oat or corn slices!)
Cooked rice seems to keep the longest un-refrigerated. Millet tends to go off quicker. Some people like to add a little rice vinegar to their rice after it has been cooked to keep it longer.
If eating out in Asian restaurants be aware that often white rice is cooked with sugar, especially in Japanese restaurants or when the rice is used in commercial nori/sushi/California rolls. It may also contain commercial mirin made with sugar. Commercial soy sauce, tamari and miso are also very different to the varieties found in natural food stores.
The quintessential way to have your rice travel with you! The umeboshi plum at the centre (optional) keeps the rice fresher longer. Try variations such as other grains or seeds or chestnuts (my favorite!) cooked in with your rice, a piece of takuan (daikon) pickle, ginger pickle, tekka or cooked vegetables at the centre. Make millet balls or millet and amaranth balls. You will need to make the millet quite firm so don’t use too much water and make the balls when the grain is still warm. Make these with or without nori wrapping. Balls with vegetables will not keep as long as those made with rice and umeboshi alone.
A good variation. A bit more visually appealing than rice balls. Good when traveling with others and avoiding comments about the grenades (rice balls) in your lunch box. I find that they often start conversations. Especially when people see that I have used brown rice. They often ask me why and depending on whether I want a quiet lunch or not, this often leads to a conversation about macrobiotics and wholefoods! Be inventive with fillings. You can also make rolls with cooked greens instead of rice or lay alfalfa on nori, some carrot etc and roll it up!
When the rice is still warm from boiling or pressure cooking (the firmer rice that pressure cooking producing is more conducive for this style of preparation. If boiling make sure the rice is not too mushy).
Dip measuring cups (I cup or ½ cup size) or small bowls (try different shapes!) in cold water (to prevent it from sticking), then pack rice into them, invert to remove grain and allow to cool. Try with millet, buckwheat or various combinations of grains such as buckwheat and quinoa, millet and quinoa, millet and seeds, rice and chestnuts (unbeatable!), rice and walnuts or rice and adzuki beans. The possibilities are endless. These can also be made with a hamburger former.
Organic whole cornmeal, millet meal, cracked grains rolled grains. Can all be cooked in a wide mouth thermos or on the stove.
Easy to prepare on the road. Whole grain organic cous cous is an especially good staple to have on hand. Just add boiling water!
Take some ready prepared creations or bring the dough along.
The dried varieties in packets (Mitoku and Muso brands) keep indefinitely out of the fridge. Take a waffle iron along and have fun!
Take along a few boxes/packets of buckwheat, spelt, kamut etc pasta/noodles. If cooking for yourself these are quick to prepare. Often restaurants will be happy to cook it for you if you give it to the kitchen upon arrival.
No grain or grain product keeps better than true sourdough bread! Buy it from a reputable source before you go, or on the road. If cooking while traveling, steam a few slices to make it more digestible, especially if it is more than a few days old. Good quality sourdough bread actually improves with age and can be used for around 2 weeks. There is nothing better than making your own (see sourdough bread article to appear soon!)
This doesn’t keep too long out of the fridge. Good for the first day of your travels or if you have a fridge or cooler with you. Also available in most health food/natural food stores.
Make some sweet or savory cookies/biscuits to take with you.
Take some fresh rolled oats with you. Cook as usual if you have the facilities or use the thermos method.
Most restaurants that serve breakfast will have porridge or oatmeal. Just ask if they can make it with water instead of milk. If it is already made, just produce some that you have brought with you and ask them to prepare it or a packet of the least processed instant oatmeal you can find (for once in while) and ask for some hot water.
Take some cooked vegetables for the first day in your containers. If you are going to cook on the road you may want to take some already chopped vegetables with you. Replenish your stock as you go. Try to get organic/biodynamic if possible. If not available, don’t stress about it. Just select the best available. Apparently it is spiritually strengthening to occasionally eat old or not so vibrant looking vegetables!
A few tins of organic adzuki beans, lentils, chick peas etc are great to have on hand. Some have unrefined salt already added (American Prairie) and could be eaten straight from the tin. Others need to have salt added and be cooked into it (The Eden brand). Try to buy the ones in lead free cans. Remember the can opener!
Greens to go
It is important to keep eating greens when traveling. Often when you eat out, you can order salad or cooked spinach, but you can also try the following:
dried nettles tea. Buy the organic or biodynamic variety (tastes better, is more tender and has more nutrients etc). Put some in a container and pour boiling water over it and cover the container with a lid or plate for a few minutes.
Optional: add dulse, wakame or other instant type sea vegetable flakes before adding the water. Strain. Drink the liquid as tea and eat the greens!
Variation: Try dried alfalfa leaves, dried parsley or other dried greens. Dry some greens at home in a food dehydrator, on low temperature in the oven or in the sun. Try kale!
Take small jars or sachets of tekka, umeboshi plums and/or paste, miso – it should keep well in a small glass container. There is no need to bring the whole tub! (I recommend avoiding most instant miso). There is no harm in doing without miso for a few days if you don’t have access to cooking facilities. A little tekka on your meals may satisfy you if you are attached to having your miso daily and is a great alkalizer when on the road!
If traveling for a while make sure you take a small supply of your favorite type of unrefined salt with you for cooking and if taking items such as oatmeal or pasta to restaurants and you are particularly sensitive to salt you could ask them to use your salt in the preparation. Some people need more salt when traveling to centre and feel grounded, others get very “yangized” by travel and need less – listen to your body.
Take some toasted seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower) along for use as a condiment. Make some gomashio using the ratio of salt appropriate for your condition, climate and travel plans before you go and take that along as a healing condiment.
If you eat fish and are going to be preparing meals on the road, take some tins of whole sardines, salmon (with the bones) or tuna with you for easy meal preparation. You can add them to miso soup, vegetable dishes or eat on their own. If you do eat fish then it is fairly easy to find something straight off the menu at most places. Lately I have found that eating fish with vegetables is more balancing for me than taking my chances with a token vegetarian dish. The latter are usually so heavily seasoned and have all sorts of ingredients to try to ‘compensate’ for a lack of animal products! Just be wary of too many fish based meals in a short space of time if you are sensitive to strong foods or have a tendency to become too yang and contracted. Some people find fish balancing while traveling, others find it unbalancing. The trick it to listen to your body and see how it responds. Some people balance fish with fruit and others with more vegetables or raw vegetables. Some people just find that it naturally balances out.
Recently I ordered fish in a restaurant and wasn’t really inspired by the white bread that they offered. In the absence of other grain products I ate a plain baked potato with the fish and steamed vegetables and felt surprisingly balanced afterwards. It pays to keep an open mind! Most restaurants will have a fish of the day or fish dish on the menu. Just ask for it to be grilled/oven baked or steamed with no oil or butter – or to use minimal olive oil depending on the restaurant. Ask for some well cooked (otherwise they tend to serve them half raw) steamed or water sauteed vegetables and some salad (opt for dark leaves such as mescalin or salad mix or arugula/rocket if available).
If you eat raw vegetables, some carrots, celery, jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) etc are good to have on hand. If you eat fruit, take a few organic apples to munch on, or other fruit in season that travels well. Avoid traveling with “squishy fruit” – you just end up with a mess! Snap dried or ordinary dried fruit in small amounts can also be useful. Be wary of the multitude of supposedly healthy snack foods available. Although with some, the ingredients may seem okay, these are still processed and somewhat devitalized foods which don’t have the optimal chi needed for digestion and assimilation. In Ayurveda, processed foods are seen as devoid of ojas and prana – the life force and thereby use up more energy in their digestion than any nourishment that they offer. As an occasional treat they are fine for people in good health with good digestive capabilities. Read labels, trust your intuition, make your decision. If you choose to eat them, enjoy the experience without guilt!
Some people like to drink very little when traveling. Others tend to dehydrate when traveling, especially by air. In restaurants order green tea (un-dyed if possible – if it looks bright green, it is probably dyed), chamomile tea (check the tea bag, I have found some with sugar IN the tea bag!) Or plain black tea (once in a while). In fact if you have eaten more oil than agrees with you, order some strong green or black (ordinary or English breakfast, Earl Grey etc). Apparently there are substances in it that help metabolize the oil and reduce the possible effects. Supposedly it is one of the Chinese secret to staying slim and lowering cholesterol levels! Take along some bancha tea bags, green tea bags, roasted grain tea bags and any herbal tea that you use.
These always travel well. Take dulse flakes, dulse strands (I find these hard to resist right out of the packet), wakame flakes, toasted wakame, sheets of nori, nori flakes (good if you haven’t any greens while traveling) and any other sea vegetables that you like.
Invest in a food dehydrator and you can take any vegetables that you like with you! Or buy dried daikon, lotus root etc. These can be soaked and prepared easily when traveling. Dried daikon is particularly delicious and has many medicinal properties that can help if you are eating wider than you would at home. You can just soak it in hot water (the liquid makes a nice and very medicinal tea) and eat when traveling, though generally it is better to cook it!
Time to eat
If eating on the road, try to avoid eating while driving. Plan time to stop and eat and savor the foods that you have spend time planning for and preparing. Even if the meal is not as balanced as it could be, give thanks and put it down to experience. Try to find something about it that you can appreciate and enjoy. I find it useful to actually sit in the back seat if eating in the car to distinguish the two actions and make the meal more of an event that doesn’t just blend into the journey. Set out your meal as nicely as possible instead of gulping a few mouthfuls at the traffic lights. Be relaxed about food choices. Chew well and eat slowly. Enjoy the journey.
Traveling to a deeper level
Traveling is a grand opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth. The stresses, strains, challenges and joys of being on the road can help us journey fast and far on the inner road. Our buttons get pushed with delays and inconveniences; we are challenged to ask for what we want and need; we meet a cast of new and interesting characters who can inspire us; we can be presented with breathtaking scenery that throws us into the present moment and wakes us up from living life on automatic pilot.
In Ayurvedic terminology, travel upsets the Vata dosha, which among other aspects governs the nervous system. This dosha functions best when the body is given warmth, regularity in daily patterns, stability, nourishment and rest. All things that can be challenging when traveling! Do gentle stretching when possible or if you meditate, do tai chi, chi gong or yoga spend some time nourishing yourself and keeping your energies balanced. Intention is a powerful ally as well.
The Spleen/Pancreas/Stomach (Earth element in oriental traditions) likes stability. In my opinion these are the organ systems and the element most unbalanced by travel. In fact it is recognized that many people diagnosed with a disorder affecting the pancreas such as diabetes have the onset of their condition following emigrating or major travel. Obviously this is an extreme scenario and not the sole cause, but the stress of the instability and unawareness of the effects can be a triggering factor.
If you find yourself traveling frequently either by choice or necessity it may be a good idea to examine the condition of these organs and if appropriate take some time to do some deeper healing/nurturing with them.