organic vegetarian meals for the trail

Cook in Bag? No!

Cook in Bag – Backwoods Fast Food

We found it to be a little disheartening that so many hikers wanted to know if we offered “boil in bag” packaging at the annual Trail Days event in Damascus, VA. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this involves the use of a heavy releasable stand-up pouch capable of sustaining the high temperature of boiling water. The food ingredients are effectively “cooked” by pouring heated water directly onto the food particles within the bag, then transferring the bag to a pot “cozy” to keep it hot. After several minutes the food is satisfactorily hydrated and is consumed directly from the plastic pouch.

Overall, this system just doesn’t jive with us. Pouring boiling water into a plastic bag strays away from Outdoor Herbivore’s business philosophy of using minimally processed, organic ingredients & less packaging waste. Due to environmental and personal health concerns, we will not sell our products within these plastic pouches. Instead, we offer products capable of cooking within your own reusable cook bag or a cook-pot.

Why not?

We realize the pouch method of cooking simplifies the cooking and clean-up process, but it also offers disadvantages which we feel outweigh the advantages.

Personal & Environmental Safety

Frankly, we don’t like the idea that plastic particles may be floating in the food. Just because the FDA has given the thumbs up does not mean it is safe over the long-run. In reality, you get the pleasure of testing the long-term health risks. Plus, Outdoor Herbivore is looking for ways to limit our exposure to plastics and ways to incorporate eco friendly packaging within our business.

Space, Weight & Waste

The boil in bag method presents extra waste and resources than is necessary for the environment. These bags are packaged for individual use and single use. The bags are large and heavy because they double as both an eating and cookable packaging apparatus. Obviously the bags have to be larger than the food product contained inside to accept the boiled water, and to allow for the expansion of the food via rehydration. Surely these bags could be washed and reused for another meal; however, sadly, we got the impression that these bags are rarely reused. Instead, they are packed out and disposed of.

Plastic bags are not biodegradable.

The plastic only separates into smaller pieces over several centuries. In fact, it takes onwards of 1,000 years for the environment to break down the bag into smaller bits of plastic particles, and in doing so, release toxins that contaminate nearby water, soil, and wildlife. The production of plastic bags also requires the use of petroleum.

Group Hiking. How much space and weight is it really saving, anyway?

If you are hiking alone, maybe it makes more sense to use the single serve, single use plastic bag method. But, what if you are not hiking solo? If you are hiking with other individuals who also enjoy the cook in bag convenience, each person must carry their own separate meal. The consequences quickly compound when each party adopts this method. Also, make sure you factor in the collective weight savings. Obviously, there will be considerable weight savings if 2 or more people can share a meal packaged in a single bag.

Utility of Space

The density of the bag can create sharp corners and make it cumbersome to cinch your stuff around the multiple cook bags.  This  can tear your gear and even cut into your skin if you are not careful.  We find it much easier to pack with traditional sandwich sized ziplock bags.

Food Quality

To be able to cook a meal by just pouring hot water over it means the ingredients are likely to be highly processed. Processed ingredients represent a host of external costs that far outweigh the conveniences. Anyway, why not just eat ramen noodles instead? The packaging is less, the cook time is quick, and the dish cleanup is far from difficult. What to look for when comparing backpacking or camping foods.

Cook Time

We understand that most of us would prefer not to labor over a hot stove waiting for a hot cooked meal while outdoors. However, is a 10 minute rest time or a few minutes of simmering in a cook-pot really that long? If you are concerned about running out of fuel while backpacking, make sure you read our tips on cooking to save fuel.

Cleaning Up

Finally, we don’t find rinsing pots to be that terrible of a task. Maybe that is because we have the chore down to a science. Here are some tips that you may find useful for making clean-up a breeze.

Tips for cleaning your pot

  • Add 1 TB of olive oil when you boil your water. This adds calories to the meal plus makes it easier to clean up if you do not have a coated pan. We use a non-coated aluminum pan and do not have any trouble cleaning with this method.
  • Add some water to the pot, swish it around and drink. Soup! Seriously, this works fine if you are low on water or not near a source of water.  Why waste food bits or water on cleaning when your body can use it?
  • Dip it or lick it. Have some spare bread or tortilla? Wipe the pot clean with a chunk of bread and you’ve got an instant dip! No bread? How about licking the pot clean? No wasted nutrients! 
  • Soap? You don’t need it. Just pour ¼ C of water into the dish and swoosh with a one-quarter sized sponge (at home divide and cut a household scouring sponge into 4 squares).
  • If you feel you need to use soap, we highly recommend Dr. Bronner’s Magic 18-in-1 Organic Hemp Soaps. These soaps are 100 % organic and can be used on everything from cleaning yourself, dishes, shaving, to brushing your teeth.

An in depth comparison of Cook in Pouches sold by various camp food suppliers versus One-Pot Meals sold by Outdoor Herbivore

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