A successful garbage-reduction campaign begins in the supermarket. I mean your local store, not the one in Reno. While it may make sense to stock up on water and other heavy freight after you’ve cleared the mountains, there are a lot of good reasons to buy the bulk of your groceries at home, the day before you depart. First, you’ll be able to do all your trimming and prep work at home, which not only simplifies cooking on the playa but also frees you from a particularly harsh source of Funk: animal bones and fat. Let’s face it: if you’re going to cut something off and throw it away, it makes sense to do it before you leave home, instead of buying that chicken bone a round-trip ticket to the Black Rock Desert. Moreover, it gives you a chance to jettison excess packaging and repack some of your perishable goods. The fine line between food and garbage gets particularly thin on the playa. If Food plus Heat times Time equals Funk, then the only way you’re going to prevent excess stinkiness is to eat all your perishables before they head south. When selecting menu items for playa dining, it’s important to keep the “long view” toward any particular food. Are you sure everyone in your party will like it? Are the portions appropriately sized? When dealing with foods with high Funk quotients, like meat and cheese, risk assessment is crucial. Before you put an item in your shopping cart, perform this simple exercise: briefly imagine what it’s going to smell like when it’s been out in the sun too long. Fill your mind with that smell. If it makes you gag, put it back. It’s that simple. Also, don’t make the mistake of bringing too much food; excess always equals garbage. If you’re like most people, your appetite will dry up after a day or two in the sun. It’s a natural consequence of putting your body in such an arid, inhospitable environment. Based on an informal survey of many playa-goers over the years, the average appetite loss seems to be on the order of 35 to 50 percent. For planning purposes, that means you only need 2/3 of the food that you think you’ll need, and everything else is dumb waste. If you wind up with an excess of canned or dried food, no big deal; you can just haul it home, dust it off, and pull it out again next year. But when it comes to perishables, excess really bites. Bottom line: don’t bother taking more than two days’ worth of fresh bread, fresh fruit, or fresh produce to the playa; they won’t last any longer than that no matter what you do. There’s no way you can win on this one: if you pack them in plastic, the greenhouse effect will steam them into mush. If you pack them in paper, they’ll be croutons in no time. In the high desert, perishables truly live up to their name. When it comes to packaging, choose aluminum over plastic, and plastic over glass. Aluminum can be recycled in camp, plastic can be crushed flat, and glass is just a big pain in the butt. My only exception here is in the realm of alcoholic beverages, where glass seems to redeem itself despite a tendency to split the seams of cheap trash bags and slice up the occasional foot.While beer is available in cans, good beer is not. Likewise, wine-in-the-box may be an efficient use of packaging, but it also reminds us of how very easy it is to take this whole trash-reduction thing too seriously. Here are a few more tips for your shopping basket: Bring water in 1-gallon jugs instead of those 2.5 gallon “suitcases” — they’re easier to use, and much easier to cram into a trash bag. They’re also refillable, where suitcases are not. Forget the watermelon; you’re not going to eat it. Every year, people leave a mountain of watermelons behind, and they never get eaten. I will never understand this. Ask any miner: canned food is good food!
Buy the bulk of your groceries at home, the day before you depart.