Want to eat cheaply? The dry bean experiment —
A travelogue entry on the cost benefits of eating dry beans. Traveling with an electric burner or another cooking device, a pot, and putting the time into cooking a couple loads of beans a week could dramatically lower the cost of travel.
The crew chief on the archaeology project that I have been working on in the Tonto Forest in Arizona spent 7 years traveling the world.
“I thought that I would just keep going like that forever,” he once told me.
But he got married, took the deep road into archaeology, and became one of the best archaeologist that I have ever worked for.
“Are you feeling the urge to get going again?” I asked him.
He just bought a house in Phoenix — his first — and we laughed a little about how a world traveler all of a sudden found himself a local.
The crew chief sometimes asks me about my travels and we compare notes. We had both traveled over many similar tracts of the earth. But I must admit that I feel very foolish when he asks me about food.
“Did you ever eat XXXX food in Chile?”
“Did you ever eat XXXX food in Peru?”
I have not yet gotten up the guts to tell him that I eat the same food no matter where I am in the world: beans, chicken, eggs, cheese, rice, bread, noodles, vegetables (read Traveler Food Travel Tip).
I eat these foods because they are the cheapest, and I can often prepare them myself. I have never gotten into dinner table tourism. I eat for the fuel to travel, and I want the cheapest fuel I can possibly find.
In the USA, my wife and I are continuously looking for ways to keep our food expenditures as low as possible, so we keep up the same strategy as we do while abroad: we cook for ourselves — we eat beans, chicken, rice, bread, noodles, vegetables.
We have also began experimenting with dry beans.
In regards to the calorie/ cost ratio, dry beans are perhaps the cheapest food in the world next to rice. But I have always had a slight fear of venturing down the dry bean road. First of all, canned — ready to eat — beans are relatively cheap; second, it takes a long time to prepare and cook dry beans.
I could not determine whether the time/ savings ratio would make dry beans worthwhile. So I bought a bag of dry beans for a buck and put them to the test.
They took a long time to prepare: I soaked them in a pot of water for 8 hours.
They took a long time to cook: even after boiling them for 2 hours they were still only barely edible.
But, in the end, I had an entire pot brimming over with food. An entire pot of high protein, high calorie food for a dollar. My wife and I ate these beans for every meal for three days. I think we got a protein supply for 7 meals out of one dollar. Not bad. To get this many beans out of the canned variety I would have needed to drop at least three or four dollars.
But, really, was ten hours of preparation worth saving a couple of dollars?
A couple of dollars saved a few times a day is the raw inertia to travel the world.
In point, it is my impression that eating dry beans would need to become a habit to make it worthwhile. It would need to be something that I do once or twice a week as a part of my traveling routine. Neither soaking the beans overnight nor keeping them on the burner for two hours would be that much of a chore IF it became a part of my standard operating procedure.
Though I must admit that if preparing dry beans while traveling was something that I only did once in a while, I probably would not do it too often. A little paradox of traveling is that food which takes a long time to prepare is not eaten very often — no matter how cheap it is.
I know that my wife and I could travel through many places in the world and live off of a bean and rice diet for only a buck a day. We carry our own cooking supplies — an electric burner and a pot — as well as put in the preparation time to make our own meals, and using dry beans would allow us to travel even cheaper than we already do.
I am now an advocate of the dry bean. They will not spoil, are relatively lightweight, and, when cooked, will supply a good source of protein and calories for many meals. They can be cooked once or twice a week, and then carried in tupperware containers and snacked on at will for days afterward. They can be combined with rice, noodles, eggs, or vegetables, spiced up, and made into a solid meal.
The dry bean is a good food for traveling, if you are willing to cook for yourself, and eat a little bitter.
I want to keep traveling, I want to go to as much of the world off of as little work as possible, I want to have as many days as I possibly can of walking around foreign cities, talking to strangers, making friends, and being with my small family — so I eat beans and rice.
More about eating cheap while traveling
Traveler Food Travel Tip
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