“‘I like food/ Food tastes good.’ In 1981 the Descendents unknowingly wrote a lyrical masterpiece and, unwittingly, my mantra. Yeah, that’s right, I like food… a fuckin’ lot. It’s a miracle that I’m not morbidly obese, or haven’t died of a heart attack or diabetes because I love to stuff comestibles in my face hole so goddamn much.”
-Nate Newton, Converge [via: Vice]
On my daily rounds across the internet, I stumbled across a peculiar tweet from ambitious truth seeking documentarians Vice. It was a collaboration that had me doing a double take. Converge’s Nate Newton had written an article for Vice about touring food. To make things a bit more interesting, I also learned Nate had endure the vegan lifestyle for a time. This certainly threw a curveball in my preconception of bands being able to recite the dollar menu for all fast food chains in America and really got me thinking, “How does a band eat on the road?” So I did some research and I’d like to present to you a compendium of information entailing tips on how to eat on the road, some touring food history and general experiences musicians have had at the expense of the touring lifestyle.
I’ve never experience touring myself aside from some school trips with jazz band and choir, and while lavish, we were still expected to feed ourselves. It’s different as a kid going from town to town with $200 dollars in his pocket to feed himself over the course of 2 weeks and buy knick-knacks than it is for a group of 6 or so guys travelling on a much more restricted budget. There is a certain novelty for Canadians going to the states because we are subjected to American advertising and having access to all of the franchises that haven’t had the opportunity to cross the border is like being a kid in a candy store. (Taco Bell to a Canadian is amazing for the record. Our Taco Bells average $8 per meal so I feel like a thief in the States) This didn’t last long though. After the third day of these trips, I was usually clamoring for a home cooked meal. I can only imagine that the experience gets a lot worse a lot quicker as an American.
Now during my research, the industry standard for a touring musician’s food money is ten dollars a day. So let’s hear about what musicians think of this kind of budget.
“$10 or less per person per day to eat on and basically eat the worst and cheapest food there is. These bands are very opportunistic. Most times there is no catering and no deli tray and you are lucky just to get water. In this scenario you are pinching every penny and eating whatever, whenever you can.”
- Chris Howorth, In This Moment [via: Myspace]
“We have 6 people on tour, our 5 Guys, and our merch guy “The maze”. We give everyone $10 bucks a day to eat on. (This isnt enough when your 6’ 4” and 200lbs like micah and I by the way)”
- Shane Blay, Oh Sleeper [via: Facebook]
“No matter what, you knew you could eat [at Taco Bell] and for under three bucks. If you needed food after a show [and if you were vegan], T-Bell was usually the only game in town… When the seven-layer burrito came out it was big news in the hardcore scene…”
- Nate Newton, Converge [via: Vice]
“Our first few years of tours, I would eat at Taco Bell twice a day and only spend one dollar on a bean burrito, then try to eat protein bars to hold me over until the next day. We would go to places like Cici’s Pizza Buffet and eat 10 plates of food for $5 because we thought it was a good deal.”
- Jonathan Diener, The Swellers [via: Alt Press]
So how do you save money and eat well on tour? Is it possible to spend less than $10 a day per person? Can you avoid fast food and dollar menus? Well, save for ‘free food’ options, a contributor on Yahoo Voices provides some recommendations.
“Watch what you eat. Probably the most basic tip, it’s one of the most often ignored tips in independent music–when touring, avoid fast food. It kills your budget and it kills your body. Instead, take nonperishable foods in a cooler and eat those. Your band can find a supermarket every few days, and get salads, greens, dry cereal, and sandwich material. You’ll save a ton of money and you won’t gain a whole bunch of weight. I’ve known a few bands that eat nothing but fast food on tours–they regularly expect to gain 5 pounds over the course of a 2 week outing. Don’t live like that, take the time to eat right, and if you’ve got to eat fast food for some reason, make it something healthy like a Subway veggie sub, don’t eat the 1/4 pounder burger crap.”
- Phil Dotree [via: Yahoo]
Foresight really is helpful and I can attest to that. On those school trips I mentioned earlier, my mom would give me some bananas sealed in a plastic bag and a bag of trail mix. These two things save me from many hungry hours on a bus and definitely alleviated grumpiness from my peers when I offered them a quick snack. Although I can’t imagine what would have happened if I ate that last banana 9 days in. Jonathan Devoto of Bird By Bird provides insight on eating rotten food.
“I’ve definitely gotten food poisoning on multiple occasions from eating food that was a little past its expiration point. It’s incredibly difficult to justify throwing away perfectly good food—rotten, mind you—when you only have $2 left in your wallet.”
- Jonathan Devoto, Bird by Bird and The Matches [via: Alt Press]
This begs the question, how else can you get food on tour AND save that 10 bucks a day without hitting up the ol’ Wal Mart checkout every couple of days? Well, if you’re lucky, some promoters still live with their parents.
“On arrival his mom would be up and waiting for you… She was into her kid being vegan so she actually cooked an amazing meal for everyone and would stay up all night sitting at the table with you, shooting the shit. You’d wake up to breakfast and be sent off with snacks. Moms are fucking great, aren’t they?”
- Nate Newton, Converge [via: Vice]
There is the scarce but most welcomed opportunity musicians get when a kid is into a band and convinces a parent to let them stay. This seems to be unquestionably the best scenario for a band. Laundry, beds, homecooked food and showers? For free? It’s the best of all worlds and at the end of the day, it’s super cool for the kid that likes the band. Though this isn’t entirely practical due to travel times and a lack of cool moms in the world etc. etc.
Nate also talks about promoters who provide food “Punk Stew”.
“…this guy would give you something he referred to as “food,” which would show up in a giant pot and there was usually a Tupperware container of cold rice to go with it. You would open the lid of the pot to see a lukewarm pool of reddish-colored water that, if you were lucky, would sometimes have part of a tomato floating in it. If you were really blessed, he would put stuff some sort of fake meat in there along with a few carrots. It was like eating an entire pot full of that nasty water that comes out of a ketchup bottle if you don’t shake it up first. While it’s always a kind gesture for someone to make food for you, the bar was set at the bare minimum. You would eat this stuff and immediately be hungry again in five minutes. You’d reluctantly go back to the pot of gruel to make yourself another mixture of cold, wet crimson slop, and it would be gone because all of his roommates who were “helping with the show” ate it. Then, as you stood there staring hopelessly at the bottom of the pot with hunger, weakness, and utter despair coursing through your veins.”
- Nate Newton [Via: Vice]
In another article, Chris Howorth of In This Moment provides details on how mooching off of the headlining act has provided sustenance.
“If you are nice and make friends with the headlining bands, sometimes they will give you extra food and water and let you raid the dressing room for leftovers at the end of the night. The dream scenario is a fully catered tour where the headliner is a big band and feeds everyone on the tour every day. This is awesome.”
- Chris Howorth, In This Moment [via: Myspace]
There are also restaurants that have identified the hardship of food on tour and have provided bands with free food for promotion. Kudos to you Taco Bell for being the most prolific in this department. Taco Bell currently supports 100 artists by providing them with $500 gift cards. This is definitely one of my favourite sponsorships. I definitely think Subway or a grocery store should follow in their footsteps. There are other restaurants that provide a similar service to touring bands, however they are usually local restaurants and aren’t as convenient as Taco Bell’s Feed the Beat program.
So hopefully I’ve provided some insight into the touring life. I know it’s an odd article and not what you’re used to on a blog about metal, however I found Nate’s article on Vice to be particularly interesting and I felt compelled to explore the topic further. Maybe it was a good change of pace! Anyways, enjoy the next meal you have and think of all the musicians out there who roll their eyes when you say “McDonalds”.