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These tasty backpacker meals are zero-waste

Fernweh Food Co. packages its plant-based, dehydrated food in glass jars and muslin bags.

Every summer, my family goes on a canoe trip. This involves carrying all the food we need for several days on our backs, along with camping gear, clothes, cookware, and a canoe or two. My husband puts a lot of thought into menu planning, to ensure that we have enough delicious options to keep everyone happy. Some things we make from scratch, like jerky, granola, and cookies, but he also likes to take a few bags of freeze-dried meals.

Even though it's just a once-a-year purchase, I am annoyed by the amount of plastic waste that results from those prepared meals. It seems like such an aberration from the ‘leave no trace' philosophy that people are taught to embrace while camping. Even though we pack out the empty bags, that doesn't erase the fact that they're still a form of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste that ends up getting dumped in a landfill somewhere.

That's why I was so excited to learn about Fernweh Food Company, based in the Pacific Northwest. Founded by an experienced camper and backpacker, Ashley Lance, Fernweh's goal is to offer zero-waste dehydrated food to travellers. It sounds as if Lance has similar frustrations to mine:

“Since I began adventuring, I have found the abundance of packaging and garbage piling up at trailhead trash cans and out in the wilderness to be disheartening… Taking a cue from the three R's, Fernweh Food Co. is doing its part to reduce the amount of single use plastics going into the wild by utilizing packaging that is 100 percent reusable. We cut down on food waste and lessen our carbon footprint by using produce that is local and seasonal.”

Fernweh Food bag© Fernweh Food Co. (used with permission)

Fernweh's dehydrated food comes in refillable glass jars if purchased locally (around Portland, Oregon) and in muslin drawstring bags sealed in a fully compostable mailer, if shipped elsewhere in the U.S. The mailer is made by Noissue, and you can watch a YouTube video about how to compost it.

The meal selection is small so far, with only three prepared plant-based options, all of which sound delicious: Southwest Stew, Mushroom Pot Pie, Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl. Other items include seasoned and dehydrated vegetables and fruits, including Italian seasoned kale, Asian pears with five spice, eggplant ‘bacon', and zucchini with smoked paprika, among others. Foods can also be purchased in bulk, by the ounce, to feed different numbers of people.

Fernweh Food Co. demo© Fernweh Food Co. (used with permission) – Lance dumps dried food into a silicone bag for rehydration.

When Lance is camping, she transfers the dried food to a reusable silicone pouch, adds hot water, and eats directly out of it, which eliminates waste and minimizes cleanup. “She keeps one for sweet things and one for savory in her pack. At the end of her trips, she has almost no plastic garbage to unload” (via Outside Online). Alternatively, you could travel with the muslin bags and rehydrate in a pot.

Fernweh does not ship outside the United States yet, but it's good to know that companies are exploring alternatives to single-use, disposable food packaging – especially the packaging that's taken into the most remote and beautiful parts of our planet.

Fernweh Food Co. packages its plant-based, dehydrated food in glass jars and muslin bags.