The Ultimate Vegan Guide to Burning Man

Is this counter-culture pop-up city in the desert any place for a vegan?

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For decades, people have travelled from around the world to attend a unique event in northern Nevada. Many come back again and again. It’s common to hear “welcome home” when veteran “burners” roll into camp. It’s as though they’d completed a tour of duty in the “default world” and they’ve finally returned to normalcy. The 10 principles of Burning Man foster this feeling of home. With a few tools and a little inside knowledge, even the level-5 vegans can get by. 

What is Burning Man?
It’s described in the media as a recurring “counterculture festival,” although many would take issue with the “festival” part. More accurately, Burning Man—widely known as Black Rock City—is a utopian city that is created, then torn down, all in a matter of weeks. The event starts at the end of August and concludes on Labor Day, the first Monday in September. There’s music of all sorts, clubs, bars, massage, yoga, and much more. The visuals include art cars and creative exhibits that are scattered throughout “The Playa.” Most of these art installations are rugged and attendees are encouraged to climb on or interact with them. It is a curious fascination, indeed. Attendees spend their late summer in a desert wasteland, under a relentless sun, enjoying comparatively few of the comforts to which they’re accustomed. Dust storms hit without warning. Tent campers find themselves inches deep in alkaline Playa dust. Dance music blares from every direction. Nude bicyclists abound. While it’s true that there are periods of abject misery, there are also cathartic moments. Goodness and altruism are on display. There’s a feeling of trust. “Radical self-expression” pervades The Burn. Go do this. You won’t regret it.

Is Burning Man accommodating to vegans?
If you are adventurous and also patient, then the answer is yes. Here are 10 resources and camps that will make your first time on the Playa as a vegan a little easier.

1. YOU “Radical self-reliance” is a tenet of Burning Man, and it applies to those with plant-based diets even more. Self-imposed dietary restrictions add to the long list of complexities you’ll encounter. This is why many vegans embrace the opportunity to bring their favorite meals, prepared in advance, and share them with everyone around. It’s a “gifting economy.” This is your chance to gift cruelty-free, sustainable food to your Playa family. Consider what it would take to allow you and two other herbivores to survive. If you plan to be there four days, then bring enough for eight. Stonewall’s Jerquee is especially good because it’s a high-protein, dried food that will replenish salts that you may sweat out each day. You’ll have cravings for salt. Bring pickled vegetables. You’ll enjoy celebrity status in your camp if you bring jars of pickled items to share.
2. ‘iBurn:’ This app is a GPS enabled Yellow Pages that will help you zero in on those other veg-o-licious entities. iBurn is a must for your smartphone. The developer throws a party the first Monday, and it’s worth dropping by to thank him. He contributes a great deal of his time and expertise to bring us this resource. It’s the best way to find what interests you in Black Rock City. Search the app for “vegan” and a list of trusty camps with veg-friendly food and drinks will pop up. Click the heart symbol to bookmark these locations. Below are some of the stalwart veg-friendly venues that the iBurn app will guide you towards.
3. ‘Pink Heart’ camp is hard to miss. It’s positioned prominently on the Esplanade and IT’S PINK. This camp has perfected the art of the “chill space.” Grab a vegan ice cream cone and kick it on their soft pink cushions. Videos from their site give you a feel for what it’s like. They were back for their tenth year in 2017, and they are the most reliable source of vegan snacks for years running.
4. Cult of the Magic Lady camp advertised their offering with “Come on down, ya hippies, and grab a tasty vegan snack at our welcoming, completely safe, granola hut!” It makes you wonder why “completely safe” needed to be specified!
5. Camp ‘Fer Sherbert’ “brings positive reinforcement and frosty vegan superfood treats to artists, volunteers, and citizens.” Their offering makes you wonder why the typical sherbet recipe would ever need to be made with eggs and dairy.
6. Organic Farmers Market: On select mornings, there’s a makeshift farmers’ market with organic vegetables supplied right on the esplanade. You won’t head back to camp with a full shopping bag, but at least you’ll have a little fun. These “farmers” insist you tell them a joke before they produce your produce.
7. Camp Hot Mayo: It’s the rare burner who attends Burning Man because of the food selection. Drinks, on the other hand, are a highlight. Camp Hot Mayo serves up Baileys Almande & Coffee in the morning. This drink can now be made vegan using this new Baileys liquor derived from almond milk.
8. Hair of the Dog: Bloody Marys and Bloody Marias (made with tequila instead of vodka) are also popular breakfast foods. Have the bartender hold the Worcestershire Sauce, which is made with anchovies. Soy sauce or Braggs Liquid Aminos are great substitutes for Worcestershire. Aside from that, most adult beverages on the Playa are already vegan.
Remember: Partying is great, but long-time memories are made in moments of altruism. You’ll have that opportunity to give of yourself, through creativity, emotional support, or by sharing some essential with your spaced-out campmate. As Stephanie Mewes of Camp Hot Mayo explains: “The tenet of radical self-expression presents ways for individuals to do vegan outreach in a really unique and appreciated way.” In that spirit, come by my camp and have a vegan feast with me. I’ll have Tofurky/LightLife sausages and Stonewall’s Jerquee to share. Look for Techno Gecko Mutant art car camp (formerly DiscoFish).
Athonia Cappelli (@Athonia) is the DJ & co-conspirator aboard the Techno Gecko mutant art car at Burning Man.

Photo courtesy of Gwen Schroeder