Surviving Asilomar

by | Sep 23, 2008

This past weekend was my program’s annual retreat at Asilomar conference grounds in Monterey, California. It goes without saying that healthy eating is tough on a retreat because you have very little control over your meals. Over the years I have learned a few tricks to minimize the damage during events like this.

First it is important to accept that the food is going to be awful no matter what. Every meal is bad, the meat is bad, the vegetables are bad, the dessert is bad; so if you are not going to enjoy it you may as well focus on eating as healthy as you can so that only your taste buds suffer, not your waistline.

For this reason I always request the vegetarian meal tickets, even though I am not vegetarian. I imagine this sounds a little crazy to some of you, but please hear me out. Generally the people running the kitchen are picky about giving out vegetarian meals, because they have a limited supply. So it is never a problem to get the regular meal, but you will have trouble getting a vegetarian meal unless you requested it. In other words, having a vegetarian ticket gives you two meal options rather than one. If the vegetarian dish looks gross, you can always fall back on the mystery meat.

That brings me to my next point. Mystery meat tastes bad. Bland vegetables taste bad. But bland vegetables are far better for you than mystery meat, and you have the added bonus of having at least a little bit of an idea what you are putting into your body. Vegetables are also much lower in calories and may even be higher in vitamins (but with vegetables of this quality it is hard to be sure). So the vegetarian dish may be gross, but it is unlikely to be grosser (and frequently it is a little better) than the meat option. The important difference is that in this case, vegetarian is a much smarter decision.

But unfortunately, relying on vegetarian meals is not usually enough to survive Asilomar. Picking through soggy vegetables can be rather unsatisfying and it is a good idea to bring some of your own food to supplement.

I always bring several pieces of fruit, nuts/trail mix and granola. It is also wise to bring your own supply of water. I snack on these throughout the day, whenever hungry. A handful of nuts before heading to the dining hall can curb your appetite, making the gross dessert less tempting after your unsatisfying meal (otherwise it is surprisingly difficult to pass up a slice of cake in front of you, even if you know it will not be good). Fruit, nuts and granola are also a good alternative to the powdered egg breakfast.

Finally, on trips like this I advise skipping dessert. Why bother? Save your indulgences for something that is worth it. Bring your own chocolate or eat fruit if you need something sweet after dinner.

As long as your trip is short, these guidelines can help you make it through without too much collateral damage. You may even lose a few pounds in the process.

I use these same strategies on long flights. I am going to go out on a limb here, but I think maybe airplane mystery meat is a little worse than it is at Asilomar.

What are your favorite tricks to surviving flights and conferences?

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4 Responses to “Surviving Asilomar”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This post reminds me of cafeteria food in general. Remember those chalupas?!!!! Uh….. How do you recommend overcoming the social aspect of shunning big gross communal meals like this, ie how do you make it not look like you’re a snob in front of your peers, too good to eat the food that they’re eating?

  2. Chinasaur says:

    Having a way to get around is highly recommended. Even if you don’t drive down, you might be able to bring a bike or skateboard or skates or something. That way you can make a grocery run. There are some good restaurants in the area too.If you really don’t want to deal with the food, I think you can register for the conference but opt out on housing or the meal plan.Old Monterey Farmer’s Market is Tuesday afternoon, which is a nice way to finish off the retreat with some decent food.

  3. Darya Pino says:

    anon:In my experience people are more often jealous of rather than offended by my meal selections. You would be surprised how few people notice anything at all.If you feel the need to defend yourself, people generally back off if you just say you prefer the vegetarian option today.———————chinasaur:Thanks for the tips. I would have loved to make it to the market today!As for opting out, I think eating with everyone is part of the fun of the conference, and it’s not so bad to just suck it up and eat polenta-stuffed portobellos for a couple days ;)This post was meant to be more about damage control than affronted sensibilities.

  4. Jed Wolpaw says:

    Dude, I had just come to the conclusion that requesting the veggie meal on airplane flights was key when they yanked those bad boys and started selling $5 snack packs making the plan a moot one. What they should do, though, is allow you to mix and match the items to create your own snack pack rather than having to go with theirs. I mean, what if I want the trail mix and the 1 cm square block of mediocre spongy gouda cheese but would prefer cinnamon twists rather than the 1 cc can of tuna that comes with the trail mix pack? These are the decisions that the fuel crisis has led us to…

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