Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Healthy dining on the road

SXSW panel will talk about ways touring musicians can grab a healthy bite between gigs.

Ed Crowell

Like a soulful balladeer stuck with a death-metal guitarist, a musician who wants to stay fit can clash with the reality of eating healthy food on the road.

Consider the typical touring circumstances:

Get up by noon for a four-hour ride in the van to the next gig. Instead of breakfast, stop for a burger at the first familiar chain joint along the highway. Then on to the new town to check out the night's club and unload equipment. Soon it's dinner time for most people, but too much food before a show is no good. So it's snacks and something to wash them down. A meal is eaten around midnight at whatever greasy spoon is still open nearby.

All that, week after week, is a recipe for energy-sapping nutritional deficits. But does it really have to be that way? A South by Southwest Music Conference panel Thursday will discuss possible fixes under the title "Steady Diet of Nothing: The Road to Health."

Not that the road to good eats is easy to come by.

"Touring is grueling, especially if you're like most musicians and traveling by van. The distances can be long, you're cooped up and it's a lot of hurry up and wait," says Molly Neuman, a founding member of the riot grrrl band Bratmobile. "The food options are generally very limited, and when you're at clubs, it's easy to look to booze and coffee and cigarettes to pass the time."

Neuman, who will be on the SXSW panel, has left the road for a position with eMusic in New York, and she also dishes up healthy stuff as a chef and nutritional consultant with her Simple Social Kitchen business and website. She says she hopes the panel "will be a launching pad to increase the volume on the discussion and exchange of ideas about the connection between health and creativity."

She says there are strategies to combat lousy diets while touring — foods to include on contract riders, to buy at stores on the road to eat in the van, ways to order at restaurants to maximize nutrition. And she espouses exercise and stress reduction techniques to generally feel better.

"In the long term, I hope we can create a place to share information like this with artists and those that work with them in one central place, something that's easy to go to, an app or website that will have lots of resources for touring musicians," she says.

Meanwhile, Neuman has simple advice in these days when musicians are touring more than ever for their livelihoods: "Stick to vegetables, protein, fresh fruits, whole grains and beans. Even fast food places have salad options. Skip the bread and anything deep-fried whenever you can, and you'd be surprised at how much more satisfied you can feel."

She advocates stocking up on nuts for easy fat and protein anywhere and staying hydrated with large amounts of water.

Singer-songwriter Jackie Bristow, a New Zealander who is just beginning another stint living in Austin, knows how tough it is to eat well along U.S. freeways. She grew up surrounded by farms that provided "fresh, basic food" and coastal towns where seafood was plentiful, but she recently finished a Deep South tour where "everything is fried. It's the worst."

To maintain a healthy diet, she frequently orders main-course salads, with dressing on the side to use moderately. She's not a vegetarian but she is lactose-intolerant, so no cheese. "The hard part is sometimes you don't have a choice. You're driving down the freeway, and you stop off and can't find anything healthy."

She orders grilled fish and vegetables when possible. "How it is cooked is important," not pan-fried or deep-fried in oil, she says. Cereal is best for breakfast, but she advises choosing those not loaded with sugar. She buys fruit to snack on when confined to a kitchenless bus. Drinks are water and tea, not sodas.

On her recent tour opening for Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, the shows were catered with choices such as Thai food. She eats a small amount before a show but often finds herself hungry late at night. Eating then is "not a good thing," she admits.

At home, Bristow cooks stir-fries and eats a lot of brown rice and beans. She likes pasta, but makes her own light sauce with tomatoes and garlic, steering clear of salt- and sugar-loaded sauces in jars. The artist whose just-released album "Freedom" was recorded in Austin will play several parties and showcases during SXSW.

Websites to find restaurants with healthy menu choices can help, but Bristow says she's "not forward-thinking enough" for that. Yelp and Chowhound online are good for restaurant selections in metro areas, and sites such as the Healthy Musician and the We All Make Music site, weallmakemusic.com, offer some eating-on-the road tips.

Another SXSW panelist will be Anna Bond, label manager for FatCat Records USA who blogs about food for Readymade.com. "Food blogs can be a great resource, as well as review sites. And as you learn to read menu ingredients, it becomes easier to find restaurants to meet your dietary needs wherever you go."

Her road tip: "I always, always, always have a healthy and filling snack on hand — nuts, trail mix, granola bars — because nothing leads to unhealthy meal choices like being really hungry."

Steady Diet of Nothing: The Road to Health

What: Panel about nutrition for touring musicians

When: 12:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Room 16B, Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St.

Panelists: Musician and chef Molly Neuman, label manager Anna Bond, singer Brett Anderson of the Donnas, yoga teacher and musician FonLin Nyeu, musician Ted Leo.

Information: Open to SXSW Music badge holders. sxsw.com

Anna Bond offers this recipe for a slaw "that will keep in a cooler for a few days and add variety among the all-too-rare raw veggies options on tour."

Best Beet Slaw

2-4 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar

1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

1 Tbsp. lemon zest (about 1 lemon)

1/2 tsp. white pepper

3/4 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 cup mild extra virgin olive oil

1 small red onion or 2 shallots (will yield 1/2 cup sliced)

3-4 large beets, peeled (will yield 6-7 cups shredded)

Agave nectar to taste, optional

Whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, pepper and salt until thoroughly combined. Pour olive oil into vinegar mixture slowly in a thin stream, and whisk until emulsified. Set dressing aside.

Cut up beets into manageable pieces and shred on the larger shred side of your food processor, or grate with a box grater. Slice onion/shallots in half around the equator and slice on your mandoline's thinnest setting, or slice as thinly as possible with a knife. Toss shredded beets with onion slices in a large bowl. The onions tend to clump when sliced so thinly, so use your hands for this.

Give the dressing a quick stir to make sure it hasn't settled, and pour over beet/onion mixture. Fold until evenly distributed. Let slaw sit for an hour or two, adjust seasonings (adding agave nectar to taste if your beets aren't quite sweet enough) and serve.

— Anna Bond

Indian Spiced Black-Eyed Peas

2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or other neutral oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1/4 cup chickpea flour (available at most natural foods and ethnic food stores)

2 tsp. ground turmeric

1 to 2 tsp. hot paprika

23/4 cups water

11/2 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate

1 Tbsp. honey

21/2 cups cooked black-eyed peas, drained

Sea salt, to taste

2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour, turmeric and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in water; bring to a boil. Add tamarind concentrate and honey; stir to dissolve. Add black-eyed peas, season with salt; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro.

— Molly Neuman, from her Simple Social Kitchen website