An All-Natural Food Guide to Tailgating

Ha. Ha. The running joke in the food revolution community is any food calling itself “all-natural.”

But I couldn’t think of a general description for the food I’m talking about, and “GMO-, Hormone-, Carageenan-, Antibiotic-Free Guide to Tailgating” didn’t sound like a good blog title.

Tailgating is tricky because it usually involves a processed-food laden spread. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be guilty tomorrow of eating some bad-for-you foods, but I try to minimize it when I can. And having junkfood every once in a while or for a special occassion isn’t going to kill us. Just don’t make your special occassion every day. And with a football season that stretches at least five months, six months for the NFL, tailgating food can really become a regular diet, rather than a treat.

I’ve been following the plight of Prop 37 on the ballot this fall in California for the last couple months.

What is Prop 37, you ask?

It’s a ballot initative that would require all food, both raw and processed, to be labled if it contains genetically modified organisms (commonly referred to as GMOs). California would be the first state to require this, and many believe (hope) that if such a law passes in California, food makers would roll it out nation-wide, because it just doesn’t make sense to have special packaging for a market as large as Califonia.

Studies have produced conflicting evidence regarding the safety of GMOs in our food, but either way, I really don’t want to eat them if I can help it. GMOs are designed to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, so you can bet if you’re eating something with GMOs in it, those chemicals have been judiciously applied. The problem is, hence the push for labeling, is that its just so darn hard to tell what has GMOs in it these days. I am pretty viligant about looking for them in my food, but I frequently and horrified to learn that they are in the foods I like to eat and the brands I buy.

Probably the best way to avoid them is to buy from the companies that are currently supportive of Prop 37. Companies like Stonyfield and Garden of Eatin’ are two of those companies. Additionally, organic foods are free of GMOs by definition. Your best best are always whole foods, but these don’t really say “tailgate.”

One failsafe is to take a couple bags of Garden of Eatin’ tortilla chips and pico de gallo. My BFF has a killer recipe for pico, which we call “pico dip” that has like 6 simple ingredients: tomatoes, jalepenos, red onion,  cilantro, sea salt and cider vinegar. Just make sure the ingredients are organic.

As a matter of fact, there are a lot of options for dips that aren’t filled with chemicals. You can make guacamole to go with those tortilla chips, or even hummus. Both would be welcome at any tailgate. Also, hamburgers are a perennial favorite at tailgates. You can volunteer to bring the beef if you get it from a source you trust doesn’t use antibiotics or hormones. Bonus points if your ground beef is grass-fed. Grab some local artesianal cheese, some spicy mustard, and some buns from the local bakery, and you’re set. Even if all the ingredients aren’t organic, you’re still doing better than pre-formed frozen patties and artificially colored and flavored “cheese-like” slices. If there’s not a local bakery for the buns, if you buy from the bakery department at the grocery store, you’ll get better buns than if you buy off the shelf. The buns on the shelf have chemicals added to extend their shelf-life, and the buns from the bakery department most likely won’t. Skip the ketchup with high fructose corn syrup and go for spicy brown mustard with only a few ingredients like vinegar, mustard seed, water and spices. With quality beef and cheese, I doubt you even miss the ketchup.

What about the beverages? Well, I’m a beer person. I’ll pick a tasty dark porter over wine or spirits any day. For a long time, I have been meticulous about what I eat, but what about beer?

Ingredients aren’t required to be listed on the label, so who knows what it’s really made of these days. Historically, beer was required to brewed according to Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law that required only water, barley and hops to be used in brewing beer. However, few national brands adhere to this today. If you do find a beer that is still brewed by this guideline, there’s a good chance it’s all-natural. A few brands actually list their ingredients, such as Rogue. Obviously, organic beers are going to be free of any nastiness, but in my experience they are hard to find. Craft breweries are generally a good bet. Because they make small-batch beers, they can be more selective and discriminating when it comes to choosing the ingredients. Many craft brewers are committeed to producing an excellent product, and often more natural ingredients are best. And, pick a beer that is unfiltered, if that is your thing. Carageenan, a natural seaweed derivative, is used to clarify beers that are mass produced. Carageenan is believed to be a harmful additive that leads to gastrointestinal issues (it is also used to thicken dairy products, particularly low-fat and fat-free dairy). You can be sure you’re not getting any of the bad stuff if you stick with unfiltered beer. This is a great article about how to choose a natural beer with some good tips.

Other snacks that will pass muster at an all-natural tailgate are, of course, a fresh veggie or fruit tray. I always look for these for something to balance out the greasiness of the rest of the food I’m eating. Nuts are another good idea, too.

If you bring any of the above items (particularly the Rogue beer)  to a tailgate to share with friends, I guarantee you won’t be turned away or ridiculed for being an “all-natural nerd.” Quite the opposite, probably. Let’s put it this way, if someone brought some good grass fed hamburgers or homemade guacamole or premium beer to my tailgate, they would definitely be invited back for the next one!

Lastly, I couldn’t resist posting a pic of my afternoon snack because it was so darn pretty!

Heirloom tomatoes with a little bit of garlic-infused olive oil and salt–the orange ones are Jaune Flamme, the yellow are Pineapple,and the red are Mountain Princess. All were grown by my father-in-law from plants that I gave him. These were so tasty! This time of year, I wouldn’t complain if someone brought a platter of these and some salt to my tailgate either.

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