Festy Food Review: The Search for Healthy Bonnafood

By Lisa Shanken

Finding healthy vegetarian food at Bonnaroo is like finding a clean Porta-Potty. It’s there, but you have to look for it.

This year marked my first Bonnaroo experience, and I had very high expectations given all the rave reviews I’ve heard from friends. Being a vegetarian and a nutritionist, I’m always a little leery about finding healthy food options at music festivals. Having been to many festivals over the past several years, however, I can say they’ve come a long way. And with Bonnaroo’s reputation as the mac daddy of all music festivals, I felt pretty confident that satisfying my healthy diet wouldn’t prove too challenging.

The music, the vibe, the organization, the people, and the energy all lived up to my high expectations. The food at the festival didn’t exactly shatter my original confidence, but dishes that were both healthy and satisfying to the palate took a lot of scoping out on the 750-acre site. The most abundant options were the festival circuit’s typical food vendors whom I always avoid, such as Spicy Pizza and Zorba the Greek.

My biggest complaints about the above vendors and the majority of the food at Bonnaroo are the grease factor and the lack of actual vegetables. Too many of the fries, pizza, stir frys, and gyros offer grease as their core ingredient. Grease is definitely not ideal for a camping situation or to supply good energy for dancing into the wee hours of the night – not to mention emergency trips to the dreaded Porta-Potties.

"Veggie Dogs" - A vegetarian's best friend?

"Veggie Dogs" - A vegetarian's best friend?

And here’s a question for Bonnaroo: Why, oh why, are there so many corndog vendors? Is the demand really so high that these vendors can generate a profit selling them? Were the ones advertising “Veggie Corn Dogs” identifying some previously unknown meat-free market?

!Que Bueno

!Que Bueno!

But I digress. There were definitely a few good options worth mentioning if you knew where to find them. ¡Que Quesadilla! was notable. While they were a bit pricey at $9 a pop, their black bean, pesto, and roasted red pepper quesadillas were a staple of my weekend. The locally grown, all-natural flatbread pizza, made in an onsite brick oven, was both delicious and I really enjoyed the many vegetable toppings they offered.

The mini Whole Foods markets were a nice touch for healthy snack options, but didn’t really help if you were looking for a full, satisfying meal.

The best meal I ate at Bonnaroo was from Bearly Edible. It was by far the least greasy, most vegetable-filled dish I ate all weekend. They offered a quesadilla with feta, artichokes, spinach and olives, and it was truly more “restaurant quality” than anything else I found.

This weekend, I also tried an interesting snack called raw chocolate. I’d previously heard about raw chocolate in nutrition circles because dark chocolate (so long it contains more than 70% cacao) packs a powerful punch of healthy antioxidants. But raw chocolate is even healthier and claims to give you an energy boost. I don’t like caffeine, but after a long discussion with the vendor, I decided to give it a try because he promised the energy boost would be much more even and natural than caffeine. Plus, it’s well-packed nutritionally, which I really needed. I’m happy to report that it lived up to the vendor’s hype, and the addition of nuts and coconut added even more flavor.

Raw, organic, and tasty with a kick

Raw, organic, and tasty with a kick

All in all, Bonnaroo is an amazing weekend I highly recommend experiencing at least once. From what I’ve heard, they improve it every year, so I hope next year they lower the corndog and grease ratio, and round out the food selection with some healthier, non-greasy options featuring more vegetables.

Lisa Shanken is a nutritionist, culinary teacher and mother. Her insights can be found at HealthyMealPlanning.com

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