In 2015, Michael van Vliet and Megan McDuffie decided to quit their desk jobs and walk away from their lives in Los Angeles. They were looking for a life-reset button, and they sought it on the open road.
The couple took what they had, packed it all into a Ford Focus hatchback, and—with a little ingenuity—made it their home for a year. They slept by placing a mattress over folded-down car seats, kept their belongings in a rooftop cargo carrier, and cooked on either a propane camp stove or over a campfire.
Cooking on the road, and their desire to prepare healthy and delicious food while camping, turned out to be one of their greatest difficulties and greatest opportunities.
20,000 miles without a refrigerator
Traditional camping food, such as dehydrated and freeze-dried meals or canned foods, may work well for a weekend camping trip or a week-long vacation—but neither Megan nor Michael were willing to eat that way for an entire year.
They didn’t want to give up fresh meat and produce, but living in a car without a refrigerator made this a challenge. So they did what most of us would do: they searched the internet for ideas.
What they found in the search results wasn’t what they were looking for. There were plenty of resources available on camping and outdoor life, but they were not focused on food. They found plenty of food blogs, but most recipes required multiple pots and pans and appliances that made them difficult to adapt to a camp setting. The intersection of food and outdoor life resources was disappointing—so they decided to create what they could not find.
Today, they’re the ingenious duo behind Fresh off the Grid, an online cooking resource for outdoor enthusiasts.
As Michael and Megan traveled the country, they learned what worked and what didn’t when cooking in a camp setting. They adapted some of their favorite recipes and experimented with creating their own. Without a refrigerator, they were forced to shop frequently and choose produce that wouldn’t spoil quickly. They discovered amazing grocery stores that were well stocked with a wide variety of items. They also encountered “food deserts,” where the drive to a grocery store was an hour or more each way, and the only fresh produce available was a basket of bananas at a gas station convenience store. In those situations, they learned to have a well-stocked pantry of dry goods—such as beans and pasta.
Each step of their culinary journey was documented and shared on the Fresh off the Grid website.
Megan and Michael quickly found an audience who, just like them, were hungry and searching for ways to make good food in the outdoors. Their website is a colorful curation of camp-tested recipes accompanied by drool-worthy photos—often shot with a breathtaking backdrop.
Life after Sedan-life
After spending a year in their hatchback, which they affectionately refer to as “Sedan-life” (their version of “vanlife”), Megan and Michael were ready to start a new normal in Bend, Oregon. Without the constraints of full-time travel, they were able to dedicate more time and energy to developing Fresh off the Grid. After almost two years of hard work, they are able to live off their work. Through their constant creation of new recipes and strategic promotion, they continue to grow their loyal following.
The duo is always in search of new ideas for recipes and take frequent camping trips to test them out in a camping environment. As in any creative pursuit, inspiration can come in spurts, and it can come from anywhere. An evening out in a restaurant can quickly become focused on reverse-engineering a unique flavor combination. Conversation at a dinner party can turn to how many pots were needed to prepare the meal, and wondering if it could be done with fewer. When they’re not cooking or crafting their next recipe, Michael and Megan can be found enjoying the good company that often comes with the territory of good food.
Behind the scenes at Fresh off the Grid, there is a variety of work to be done. Sometimes Megan and Michael spend most of the day on computers writing posts, editing photographs, and promoting the website. Others days are spent in the grocery store and the kitchen experimenting with new ideas. And still others are spent testing recipes in the great outdoors, while trying to time it perfectly to take photographs in just the right light. The combination of creative challenges and routine tasks suits them well, and they appreciate the freedom of working for themselves.
Hitting the road again
Michael and Megan are taking advantage of this freedom with plans to hit the road again in 2019. This time, they are converting a Ford Transit van and trading “sedan life” for “vanlife.” Michael, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall, is especially looking forward to being able to stand up in their home. They are also hoping that the added space will give them more of a studio, to continue producing great content while on the road. The trip will last about 6 months and take them south to parts of the country they weren’t able to visit on their last trip. In short, keep an eye out for fresh content on the blog inspired by this new adventure.
Advice for other campers
Fresh off the Grid is a great resource for anyone planning a camping trip, whether for a weekend, a month, or a year. They offer recipes suitable for both car camping and backcountry cooking, and share guides for everything from favored cookware to grocery shopping to how to find your perfect campsite.
Their top tips for newbie camp chefs? “Plan ahead, test it first, and start [cooking] earlier than you think.” They recommend planning what you’re making ahead of time to ensure you have all the ingredients you need. Test the recipe at home first, in a kitchen where you are comfortable. And realize that, in the outdoors, the process may take longer than you expect—and things don’t get any easier after dark, so start earlier than you think you need to.
Ready to get started? Megan and Michael recommend trying their Make Ahead Negroni, followed by a delicious Bacon & Date Campfire Pizza, with a Quick & Easy Campfire Apple Crisp to round out the night.
For more mouth-watering inspiration, follow Fresh off the Grid on Instagram.