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Sierra magazine
Enjoy | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Rating the Rations | Trendsetter: Ovie Mughelli | Beasts of Burden | Green Biz

Does packaged hiking grub have to taste like gruel? Our young tasters say no.

Ask a group of John Muir Trail veterans to recommend their favorite store-bought backpacking meal, and you're likely to get an earful on the nutritional and spiritual benefits of DIY dehydration. But not many people have the time or inclination to make "mango leather." So we recruited six young adults from Leadership Excellence, a group affiliated with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program, to blind taste an array of commercially produced freeze-dried fare. Our volunteers sampled 15 entrees and five desserts and scored them on a scale of 1 to 10. Their bravery will help keep the rest of us from gagging around the campfire.

ON THE WEB To see how all 20 freeze-dried offerings stacked up, go to


1. AMERIQUAL | Beef Enchilada in Sauce | Score: 9.2
A company that produces generic-looking meals ready to eat (MRE) for the U.S. military pulled a surprise runaway win. Tasters praised the authentic Mexican flavor, calling it meaty and "delicioso." Ameriqual's unappetizingly named Chicken, Pulled With Buffalo Style Sauce also scored well, garnering compliments for its sweet hotness—though more than one person thought it was tuna. $2.50;

2. MOUNTAIN HOUSE | Macaroni and Cheese | Score: 7.6
As one taster put it, "Who doesn't love mac and cheese?" Most of the others echoed that comfort-food sentiment, though a few suggested cooking the pasta longer than the instructions recommend. The company's Turkey Tetrazzini was also well received, inspiring favorable comparisons to Rice-A-Roni and "the inside of a potpie." $6.35;

3. BACKPACKER'S PANTRY | Organic Garden Vegetable Couscous | Score: 6.2
"Different in a good way" was the general verdict on this course, which earned praise for its seasonings and texture. $7.90;

4. NATURAL HIGH | Spicy Thai Chicken | Score: 5.7
Opinions varied wildly, from "Yes, yes, yes!" to "Hate it." Even these young palates could detect the dish's Thai origins. Some compared it to Top Ramen. $6.75;

5. MARYJANES FARM | Organic Curried Lentil Bisque | Score: 5.5
Our oldest taster (the only one in her 20s) loved this bisque but pointed out that adults would probably appreciate its full-fledged curry flavor more than kids would. A few said the green, soupy substance was "missing something." $6;


1. MOUNTAIN HOUSE | Blueberry Cheesecake | Score: 9.3
There was hearty applause all around for this creamy and "berry, berry good" concoction that had many asking for seconds. $6;

2. [TIE] ASTRONAUT | Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream | Score: 7.2
Most were delighted by this dessert's melt-in-your-mouth quality, comparing it to cotton candy and whipped toppings. $2.70;

2. [TIE] ALPINEAIRE | Deep Dish Peach Crumble | Score: 7.2
Although most tasters mistook the peaches for apples, this warm confection's cinnamony goodness won them over. $6.65;

Our Tasters

Keren Osman, 18

Yendis E. Richard, 24

Aziza-Cree Evans, 18

Marquise Andrews, 17

Jazmin Bell, 18

Nicolette Hafiz, 19

TRENDSETTER: Ovie Mughelli

Ovie Mughelli, NFL player and environmental activist
"I have a little girl. I would hate for her to get older and ask, 'Dad, why didn't you do anything about the rainforests, about the air?'" —Ovie Mughelli

No matter how committed you are to saving the planet, when your livelihood depends on muscle mass, you can be forgiven a craving for meat. "I tried the vegetarian thing for, like, a day," Ovie Mughelli, the Atlanta Falcons' 245-pound starting fullback, says, chuckling. "It didn't work for me." Beef habit notwithstanding, Mughelli remains the NFL's greenest star, aiming his eco-efforts at underprivileged kids. He hosts a free football camp to draw them in, then conducts an environmental workshop to educate them about sustainable living.

Q: How do you get kids to care?

A: Inner-city kids aren't worried about the environment. They're more concerned with violence, drugs, or getting something to eat that night. They think going green is unattainable and expensive, so I tell them there are ways that actually save money, like using less water and turning off lights. I teach that they can start with practical lifestyle changes.

Q: How did your upbringing inform your environmental efforts?

A: My parents are very, very strict. They came over [from Nigeria] with next to nothing, and they understood the value of education, the value of the dollar. I had no choice but to get good grades—it was more important than sports. And several people helped them get to where they are today, so they've always encouraged me to give back to humanity and to youth. They instilled in me the concept that you do what's best for your community, your world, your people, yourself. And doing what's positive for the environment is doing what's best for the world—that's a no-brainer.

Q: What do you do personally to live sustainably?

A: It's a daily process. I want to walk the walk. It's more than just going to the forest and picking up trash. It's about taking responsibility for everything around you, what you do, the lights you leave on. It's making conscious decisions every day to help and not to hurt.

Q: Are your green-living habits rubbing off on your teammates?

A: [Long laugh] No.

ON THE WEB To read a longer interview with Ovie Mughelli, go to


No matter what kind of hike you have in mind—whether a sunset stroll or a multi-month slog on the Appalachian Trail—you'll want to shoulder the latest in comfortable, Earth-minded packs. —A.B.

Two Hours
CHICOBAG's DayPack rePETe, made of 95 percent recycled content (mainly water bottles), easily swallows a couple of snacks, a Sigg, and some sunscreen for a hike or bike ride. Back at home, you can stuff it into the small attached pouch. Other niceties include stretchy bottle pockets and a carabiner that's 97 percent recycled aluminum. ChicoBag was started in 2004 after its founder, Andy Keller, toted some trash to his local landfill and was horrified by the mountains of plastic he saw.
5.6 ounces | holds 20 liters | $20 |

Two Days
When you're up for an overnight trip, the easily compressed JANSPORT Salish keeps you light on your feet. It features a hydration tube, a padded back and belt, a detachable hood, vented shoulder straps, conveniently placed compartments, and several lashing points. JanSport raises funds for and donates gear to Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit that takes urban teens on wilderness adventures.
59 ounces | holds 34.4 liters| $120 |

Two Weeks
Packs from GREGORY MOUNTAIN PRODUCTS are PVC-free, recyclable, dyed via a water-saving process, and designed in an ecofriendly office. The men's Baltoro 70 and the women's counterpart, the Deva 70, feature hypercomfortable suspension systems whose adjustable straps make it feel like the pack is giving you a firm but gentle hug. They're ideal for a fortnight, especially if the rest of your gear is on the smaller side.
Baltoro 70: 85 to 94 ounces | holds 68 to 76 liters | $290
Deva 70: 85 to 91 ounces | holds 69 to 74 liters | $290 |

Two Months
Most long-term trekkers plot out resupply points and thus don't need to truck a huge load on their back. They look instead for the latest, lightest technology to help them make it safely from port to port. Durable ARC'TERYX Altra models are just about perfect. Their clever suspension system lets in plenty of air, while a rotating disc transfers the load in harmony with the body's movements. Arc'teryx employs an independent auditor to help the company "substantially reduce the total amount of materials used over time."
76 to 81 ounces | holds 62 to 75 liters | $375-$400 |


If Ron Gonen has his way, it will be as convenient for Americans to make money off their garbage as it is for them to toss it. Gonen is the CEO of RecycleBank, which contracts with cities to reward residents for their curbside recycling. Founded in Philadelphia in 2004, RecycleBank has expanded to 26 states and the U.K. It now serves more than 1 million homes.

The company fits garbage and recycling trucks with a mechanical arm that can weigh a household's recycling output. The information is transmitted to RecycleBank, which deposits points into an online account based on the weight of the recyclables. Families can use those points—worth up to $200 per year—to shop at hundreds of retailers. Those stores, in turn, are rewarded with a presence on the company's Web site, plus the benefit of being seen as eco-minded.

"We've increased recycling by at least 100 percent in the communities we've partnered with," said Gonen. And while RecycleBank members can already cash in their points at green-minded outfits like Whole Foods and Gaiam, they will soon be encouraged to spend in an even more sustainable way: Gonen recently teamed up with eBay to motivate shoppers to buy used goods. —Jessi Phillips

Entrée photos: Lori Eanes (5); tasters' photos: Kira Stackhouse (6); Ovie Mughelli photo: courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons; backpacker photo: Lori Eanes. Special thanks to Jason Halal.



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