Healthy Habits on Tour with Dessa

Dessa is a rapper, writer, speaker, and a proud member of the Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree. The Utne Reader calls her, “A one-woman powerhouse … with a literary sensibility and an aversion to genre clichés.” Her most recent album, “Parts of Speech,” debuted at No. 76 on the Billboard charts. As a writer she’s published two collections. Spiral Bound is mostly essays; A Pound of Steam is poetry. As a speaker, she delivered a keynote presentation at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Dessa’s 2015 tour schedule includes hundreds of shows in a dozen countries in North America, Europe, and Africa. She splits her time between a one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis and a tour van that she shares with six guys. For a live performance of Dessa, check out her NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

1. What are your top healthy road trip snacks?

I usually pack a tiny cooler with some food. The standard fare:

  1. Sandwiches.
  2. Fruit. I like grapes but try to bring fruit that can take a beating, like oranges. They’re likely to roll around the floor of the van, maybe get stepped on.
  3. Farro. I make a batch, freeze it, then microwave servings at a gas stations along the way.


2. What’s the healthiest snack/ meal you’ve created at a gas station?

Fruit — it’s always a win, but only about 50 percent of the gas stations carry fresh stuff. Then cashews. Maybe a granola bar, but I realize that’s just a candy bar in a party dress.


3. You spend a copious amount of time in a car traveling to gigs, and we know that most Americans also spend copious amounts of time sitting throughout their workdays — sitting behind a desk at work and then sitting in rush hour traffic. What advice do you have for people to move more throughout the day despite the constraints to get their job done?

We bring jump ropes with us in the van and take them out at gas stations, occasionally freaking out the other patrons. Some of us will do squats together — the number of reps is determined by the day of the month. Even during a full day, we try to sneak in little doses of movement if a full workout isn’t possible.


4. We know that surrounding yourself with the ‘right tribe’ is helpful for eating and living better. Who is in your tribe and how do you motivate each other to make healthy choices while you are on tour?

My tribe is half and half: some are really interested in healthy living, some less so. When I see someone getting the healthy snack on tour it definitely serves as a gentle nudge to follow suit. We also prompt each other to do squats. When it’s my tour, I can request healthy snacks backstage: fresh fruit, hardboiled eggs, and the like.


5. Do you eat fast food while you travel? If so, how do you make it healthier? If not, what do you eat instead?

Yep. Fast food is totally unavoidable on the road. My top spots are:

  1. Subway: you can get lots of veggies and it’s fairly low calories.
  2. Chipotle: though not always low calories, they have better standards for food production.
  3. EVOS in Florida: a fast food chain aimed at making typical fast food healthier with organic and better-for-you options. Would strongly support a petition to make this a national chain.


6. What is your most effective strategy for managing stress?

I’ve never been awesome at managing stress. I’m naturally pretty high-strung. Diverting my mind from a stressor with another meaningful piece of work — like writing a good essay — can help shift my attention to a more productive place.


7. You are always on the road traveling for gigs and have been to many states throughout the U.S. Based off your experiences traveling through different cities and states, what do you think are the top factors driving obesity in America?

Cities designed for pedestrian traffic do seem to be full of trim pedestrians. Cities like New York come to mind, places where everyone walks.


8. Research tells us that food deserts make it hard for people to eat healthfully in some communities. Did you ever experience this on the road? What do you think community can do to overcome this issue?

Most cities have neighborhoods where it’s tough to get healthy, fresh food. There are few things I’ve seen people do to help mitigate the problem.

  • Flower box gardens can help, even if people are just growing fresh herbs.
  • Neighborhood gardens are awesome. Urban farming is a fascinating trend.
  • Farmers’ markets: I am a big fan. Sometimes tricky to figure out when and where they’re held, but it always surprises me how reasonable the produce is.


9. We’ve heard that you’ve spent time on your tours learning about food and sustainability in each city. What was the most impactful experience, where was it, and how did it change the way you think about food?

Interviewing Michael Pollan was a highlight. He talked about the way that our minds can affect our flavor perceptions: what we know about a food can affect the way it tastes. I always suggest people read Omnivore’s Dilemma to learn more about food sustainability issues. A really great place to start.



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