America’s food tide turned five years ago when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomburg ordered calorie counts on menus. Atlas Van Lines 2012 King of the Road survey shows the waves of change have lapped across the country.
In a nation where pale, cardboard-consistency iceberg lettuce is the gold standard of “greens” in a person’s diet -- particularly outside the Lettuce Line, a mysterious, invisible, yet clear demarcation that separates the American right and Left coasts from the Fly Over states -- Mayor Mike was ahead of his time.
Sitting down to a burger at Penny’s Diner in Green River, Wyoming, I was greeted with a calorie-count menu.
“It’s our new menus,” said our server. “We’ve had them about two weeks.”
I didn’t order the fish and steamed vegetables, less than 300 calories, I did order a burger -- shame on me, the description of “garden-fresh lettuce,” fooled me, it was shredded Iceberg, limp and pale -- but I had information to help me make a decision, which is the whole point of calorie counts.
McDonald’s turned the calorie count into a marketing tool, from the Kansas Turnpike to the Spokane Petro, the under 400 calorie menu sheet is prominent, featuring the 300 calorie, Egg McMuffin, 90 calorie non-fat latte and a 170 calorie ice cream cone.
Truck drivers -- who seemed to survive on 'Doritos and Dew for $2.22', a catchy label for a lousy food choice when we started driving four years ago -- are making changes, too. The King of the Road Survey, click here to find the complete survey results, shows 57 per cent of drivers surveyed say their biggest challenge on the road is eating right and 30% say it’s exercising. More than half are away from home 31+ weeks a year.
The survey is a small sample, 167 responses representing 37 U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces, but it shows that drivers are recognizing that we are what we eat and we are asking for better food choices and getting them.
Fresh fruit is the favorite snack of 48% followed by mixed nuts. Candy and chips are down the list. Water, say 71%, is their drink of choice after they finish their morning coffee, followed by Gatorade and other sports drinks. Subway is the favorite fast food but nine percent say they don’t eat fast food, which is where we fall, rarely to none.
But it’s not all fruits, vegetables and grains because TUMS is the recommended antidote for heartburn.
Since we’ve been living on the road, I have noticed two things. The bad news is that America is obese, really obese -- less obese on the coasts than in the center of the country -- but the good news is that attitudes are changing.
While nothing will change overnight, big lifestyle changes don’t happen like that, the seeds have been planted. There is a psychological progression to change. Remember smoking, first we recognized that it’s bad, but even though we recognized smoking is bad, we didn't quit -- my favorite line was ‘havta die of something’ -- the regulatory clamp squeezed tighter, non-smoking workplaces, hospitals, restaurants and bars, prices, SIN taxes, go up, and slowly the ranks of former smokers swelled. Taking me along.
It took me five years of seriously trying to quit smoking when I finally butt out for the last time in 1990 after 20 years of thinking I looked pretty cool when I smoked, I started at 13. That’s what I expect from food, more choices will come available, more people will be concerned about their health, we will have a few court cases and find out that all the sugar is toxic, there will be more regulations, like Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to control sugary drinks, food businesses will be slowly pushed along and things will change.
Today the food landscape is a broad spectrum, Pilot has super deal on 44 ounces of soda, which is an astonishing amount of sugar -- 1 teaspoon = 4 grams of sugar -- but the Travel America truckstop is stocking Chobani Greek yogurt, my favorite, at a reasonable $1.59 each. Boiled eggs can be purchased at TA and Pilot. The TA in Ontario, California chops a half dozen watermelons a day into single serving packages. The Pilot in Mountain Home, Idaho sold single servings of fresh strawberries in July. Almost all truckstops sell bananas, oranges and apples. Drivers are asking for better choices and the truckstops are responding.
At the Love’s in Hooker, Oklahoma a couple of week’s ago, a woman driver was cleaning a big bag of cherries and separating them into smaller bags to snack on while she drives.
A friend, who has been driving over-the-road some 25 years and admits his fruits and vegetable favorites are apples, cherries and French fries told me he wants to make better food choices. He recently had his first fruit smoothie. “I’m willing to try yogurt,” he said, asking for food suggestions to get him started.
There’s still not enough real lettuce in America’s restaurant salads, but there’s been a sea change in the past four years.