King of the Road Survey Shows Food Attitudes Changing

Spokane, Washington

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.

King of the Road Survey Shows Food Attitudes Changing

Penny’s Diner upgraded its menu to include calorie counts.

“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.

5 thoughts on “King of the Road Survey Shows Food Attitudes Changing

  1. I concur about the changing attitude, seems like better choices are being offered at (gulp) wal-mart ! prepackaged fruits/salads/vegetables are starting to be seen more frequently ! I also "like" the fact that it took 5 years for You to quit smoking. I am overweight ( due to my food choices- no excuses) and am trying to change my lifestyle / food choices in a gradual, sustainable way. No quick fix or fad diet, just better food choices and an increase in activity.


  2. Have you heard about this article?Public health: The toxic truth about sugarRobert H. Lustig, Laura A. Schmidt & Claire D. BrindisinNature 482, 27–29 (02 February 2012) Added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol, argue Robert H. Lustig, Laura A. Schmidt and Claire D. Brindis.


  3. Phil, no I haven't seen this article, but Lustig is quoted in the NY Times Gary Taubes article, which was scary. The 60 Minutes piece on sugar is a real eye opener too. Gary, I'm convinced the only way to a lifestyle change is to keep banging away at it until it sticks. There is NO silver bullet for anything. We have been off the demon sugar for 70 days now, one of the interesting things, other than I did not lose 10 pounds overnight is that we are not as hungry as used to be. Is sugar an appetite accelerant? I don't know but we have definitely noticed this change.


  4. Fascinating about sugar as an appetite accelerant. Have heard that from many credible sources (including you, Marlaina)! Some doctors even caution against ripe fruit, although that's not practical for drivers, and may not be good advice if the fruit is replacing something even less nutritious. Terrific blogpost, and I loved your "Lettuce Line" article too.Happy Labor Day!


  5. Thanks for stopping by Belledog. While I am from my mother's school of "eat-as-much-fruit-and-vegetable-as-you-can-hold", it is a problem for truck drivers. A diet based on fruit and vegetables is efficient, too effecient, for the digestion, meaning you need regular restroom breaks, which in some parts of the country is difficult. Driving around the Greater New York area, Chicago, around Los Angeles and in Southern Florida, diets and pit stops must be planned carefully to avoid mishaps. The regulators want to force CPAP machines, a cost to drivers, onto drivers who are overweight, to eliminate problems of sleep apnea which are generally associated with obesity. But they are silent on the issue of forcing states to open Rest Areas, so we could all eat better diets, have facilities to use, and become healthier. Regulators like regulations truck drivers pay for, not ones that require governments, carriers or shippers to contribute to.About six years ago the BBC did a fascinating series of tests on food, hosted by Oprah's physician, Dr. Oz, with regular people. One test was to have two dozen people — kept for two weeks in a park compound, next to a large restroom facility — eat a giant bowl of fruit and vegetable every day. They were to eat ALL of it every day. A remarkable thing happened, their digestion was very effecient AND they each lost a considerable amount of weight. So they ate enormous quantities of food, did little exercise and lost a lot of weight, very quickly. They were all rosy cheeked and full of energy.We consume enormous amounts of processed sugar in a day, yet we could never eat the same amount of sugar from real food. So I say, skip the sugar, eat the fruit and vegetables, check the trucker's atlas for facilities before you depart.Off to wash my grapes and blueberries. Have a great long weekend.


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