Our Most Important Food Rule and How to Break It: A Rant

May 29, 2012 · 42 comments

We were at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop in New Jersey, standing in the Popeye’s line.

“I guess we could have the biscuits,” Susan said, squinting over my shoulder at the guy manning the fryolator.

“Can’t–” I shook my head. “…white flour.”

“We’re on a freaking line at Popeye’s, and you’re worried about white flour? What were you expecting—spelt?”

We’d already passed up the shrink-wrapped hard-boiled eggs at the sundries shop, where you could also buy tee shirts emblazoned in spangles with the words New Jersey Turnpike across the front. I love hard-boiled eggs, but shrink-wrapping them just seems to be a particular affront to chickens everywhere. De-beaking and cramming the poor things into foot-square cages in darkened halls of misery is bad enough, but then cloaking their eggs in a hermetically sealed plastic condom to sell in a fake straw basket for a dollar a piece on the Turnpike in Jersey is really where I draw the line.

So we sized up our options: Cinnabon. Burger King.

And Popeye’s.

I ordered a small bag of deep fried drumsticks.

“Ma’am,” the lady behind the counter said to me, “if you add a Sweet Tea you can make it a meal and save a few dollars.” She held up an empty 64 ounce cup that looked like a cross between a double 7-Eleven Big Gulp, and a laundry basket.

An hour later, somewhere north of the Palisades, I began to groan, my ankles started to leach out over the sides of my shoes, and I couldn’t get my rings off.  I opened my bag and took a double dose of Crestor just to keep my arteries propped open.

But really, it didn’t matter — the biscuit, the deep fried chicken, the possibility of having a 1,080 calorie caramel pecan Cinnabon — thanks to one of the most important American food rules that Michael Pollan never talks about, because he probably feels he doesn’t have to. We all know this rule the way we know the sky is blue.

America’s Most Important Food Rule

So long as you’re getting from Point A to Point B by plane, train, bus, or automobile, culinary and nutritional time stops. Food ceases to matter. Health issues flitter away like moths in a storm; gastronomical quality is neither assumed nor expected. Calories, fat—all of it stops counting. While you’re on the road, your blood cholesterol automatically plummets to that of an infant born to vegan parents in south Asia.

Haven’t you heard?

Everyone in America knows about The Rule.  And clearly, every fast food concession at every rest stop, bus stop, train station, and airport in our country is completely aware of The Rule, too. If they weren’t, it’d sort of make you scratch your head in a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel kind of way, wouldn’t it?

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, 1.5 million people travel by air every day in this country. Add to this number the 870,000 people who travel by Amtrak every day, and right there you’ve got almost 2.4 million tired and hungry travelers looking for a snack while on the road. Of those 2.4 million, how many are diabetic, or pre-diabetic, or suffer from metabolic syndrome? How many are celiacs? How many are vegetarians, or vegans, or Hindu, Kosher, Halal, and don’t eat meat, or dairy, or beef, or pork? How many are fending off any number of problems — cancer, heart disease, obesity? How many are just careful eaters who want to feed themselves and their kids decent, simple food, and are looking for something reasonably fresh, like maybe an apple that didn’t get picked in another hemisphere at the proverbial height of goodness, doused with some godforsaken preservative, and then shipped to the food court at JFK? How many are looking for a tomato on their sandwich that doesn’t taste like a cotton ball, and that wasn’t picked by those nice hardworking folks down in Immokalee?

Odds are pretty great that of those 2.4 million people, a good portion of them fall into at least one of the categories above. And if they have nothing to eat that hasn’t been processed, packaged, laden with sugar, fat, salt, grown in a factory, and shellacked with chemical preservatives produced in a test tube, you’re looking at what could arguably be considered the nation’s largest food desert. This is the clogged artery connecting the north to the south, the east coast to the west, and every single community in between.

Welcome to travel in America. All aboard.

I don’t rant often. But I spent most of last week on the road, and after four days in and out of train stations, I came to the very harsh realization that this issue — the problem of the food desert — extends far beyond the poor cities and rural areas where people are sitting ducks, and where no one can get their hands on fresh food. The situation is much graver than any one of us thinks, because of The Rule: as Americans, we are used to either ignoring the quality of the food to which we have access when we’re traveling, or we’re just plain comfortable with eating dreck because it comes with a toy or a 64-ounce sweet tea, and so the problem of the American food desert is much more insidious and pervasive. And because it’s so pervasive, it’s also much more democratic.

It doesn’t matter if you live in Greenwich, Nob Hill, Soho, Austin, Kansas City, Mill Valley, Charlottesville. Boca, Ames, Santa Barbara, Compton, Aspen, Park Slope, or Detroit. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Asian, Latino, rich, poor, short, tall, gay, straight, thin, fat, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Mormon, Muslim, a vegan, a carnivore, a celiac, a PhD, a dropout, or you just came back from a year in Tanzania on a Fulbright. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Liberal or a Republican, or a sack-suited, horn-rimmed Neo-Con still crying over the death of Irving Kristol. If you live in America and you travel anywhere — by bus, by train, by plane, or by car — you’re spending nearly every single one of those traveling moments in the largest food desert in the country. Like it or not, this is a cross-the-aisle problem.

To be clear: you may not be faced with having to wring a solid dinner for your kids out a bag of pork rinds and a box of dried soup mix that you bought from the corner store that specializes in lottery tickets and Colt 45, but for the hours or days that you’re in a metal tube, hurtling from Point A to Point B, you are that sitting duck I speak of above, and make no mistake: fast food companies are well aware of it. They will continue to do all they can to make absolutely sure that you’re stuck eating what they make available to you — what they decide they want you to eat — and little else. Otherwise, all those nice people hawking cheap sunglasses outside every rest stop in the country would be replaced by local farmers selling fresh food instead, and those Best Buy machines that vend iPads and Bose Headphones for hundreds of dollars would be dispensing organic fruit. It’s so nice to know where our priorities are.

Culinarily-speaking, I lead a life of rosy bliss: I have a pantry judiciously stocked with gorgeous grains and heirloom beans. My freezer is filled with interesting nuts and flours and grass-fed beef from a local cow. I’m lucky enough to have a traditional, small-batch tofu producer right down the road. So far this season, I’ve harvested two rounds of organic French Breakfast Radishes and re-planted Rosa Bianca eggplants in their place. This summer, we’re building a six-bed vegetable garden in our yard, complete with white cedar picket fence and pea-gravel paths. Nothing that is not real ever — ever — passes these lips. I think, talk, and write about food constantly. But for me, food deserts and the real way people eat in this country are purely conceptual issues that make me mad: I never actually get to experience the dire lack of availability of fresh food that is so rampant in this country until I’m sitting in a food court and waiting for a train or a plane, or stopping off at a rest area anywhere on the Eisenhower Highway System. It’s only when I step outside my culinary Ivory Tower that I get to experience — palpably — how hideous things are in the real world while the rest of us are complaining that the price of imported burrata has gone through the roof.

What to do? It’s complicated: you could be like my stepmother, who refuses to leave her house without carrying more fruit than Carmen Miranda. You could go the Heidi Swanson route, and cook for yourself ahead of time (just pray that the TSA doesn’t confiscate your quinoa patties while you’re going through check-in). Even David Tanis, the former chef at Chez Panisse, has written about cobbling together a small emergency food kit for himself, which includes a tube of Harissa. This is all very nice, and even delicious, if a bit unrealistic for the average American traveler. Last summer, I came up with the plan to stop at local farmer’s markets whenever I was on the road, and to stock a small cooler with fresh fruit, cheese, and whatever else I found that caught my eye and would travel well. (Look for complete-ish listings of national farmer’s markets by going here, and also visiting NOFA, if you’re in the northeastern United States).

Whatever you choose to do — eat that shrink-wrapped hard-boiled egg or the preservative-sprayed apple or the bag of deep-fried drumsticks, or not — remember that this Rule that says eating while traveling doesn’t really count is a construct manufactured and perpetuated by folks who have far less than your health at heart.

And remember, too, that rules are made to be broken.







{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cynthia A. May 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm

So true. Of course now I don’t want to leave the protective circle of my five different farmer’s markets, umpteen various farmstands, and small local markets. Perhaps a stay-cation is in order so I won’t flip out (culinarily speaking).

2 Katherine Whiteside May 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Agreed– travel food is gross. And not just in the car. At first, I was glad when airlines stopped serving because that enclosed microwave smell was so awful. Now I cringe as my potential seatmate lumbers down the aisle with a steaming pizza box. That, along with French fries and warm, mayo-dripping “fish” sandwich across the aisle and the cinnabon thingie that out-wafts an entire Yankee Candle Barn and I want nose plugs as well as ear plugs and an eye mask. sigh… is it about the food or is it about manners??

3 Sue/the view from great island May 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I love this post—possibly because my husband and I recently made the cross country trip by car for the second time in 18 months…you speak the truth, for sure about the most important food rule, I don’t know where we’d all be without it!

4 Jeanne May 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm

As someone with food allergies, and with a husband and daughter with food allergies, we can’t take advantage of any of the food available on travel routes. I have to bring my own food or not eat. I am terrified of the day that my flight gets stuck on some tarmac somewhere and my family and I are trapped without food we can eat. We do travel with food, but it’s always hard to figure out just how much to bring to cover any emergencies. And road trips mean we have to take a cooler of food–like camping. We replenish the ice as we go. It’s a hassle but we get to eat. And we have a convenient excuse for not eating the crap that masquerades as food during travel.

Also, I know a lot of people who use travel as an excuse to “treat” themselves to fast food. So, I don’t think we are going to see any changes until people stop seeing fast food as a treat.

5 Victoria May 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Trying to eat well while traveling is THE WORST.

I drove from New York to Akron on Saturday and home on Sunday. (Don’t ask.) I packed my own sandwiches for the trip out and then made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which I hate) at the hotel breakfast bar for the ride back. Nothing was organic, but it avoided a stop at any one of horrible fast food restaurants littering the roads off I-80.

I feel your pain.

6 Healthy Living Val May 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm

So true! And as the height of travel season — especially car travel season — begins this becomes so evident. I love your idea of having farmers markets at the fast food-laden rest stops. There’s been a great movement in a lot of urban areas to get farmers markets into low-income neighborhoods. Why not these rest stops that are often surrounded by farm land?

7 Jenrose May 29, 2012 at 9:26 pm

My safe-food while traveling tends to be Mexican, corn tortilla/chip based things tend to be less horrifying to my system than 99% of the crap out there.

8 meg May 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm

We will soon be going on a long, cross-country road trip, and we wouldn’t think of setting out without provisions: homemade bread, a stash of hummus, homemade granola and snack mix, fresh fruit and crudités, and Jane and Michael Stern’s book, Road Food. After all, the occasional milk shake and classic burger are part of the experience. But I agree. Highway food is dismal. You just have to resign yourself to planning ahead (or as we see it, reveling in the art of the picnic basket).

9 Meg May 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I loved this post! It’s true that the difference between the food blog world’s reality and the average American’s diet is staggering, and unfortunate. Happily, I took a road trip through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia a few years ago, and we treated ourselves to stopping at the local vineyards, so I guess there are bright spots if you can find them in between the fast food joints.

10 Nina May 30, 2012 at 12:02 am

Great posting, Elissa–so sad but true! Meg makes a good point too, about the occasional bright spots. If you’re driving and have a little extra time, try a scenic route, while keeping an eye out for farm stands and locally grown fruits and vegetables. (We loved the apples we bought at Front Royal, VA.) Val’s suggestion was used last summer by the NY Thruway’s Plattekill rest stop, which had a farmer’s market on Saturdays. We’ve also found some wonderful diners and restaurants between New York and Washington while escaping from traffic jams. If you can spare an hour, drive into New Castle, DE for lunch, and skip those awful Delaware Houses.

11 adi May 30, 2012 at 2:14 am

This post couldn’t have been more perfect. Tomorrow I start my journey from Sydney Australia to Rhode Island and I plan to bring fruit and nuts (which have to be consumed or thrown out at customs). I must admit I have a strong hankering for some of that American road trip food which I never ate when I was in the States anyhow (I can admit it’s Taco Bell but can’t understand why I crave it). As a wheat free lady, I can feel the pain of Jeanne above. Where are the farmers markets in LAX 🙂 Perhaps one day eh?

12 Barbara May 30, 2012 at 2:37 am

This is a problem here in Australia also. Although a couple of our airports have several good food outlets, but it is rare.

13 ginger and scotch May 30, 2012 at 5:38 am

This is so true, so true. We hardly ever ate out as a child (finances) but when we road-tripped from NY to FL each year, we would eat at many of the fast food joints along I-95. It was such a treat!

Nowadays, its still a treat to do so when my family and I travel for vacation once a year but only because we don’t eat much fast food in general (health-consciousness).

However, if I had to travel on a regular basis, the thought of surviving in the food desert would make my arteries clog just thinking about it.

Having said that, there is some light at the end of the tunnel: I found some great options in UK airports (Edinburgh and Heathrow are the only 2 I’ve traveled through). I’ve enjoyed Wagamama’s as well as this one vendor that sells Asian soups – all quite good and reasonably priced.

14 Sarah May 30, 2012 at 9:29 am

Preach, Elissa. (Also, I am consistently amazed at Heidi’s posts about her food when she travels. I can barely manage to cobble together granola, much less golden potstickers.)

Although I have reservations; ones that you have too, by acknowledging how charmed our normal food lives are. Is it that there is a paucity of good, whole food options on our transportation corridors, or that our transportation corridors take us through the parts of the country that may be those food deserts? I’m inclined to believe the latter, in many cases. For me and you, the Amtrak stations are the exception to the rule; for other people, that sort of access is the rule.

Cheers to you for a thought-provoking, and as always, well-written post. –S

15 Judi May 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I go to Starbucks and Panera Bread when I travel, whenever I can. Subway’s lighter sandwiches are also not a terrible option in a pinch. And I’m IN LOVE WITH Peeled snacks which can be found at every airport I’ve been to lately. They aren’t as good as Heidi’s prepped snacks but they’re not the worst choices either.

Or you can be like a lady I saw once on a train trip from San Francisco to Denver, who refused to eat the snacks on the train and instead opted to pull an armful of dandelion weeds from the train platform at one of our stops and eat those instead. Actually, no. That lady was just crazy.

16 Kristin May 31, 2012 at 9:51 am

Amen to that. I’ve started pre-planning meals on road trips, finding decent places through http://www.eatwellguide.org. It doesn’t always work – depends on the route – but I’ve found some awesome places through there. Knowing that there’s some good food waiting for you down the road sure beats blindly searching for a non-fast food option when you’re starving and don’t know the area. In airports, though, I admit that I’m stumped. I flew through Atlanta in March, when I was not eating meat and dealing with high cholesterol. Try to find an airport meal that meets those requirements and will carry you through the whole afternoon. I dare you. After scrutinizing ingredient lists and nutrition contents, I ended up with a Caribbean salad from Chili’s To Go and, upon opening it, found a pile of chicken inside (totally not listed in the ingredients!). Fortunately, I was only giving up meat temporarily. If I had been a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I would have freaked out. I think our travel food options have been improving over the past few years (the last rest stop I was at had a “healthy snacks” display, although it was nearly impossible to find), but I agree that things are still far from ideal. It shouldn’t be so difficult to sift through the garbage and find something healthy. It should be the other way around.

17 Debra @ Blue Raven Wellness May 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm

This post couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Today I asked folks who are fans of my Blue Raven Wellness Facebook page how they deal with eating while on vacation. I just came back from a vacation to a remote area. We took most of our own food and planned on a couple of meals out. Eating out used to be a treat! Now it becomes fraught with angst because I have become aware of what’s actually in cheap food (high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated and refined vegetable oils, to name the worst offenders). On the other hand, I know that the stress of worrying about it can be worse for us than the bad food. Still, I will continue to bring my own when traveling as much as possible. Thanks for your article!

18 Frippey May 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm

You realize the fried drumsticks were coated in part with white flour, right?

19 Elissa May 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I was hoping, privately, that it was quinoa flour.

20 Annie May 31, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Yeah, and the other part was probably GMO corn. Urk.

I feel your pain, but I would have chosen a salad from Burger King over the crap at Popeyes any day. I’m sure BK is all Big Ag food too, but at least it makes an attempt to provide healthier options. And then the food in most restaurants, except for the really upscale ones, is going to be from pretty dismal sources.

But it’s partially a matter of taste on the part of the masses of the public, and partially economics. People like that crap. It tastes good. And Big Ag being government-subsidized and local organic producers not, it’s a lot cheaper to eat junk food. In the short run anyway. The crap that you find travelling is the same crap that a lot of people are eating regularly. It’s not just travelers obviously, who keep these places in business, it’s working parents who are too “busy” to scramble a couple of organic eggs or saute a pan of broccoli for the kids. Ach.

21 Sena June 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm

One summer road trip my friend and I discovered that almost every town had a Wallmart PLUS complete with organic-ish veggies near the highway. We made awesome sandwiches or cooked our meals on a camp stove on the back of his pick up while parked behind rest stops (the area that actually faces the mountains) It was pretty sweet. If you spend time preparing meals at home, its OK to spend time preparing them elsewhere.

22 Aubergine June 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

Oh my god, I so completely relate to every word you’ve just written. I’m actually sitting at JFK as I write this and I just wolfed down a cafeteria sausage & egg biscuit sandwich that didn’t even taste like real sausage or eggs, just salt, grease, and mystery meat. And I’m that quinoa-patty all-organic kind of gal with the well-stocked pantry you speak of. Ha, brilliant blogpost, made me grin and feel like one of my biggest travel frustrations has finally been properly articulated by someone!

23 Nicole June 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Just got home from Italy where the roadside gas stations literally have a full buffet of food options and a full kitchen you could see.

Clearly its a matter of a demand of the people. These folks who cherish their food would never accept anything less and therefore even food by the side of the road is fresh and tasty. There was the buffet with multiple options. There were salads. There was cheese and salami. There was pizza. There was a coffee bar. It was astounding.

24 Becky June 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I spent much of May on the road, and wholeheartedly agree with this post. I do have a suggestion that the other commenters haven’t mentioned yet — Yelp! It doesn’t help in airports, but it has made a huge difference in my ability to find something approaching real food when traveling by car.

25 Tania June 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I just had this thought Sunday while trying to scavenge dinner at the DC airport. Even cities with great food cultures have terrible options once you get into the airport.

26 Rocky Mountain Woman June 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I have a hybrid approach. I eat what I can find when in airports, but if I am traveling in my truck (which is my preferred way of travel), I try and find places to stay that have kitchens so I can find healthier options and cook myself. I have a lot of fun checking out the local food scene.

27 Sarah June 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Just to play devil’s advocate, I would like to suggest that it can in fact be healthy to vacation from healthy foods every now and again. I find it to be an invaluable technique in teaching our young kids about eating nutritiously. When we go on a road trip and are forced into the McDonalds/Popeyes/Perkins route, our kids are excited the first day. The second day, not so much. And by the third, my six year old daughter is begging me for “something healthy” to eat.

So, our short three day diversion every couple of years from consistent healthy eating serves to keep my kids from glancing longingly every time we pass a fast food joint the rest of the year.

Plus, its a fresh reminder for adults of what is going on in the food desert that most languish in. Which is also healthy. I mean, journalists covering stories in Iraq would be a lot safer (healthier) if they did their covering from Minnesota. But they have to go onsite to live like the locals to understand the scope of the problem. Certainly the same premise applies to people like us who care not only about our own health, but that of the populace at large. After all, Michael Pollan started his food adventuring in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” with a trip to McDonalds…

28 nicole June 6, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I do agree with you – and I agree that bringing an elaborate meal can be impossible. As a vegetarian I don’t have a lot of options while traveling (also I like to eat all the whole grain-y/vegetable goodness I can, so by reality my options are limited), SO my go-to is a pb sandwich (or two), some sturdy fruit (like oranges), some nuts maybe, a granola bar, that I try to throw in my bag before I leave. Or sometimes I don’t eat much that day, and that’s OK. I hold out hope that one day there will be better, affordable, more accessible options … but I also won’t hold my breath.

29 IndyIndie June 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

This is so very true. However, being from Indianapolis, I would like to say that Indianapolis International Airport acknowledged this problem in choosing the food vendor for their new terminal that they opened a few years ago. To order to provider better and more unique (and local) options for travelers the Airport recruited a handful of local restaurants to open shop in the terminal. These include Cafe Patachou that focuses on fresh, locally sourced food, Harry & Izzy’s (an offshoot of St. Elmo’s) with its wrold famous shrimp cocktail, Naked Tchopstix that offers sushi and Shapiro’s Delicatessen offering classic, New York style deli sandwiches. It’s all great and one definitely has healthy options.

30 Anon June 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Do you want to know the real reason that people don’t care about the nutrition of what they eat of the road? It’s because the average American doesn’t travel all that often, which instantly puts travel food in the same category as birthday cake: a rare treat.

It’s also hilarious what examples you decide on. The roadside eggs are almost certainly fresh from some local farm and packaged for individual sale and to keep the bugs off. Popeye’s posts its ingredients online. Outside of some of some dye in the batter and some msg, it’s chicken, flour, salt, and dessicated spices.

And then there’s your continued belief in the mythical food desert.

I suppose I could summarize the above and the rest of what I want to say with “try doing some research before mouthing off, hippie.”

31 Mizgreenjeans June 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Dear Anon,

Oh please. The average American doesn’t travel all that often? We’re all glued to our little lives and never have to go anywhere? Jeez, even a trip into town to the mall would be made easier if there was something we could grab to eat that actually had some bloody nutrition in it! Or, even a vegetable that hadn’t been boiled past the point of no return, or breaded and fried until it gave up the ghost and lost all trace of value.

More and more we drive to places we used to fly to. It is a freaking desert out there, I assure you. And if you have any sort of food sensitivity, God help you, as you can be sure there’s NOTHING out there that might cater to it.

And as a farmer who raises poultry, I can also assure you, I don’t sell my eggs to highway gas stations, uh uh, no. So nice try, but doubtful.

32 Cedarglen June 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Thank God! You’ve finally explained it – and in terms that even this idiot can comprehend! Your analysis explains a lot of otherwise terrible things. My favorite example is the constantly ‘improved’ but dumpster-diving like food service on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight (North-South on the Left Coast). Despite a First Class ticket. everytime Amtrak ‘improves’ their food, it goes from horrible to worse and in some cases, more worse. Four srtangers jamed into a booth desigend for two, bagged salad and a basket of dressing packets are tossed onto the table. One picks from three or four main courses, but 15 minutes into the service, “We’re out of THAT,” times two. Half way through the main course, the ‘server’ says, “Can you m ove it along folks? We’ve got hungry folks waiting.” Captive for 36+ hours, more like 48 hours on Amtrak’s schedule, there are NO other choices, save a microwaved hot dog from the slime coach. What is it with the food disservice folks who govern Amtrak’s long distance lines? Their galley and dinning cars DO have the equipment to cook and serve REAL food, including perfectly fine flat tops for cooking potatoes and fresh eggs in the morning. They don’t ese them! If a food substance cannot be warmed in a master pan, in some sorry excuse for an oven, it just ain’t on the menu. After the first 24 hours on a long distance Antrak train, I’d kill for deep-fried Popeye’s chicken or even a side trip to Burker King (the arm-pit of Amerikan hamburgers) and that’s “First Class.” That aunt who travels with Carmen’s fruit is the only smart one among us! As much as I dislike flying and the airport hassles, I do it – if only to get there before I need a meal. Let’s be blunt here: Amtrak’s long line food SUCKS. It has gone from poor to gawd-awful and it is getting worse. And do they have any kind of backup plan for extreme delay events – that remain very common? Hell no! Even a cold MRE (military field meal) would be an improvement. And let’s re-visit this “Frist Class” thing again. Yup, you pay the bucks and you get a nicer seat or a closet-like compartment, some with a private toilet. Can you get an ordinary soft drink, you know, something ordinary like a Coke? No! Visit the snack bar in roach class and pop for $1 or even $2. In fairness, First Class pax do get ONE complimentary caldron of coffee each day. it is available in the early AM and it stays there until it is empty. While flying in a 17″ seat with a 29″ pitch is not my idea of fun, it usually get one closer to a Burger King before one staves to death. So help me, I do not know what it will take. Antrak could raise their First Class fares, charge for meals and begin making the long station stops of years long gone. As it is, the only survival method for a long-haul Amtrak trip is to bring your own food and lots of it. Or fly and hope for a Burger King. Even if one is vegan, the Hunger Gods will forgive you. Antrack SUCKS.

33 Wendee Greene June 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Oh, Anon of 6/7/12. This is the first time I have ever posted a comment on a blog (even on one as fine as this). I am moved to comment, and yet I don’t know where to begin….Fast Forward….OK, I just re-read your post, and I realize now that it is all irony. I get it. It was a joke! Phew, I was kind of scared there for a few minutes, because I couldn’t believe that anyone could be quite so misguided. Excellent Post. Thanks for the humor. Eggs from local farms sold at a highway rest stop: LOL. OMG, too funny…food deserts are mythical. Hahahahahaha. Popeye’s. Popeye’s. You’re too much!!!

34 Tim Dineen June 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

It’s not that Americans travel so infrequently, Anon – your analogy to birthday cake is ludicrous – the reason people don’t care about the nutrition of what they eat on the road is because the average American doesn’t care about nutrition, period. They want triple-sized portions of whatever – cheap.

The only way the average American is going to get that cheap food-product is for it to be manufactured on a very large scale.

I love your comment “Outside of some of some dye in the batter and some msg, it’s chicken, flour, salt, and dessicated spices.” And outside of the factory farm where that genetically-bred chicken was raised – it’s just a genetically-bred chicken swimming in salmonella. I guess you just don’t grasp that some of us actually don’t want to consume MSG, TBHQ, Dimethyl polysiloxane, Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Red #40, Red #3, Blue #1, Blue #2, and Microcrystalline cellulose (wood pulp) in our fried chicken. It’s supposed to be fried-frikken-chicken, not a science experiment.

Oh… and hon?!? Food deserts are real. Very real.

Were you home-schooled?

35 kayla June 15, 2012 at 12:05 am

I thought you were joking about the hard boiled eggs but I guess not. I don’t get why you passed them up in favor of fried chicken, though. How is greasy fried chicken preferable to a simple boiled egg? How is fried chicken not an affront to chickens or however you termed it? And why not peel the fried breading off? I do that. There’s chicken underneath, you know.

36 Miss_Hannigan June 16, 2012 at 8:29 am

Entitled man forced to rub elbows with lower-middle-class at rest stop; feels dirty afterwards. Maybe the upper classes need their own highways, too.

37 Maria June 17, 2012 at 9:47 am

Mmmmmm. All this hand-wringing elitism is making me hungry.

A bunch of affluent pricks with food allergies (a delightfully American condition) is complaining about the dreadful state of travel food? Get real.

38 Jess July 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm

The other option is to pack a lunch.

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