What We Eat on the Road

One: Supermarkets are selling better food. Much of what’s offered is overprocessed, much of it is junk, much of it isn’t even food. But it seems to me, from a strictly anecdotal standpoint, that a growing segment of real food has taken hold. This goes for gas stations, truck stops, just about everywhere.

Two: Alternatives to the standards (steak, chicken, salmon, fajitas) are turning up in the most unlikely restaurants. Bean dishes, salads that aren’t 50 percent cold cuts, pasta dishes that focus on vegetables instead of meat, are all becoming more common.

Three: Towns and cities that until recently might have been considered hopeless now offer creative restaurants serving interesting food.

Mark Bittman has been traveling around the U.S. with his daughters, and he’s reporting about how much better America has gotten at serving food in remote areas of the country.

When I was in college, my friends and I would use the week or so we got off from classes in the spring to drive into the mountains, or into the wilderness—basically anywhere that wasn’t a beach, because that’s where most of the spring break crowd would be found, and we had the beach 10 minutes away from campus during the entire year anyway.

They say it’s not always the destination, but the journey, and I remember cramming our equipment into the car, running to the grocery store to load up on provisions, swapping out mixed CDs for episodes of This American Life, singing along (often poorly) to the radio, and reading books or magazines and shouting out loud our favorite passages. When we stopped for food, it tended to be the same fast food joints found at every rest stop—McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s—or maybe if we were lucky, it would be a tiny diner with a name like Peggy Sue’s which served milkshakes, and we’d get a bowl of chili, which was a good thing to get because chili is one of those things that taste better the longer it sits in a pot, and I’m pretty sure the chili we ate had been sitting in the pot for quite a long time.

I haven’t taken a road trip in a while, and am thinking about driving to my friend’s wedding in Texas this fall. Will it be cheaper than flying? Probably not. But seeing what’s available on the road these days may be totally worth it.

Photo: Shutterstock/Nicole Kucera

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