A life on the road is often not a healthy one. But one truck driver has made it his mission to stick to a healthy diet. he skips the truck stops and whips up gourmet meals in his truck's cab.
WASHINGTON — It’s easy to mistake Bobby Andersen’s semi-truck for a full-service kitchen.
He has a microwave, a toaster oven, a ceramic electric skillet, a waffle maker, a butane stove and an electronic pressure cooker — all inside the driver’s cabin.
“I have basically any kind of cooking utensil you can think of,” says Andersen, who has been driving a truck for 20 years.
But all of those appliances are recent additions.
For many years, Andersen relied on fast-food restaurants to cook his meals. The 45-year-old Booneville, Mississippi, native fueled up on biscuits, burgers, fries and soda to get through long days on the road.
“Any truck stop you walk into has just fast food places. It’s quick and easy: You can get in there, you can get your food and you can get out and eat while you’re driving down the highway,” says Andersen, who spends four to six days a week behind the wheel.
But a regulation issued by the Department of Transportation forced the former Marine veteran to clean up his diet. Under the guidelines, Andersen says his size would have required him to take a sleep apnea test — an evaluation not covered by his insurance.
“It would have cost me a fortune being off work with no pay and having to pay for that test. I had to do something,” he says.
After watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives,” Andersen decided to quit fast food cold turkey and dive right into a plant-based diet. Only, it didn’t last very long. Andersen didn’t educate himself on the lifestyle before adopting it.
“I didn’t know the range of vegetables out there. I never thought about it … I was eating pretty much just salad. But I couldn’t eat enough; I was always hungry, which led me to fail. And I failed bad,” he says. “I just said, ‘The heck with it. I’m fat, I’m always going to be fat, and I’m always going to be unhealthy. I’ll just deal with it.’”
But a few months later, he took another stab at a plant-based diet, after the encouragement of a friend. Only this time, he was prepared. He read about different foods to eat and various ways to prepare meals. He researched alternative sources of protein (broccoli is still his go-to) and learned how to cook without oil.
This summer, Andersen is celebrating one year of eating a plant-based diet — a lifestyle he maintains even when he’s on the road.
In the cab of his semi, Andersen cooks flaxseed pancakes on a griddle and cashew-soaked oats in a pot for breakfast, both of which are piled high with fresh fruit.
For lunch, he prepares vegetarian tacos, loaded with avocado slices, pico de gallo and beans. And for a quick dinner, he throws vegetables, rice and seasonings in a pressure cooker, which is plugged into his truck’s electricity.
He swears his dairy-free macaroni and cheese wins over vegans and non-vegans, alike.
“Anything you can make with an animal product, pretty much, I can make with plants. And I can do it all in my truck,” Andersen says.
Compared to his strictly-salad days, Andersen says he’s never hungry on his vegan diet. “You can eat until your heart’s content. You don’t have to count calories, you don’t have to count fat and all that other stuff — just eat.”
His change in lifestyle has yielded some impressive results. He’s dropped 65 pounds, and has stopped taking his blood pressure medication and his anti-depressants.
However, Andersen is the first to admit that it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of work to get started, and requires time and dedication to maintain, he says.
On his days off, Andersen spends hours planning, shopping and preparing food for the week ahead. He packs a cooler filled with chopped vegetables, frozen vegetables, bread, grains and seasonings to take in his truck.
As a means for accountability, he started his taking photos of his food and blogging about his adventures on the road on his Facebook page, The Plant-Fueled Trucker. The page quickly gained a following; today, Andersen has nearly 22,000 likes.
He frequently gets comments and questions about his meals from his fans, and “Do you eat organic?” is a common one.
“Organic is fine if you can afford it, but some people just can’t afford it. I want to show people out there that you don’t have to just do organic and you don’t have to just do fresh. Frozen vegetables are good,” he says. “Just eat vegetables. You’re going to get good out of it.”
If you’re curious about a plant-based diet, but are worried you don’t have enough time to cook, Andersen has one piece of advice: “Buy yourself a pressure cooker,” he says.
He says he can make a filling meal for four people in his pressure cooker in under 10 minutes. He also says to keep it simple. “You can make tacos and all kinds of stuff, just with basic ingredients.”
Andersen’s new lifestyle has changed his health for the better, but what makes him the happiest, he says, is knowing that his journey has inspired others to do the same.
“It makes me kind of tear up a little bit; I’m helping people. And that means more to me than anything else,” he says.
“I want people to get healthy and I want people to do it long-term, not just a short-term 90-day diet. This is something you can do forever — it’s sustainable forever.”
Check out some of Andersen’s creations on the road on his Instagram account: