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Eating on the Road

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Ted Landphair's America

Eating on the Road

Ted Landphair
Voice of America
October 27, 2011

On my first morning in New York I went to this diner where I was fed pretty much a full meal before I’d even sat down — a cup of coffee, bacon, sausage and, oddly, a slice of orange. It was a weird and kind of wonderful American way to keep a line of hungry customers happy (a line that ran all the way around the block) but I was seriously full by the time I sat down. The place was Tom’s Restaurant in Brooklyn. It’s been there since 1936, is still run by the same Greek family and is covered top to bottom with framed photos from American celebrity history, even an old black and white photo of Marilyn Monroe, signed by the lady herself. They serve what may be the best pancakes in New York City. Mountainous plates of fluffy pancakes with great dollops of butter and maple syrup complete with bacon, eggs, the works — it’s like a total heart attack. I must say I rolled out feeling pretty happy.

Diners are a classic part of American eating and somehow, they sound to me kind of wholesome. But I don’t know, after just three weeks on the road, I might have already had my fill. Eating healthily on the road in the USA can sometimes feel like a Herculean challenge. I ordered oatmeal the other day and it arrived swimming in full-fat cream. I ordered a salad and it turned out to be deep fried chicken with a tomato and a slice of cucumber. An ice-cream sundae I ordered at a drive-thru in Philadelphia was a brownie with fudge sauce, cream, coffee ice cream, and a cherry on top. It was totally delicious but seriously it was about a foot long and I thought I might pass out before it was done. Yes, I did finish it.

In Detroit, Michigan, I went to an “urban farm” – literally a 4-acre organic farm in the middle of the city, where they grow 35 different fruit and vegetables. It was started up by the local African American community to combat what they said was a gap in the food chain. Jackie, an older woman from Detroit who’s lived here all her life, was down on her hands and knees all morning planting beautiful big garlic cloves. She took some time out and told me how she had started working on the farm because fresh fruit and vegetables were hard to get as there are only one or two grocery stores nearby. She said moms struggle to feed their kids a healthy diet and instead just gives them a few dollars to head down to the local corner shop to buy a hotdog.

Back on the road, I’m kind of wishing I could plant a little organic farm in my car, a few tomatoes, maybe some spinach and a couple of eggplants. Then I could order some pancakes for the side for a nice balanced meal.

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