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Homeyer: Road Food

(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator who - like many of us - will be doing some traveling over the holidays. Along the way, he hopes to discover some local, family-owned restaurants serving local food - instead of relying on chain restaurants - even if means getting off the highway.

(Homeyer) Over the next few weeks many of us will be traveling. Some will, as the song goes, travel over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house - perhaps to share a holiday dinner. Others will take a jet plane across the country to be with family or friends to wrap up the old year and ring in the new. But whatever our plans, these days are sure to be busy ones, and many of us will grab a bite to eat wherever it's quickest and easiest. In other words, this is the time of year when Fast Food franchises are a real temptation - and they're everywhere.

Over the past 60 years America has been transformed from a society that dined at family-run restaurants to one that looks at Fast Food as normal. Every interstate highway has hamburger havens, pizza places and fried chicken joints that produce food that's exactly the same in every location. Prices seem cheap and quality is consistent - even if not the best for our collective cholesterol level.

But I prefer to eat at family-run restaurants that are more likely to serve locally grown food.

I believe that food grown locally tastes better, and I know it supports local farmers. The food giants that produce the bulk of American food don't need my support, but neighborhood farmers trying to sell their eggs and potatoes do.

Oh, you might say, there are no Mom-n-Pop restaurants on the interstate. And that's true. But they do exist not too far from the exits. I know this, because I often get off the Turnpike when I'm hungry. I like finding old fashioned restaurants and diners that offer me more choices - and where I can relax and enjoy a meal instead of wolfing down my food in 10 minutes before racing off again toward my destination.

Now, I'll admit that the food may not be any healthier at a truck stop than it is at a fast-food burger place. But the people working there tend to be talkative and interesting. Wait staff often take time to ask about my trip - or tell me about the pie. Part of the joy of traveling, for me, is learning about other people, their values and their opinions. And I don't mind letting my shoulder muscles relax while listening to a local person forecast the weather - or tell me where I can walk my dog without listening to 18 wheelers roaring down the highway.

Besides - I think it's safer to break up a 6 or 8-hour drive with an hour away from the steering wheel. And if I'm running late, I'll tell my server. Most places can accommodate a customer in a hurry.

So as I travel this holiday season, I'll take a little extra time to explore local food options along the way. And that just might include a piece of home-made apple pie.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and a blogger at the
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