Updated October 13, 2015
While sharing photos of one’s meals is nothing new on the Internet, the twist here is that Andersen is a long-haul trucker who has been driving five to six days a week, 11 hours a day, for the last 21 years. It would be easy for him to blame any poor eating habits on his job. But he’s not into blaming; he’s into changing his eating habits so that he can feel good now and far into the future.
Andersen, who is 45 years old, shares photos taken from the cab of his semi-truck, photos that seem to say, “If I can cook healthy in here, anyone can do this.” He is especially well-known for making meals in his Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, and has garnered such a following that he now has his own promotional code (bobby123) on the product’s website where people can get $60 off of their own Instant Pot purchase.
He has been in high demand, with people wanting to interview him left and right, including The Today Show. “At first, I thought it was a scam, so I blew it off” he said, not believing that the Facebook message he received from one of the show’s producers was legitimate. But it was, and the show sent a reporter out to his hometown for three days to get the story, which aired this July. The number of “likes” on his Facebook page jumped from around 6,000 to nearly 24,000 that day. Since then he’s also been approached by The Dr. Oz Show, but nothing firm has been scheduled yet.
Additionally, Andersen was contacted by the Progressive insurance company, asking him to be a contributor to their website as part of “Trucker Health Awareness Month,” sharing his recipes with other truckers. His recipes, which share space with other non-plant-based recipes on the site, include “Mac and No Cheese” and “Applesauce Pancakes,” both of which include a video of Andersen demonstrating how to make the dish right there in the cab of his truck.
A sweet, naturally likable guy, Andersen teaches viewers about the ingredients he uses as well as demonstrates a variety of appliances that make his lifestyle easy to maintain on the road, including a small blender, a butane portable stove, and a toaster oven. He even gives tips and options that truckers will appreciate, like using packaged lemon juice instead of fresh since they tend to go bad too fast (and he doesn’t like to waste food). Upon tasting his “No Mac and Cheese” dish at the end of his video, he says, “It’s perfect; I’m not just saying that. It really is good.”
The lifespan of a trucker is short, says Andersen. “Everything is against us: we sit all day, we don’t exercise, and we eat bad food.” In fact, he notes that one to two truckers die each month on the road, a reality that led to the creation of “Missing Trucker Alert,” a website and Facebook page that help find missing truckers. “Nine times out of ten, though, they’re missing because they have died of health-related issues.”
A Marine veteran, Andersen has lost 70 pounds since adopting the McDougall diet in July 2014 at the recommendation of a friend. He brought his blood pressure down to 120/84, which he says couldn’t even be done when he was on blood pressure medication. His cholesterol also came down to 150. He was on antidepressants but no longer takes them, or any medication for that matter. He exercises while out on the road, too: walking, running, and riding a bike that he stores in the loft bed of his semi-truck. He shops for and prepares much of his food once a week when he is at home in Rienzi, Mississippi before heading back out on the road. It takes a few hours, but he says it’s all worth it.
As for what those around him think about his changes, “My family didn’t think it would last since I’ve been on so many diets through the years,” he said. “This is the first time that I’ve stayed with a diet longer than six months.” While his family is not onboard with the diet for themselves, his mom tries a little and his brother will cook a dish now and then that he can eat. Hailing from one of the most unhealthy states in the U.S. (according to AmericasHealthRankings.org), Andersen is a health role model in a state that is sorely in need of them, and where 35% of residents are obese. He appreciates that a lot of his followers are from Mississippi, and knows that giving up meat is the hardest part for them. “Many people from Mississippi would rather die with a piece of bacon in their mouth than try a healthy diet.”
His former diet was what you might imagine a trucker’s to be. “I used to eat a lot of pizza,” he said. “I would buy a large pizza and eat the whole thing by myself.” He also ate his share of hamburgers, French fries, and any food that was fast. He did give up soda, and now may have one cup of coffee a day; but after adopting his new diet, he says, “I have so much more energy that the coffee isn’t really needed.”
Andersen keeps it real on his Facebook and Instagram pages, writing things like, “For my breakfast, it is old fashioned oats, almond milk, ground flaxseed, applesauce, maple syrup, banana, and cinnamon, soaked just long enough to put it together, and NO it’s not heated.” He provides a photo of his food and, often, photos of where he’s at in the U.S. at any given moment, offering his followers an inside look at what life as a trucker is like. “Overall, I’m trying to show people what comes between the ‘before and after’ photos that we all see, and that in this space there are struggles and that it takes time.”
The Plant-Fueled Trucker also has a professionally designed logo, the result of Andersen’s call to action to his design-savvy followers to create a logo, and the winner would receive a new Instant Pot. He put his logo on some T-shirts, and says that people love them. “But part of me feels a bit guilty about this, since I didn’t get into this to make money,” he said. An interesting story that Andersen tells is about the time he wore his “Plant-Fueled Trucker” T-shirt into a restaurant and was approached by an enthusiastic man asking if this meant his truck runs on plants. Andersen replied, “No, but I do!” Proof that while it may cause him a bit of discomfort to sell the T-shirts, they are effective conversation starters and very well may be the catalyst in changing someone’s life for the better.
When asked if there were other truckers out there promoting healthier lifestyles, Andersen recalled one, but when he saw that what the other guy was advocating as “healthy,” he messaged him and suggested that his food wasn’t very healthy (and included some links to a few books and DVDs to further his education). The guy messaged Andersen back months later saying that he had looked into the resources, and had since changed how he eats and what he promotes as healthy.
Andersen’s online presence blossomed after he posted some of his food photos on the McDougall Facebook page and was encouraged by other McDougall followers to start his own page (which had 300 followers its first day up). Creating a Facebook page was just one of the many things that Andersen had to learn about in his new role as role model. When the host of a podcast he had been interviewed for told him that his interview had gone viral, he wasn’t even sure what that meant. But his online education has come a long way, and now he has plans to set up his own website. His time to devote to these things is limited because of his job, but he knows that it’s important to do what he can. “I’m realizing how much I’m helping others,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, but I can’t stop; there are too many people out there that need help.”
Andersen looks at what he’s doing like a bank account. “When you’re eating unhealthy foods, you’re creating debt in the form of illness, medications, and hospitalization,” he says. “But the way I’m doing it I’m creating a savings account by strengthening my health for my later years, which will allow me to walk a little longer, take care of myself longer, and live longer.”
A humble guy, Andersen says that he simply “throws a bunch of stuff in the Instant Pot.” But simple is what busy people want these days. He has been embraced like a son by his followers who are known to message him with concern if he has not posted in a day or two. “People get worried and email me,” he said. “I don’t know them, but they feel like they know me.” Such is the life of someone who is bucking the norm and motivating thousands of people try something new.
“Some people say, ‘If I could just help one person, I’d be happy,'” said Andersen. “But I don’t want to just help one person, I want to be like Dr. McDougall and help millions of people, because a plant-based diet makes everything right, and nobody gets hurt.”
Today Show segment: http://www.today.com/food/trucker-loses-65-lbs-cooking-his-vegan-meals-road-t30931
To purchase an Instant Pot with the code “bobby123”:
Applesauce Pancakes recipe and video:
Mac and No Cheese recipe and video:
Trucker Health Awareness Month: