June 3rd, 2011 - By Therese Madden
Food trucks are convenient, and can be tasty, but are they healthy? We take a dietician to Denise’s Soul Food truck in West Philadelphia to find out.
Eating from lunch trucks is one of the joys of life in the city. They can be tasty, inexpensive, and with the right choices, even healthy. Today’s destination is Denise’s Soul Food truck. I brought Registered Dietician Erica Steinhart along to help with the healthy part. She prepped me on questions to ask when deciding what to order, “so you know asking them, ‘What do you cook your cabbage with?’ ‘What do you cook your greens with?’ ‘Are you cooking them for hours?’ ‘Do you add a lot of salt?’ ‘Are you cooking them with smoked meat?’ Anything that is smoked is usually high in sodium.”
The street, near 30th Street Station, is lined with lunch trucks. There’s the non-stop hum of generators. Denise’s truck stands out with a bright, hip, paint job done by the Mural Arts Program. She takes her first order of the day, “can I get the small curry chicken platter.” The food is actually Caribbean Soul Food, Denise Severe, the owner and chef is from Haiti.
Here’s what she serves, “greens, jerk chicken, potato salad, mac and cheese, cabbage, string beans, fried fish, fried chicken.”
Not that she eats all of this. In fact, Denise is really into eating healthy. Over the past 3 years, she’s lost a 100 pounds. Now she’s looking out for her customer’s health too, to the point that she’s not afraid to interfere with their lunch order. “Sometimes I tell them to get, don’t get two starchs, don’t get mac and cheese and rice. Don’t get fries and rice, because people do ask you for that. Then I ask them, ‘What about a vegetable? Do you want a vegetable today?’” She also keeps the customers health in check in other ways. Don’t even think about asking for salt, “I would tell the costumers all the food is already seasoned, most customers would ask you for the salt, I hide the salt, I don’t put it on the food because it is already seasoned, you don’t need that extra salt.”
And for those regular customers who may have told her they are diabetics, good luck. “If somebody would come and some customer would come and I know they are diabetic and they would ask me for my iced tea and I know the iced tea is sweet, I would offer them water instead.”
Standing with a big grin and nodding, it wasn’t too tough to figure out what Dietician Erica Steinhart was thinking about this situation. “The fact that someone inside one of these food trucks is pushing vegetables just makes me so happy,” she says.