MADISON, Conn. —
Dina McKinney’s kitchen looks like something straight out of a home goods catalog. The spices are neatly organized in glass jars. The countertop is made of a thick walnut Boos block. The backsplash is white-tiled and shiny. The dish towels are seasonally appropriate, adorned with Santas this time of year.
Checking out all the details, you might forget that McKinney lives in a 14,000-pound semi truck. Her kitchen, crammed into a space behind the front seats of her cab, is all of 7 feet long; her combination microwave oven and air fryer is just an arm’s length from the steering wheel.
On a recent night, she was parked at a service plaza off Interstate 95 near the Connecticut coast, plunging an immersion blender into a slow cooker filled with butternut squash soup that she had seasoned with a curry brick, celery and onions and let simmer all day while she drove.
“I want to feel human,” said McKinney, 56, who lives full time in the truck. “I don’t want to feel deprived of simple pleasures in life.”
That resolve extends to the holidays. McKinney, who drives all over the country, primarily transporting kitchen cabinetry, will be in her truck this Christmas Day and has big plans for the occasion. She opened her minifridge to reveal a wheel of brie, destined to be wrapped in puff pastry and baked as a holiday appetizer. She’ll roast a rosemary-and-thyme-rubbed turkey leg on her rotisserie, using the drippings to season a turkey breast. Brussels sprouts will be sauteed with bacon on her butane stove. She even has a muffin tin for making sweet potato soufflés.
Melissa Cheshire and Vincent Louque, who drive together, cook with local ingredients they find at grocery stores in each city they visit, in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 11, 2021.
(Maddie McGarvey / The New York Times)
Not every truck driver has McKinney’s elaborate setup. But a number of them are cooking more often in their trucks — out of necessity, a desire for healthier food or both.
There are more than 3 million truckers in the United States, and for many of them, the holiday season is typically a hard time. Adding to the pressure this year is a nationwide shortage of drivers, and supply chain bottlenecks that have taxed the patience of shippers and consumers. Many of the truck stops that truckers rely on for eating, resupplying and resting have closed because of the COVID pandemic.
“There is a supply chain issue, and on top of that, the holiday season,” said Raman Dhillon, CEO of the North American Punjabi Trucking Association, which represents the significant number of drivers with roots in the Indian state of Punjab. “It is like a double whammy on both sides.”
The crunch is compounded, he added, by working conditions that have long been part of the job: punishing hours, low pay and, for the women who have increasingly joined the ranks, rampant harassment.
In interviews, many long-haul truckers said they were working through the holidays to make extra money and meet the demands of the moment. But they’ll find ways to celebrate, within the limits of their tight spaces and schedules. Their plans …….