Even a Bad Airline Meal Meant You Were Traveling

As a former frequent leisure traveler, this COVID-19 pandemic is a real cliché dust-creator for passports.   Nevertheless, I wanted to reflect on a few airline meals, that stood out not for being good, but just because even unpleasant in-flight service meant that you were traveling somewhere.
Emirates, DXB-JFK
Baked beans and mushrooms?  Thanks for your contribution, Her Majesty

The US airlines for the most part make it simple these days when flying between and in the fifty states- no free meals in economy class, save for a few cross-country flights.  On the flip side, I guess we can’t blame them for the inevitably inferior quality if they were still serving meals.  Still, if I could get one of those rock-solid pieces of bread with butter, it could tide us over for a spell.  Better to have never received free food in-flight in the first place, because passengers wouldn’t be able to make that their excuse du jour.  Shoot, if I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for any amount of time, I’d rather be eating something I know is good, say a five dollar bottle of Hudson News-water, two Advil or take-out from a Salvadorean restaurant.

Ahh, Salvadorean food.  Sure, airport security in many places wouldn’t permit you to take the condiments– pickled cabbage being the número uno cause of airborne anarchy– through the checkpoints, but I wonder how many people have been introduced to a country’s cuisine based on the airline they were flying.  We’ve already taken a peek at a British breakfast above, but that was with Emirates, which might as well be the 3rd British carrier, but let’s see what kind of hometown pride other airlines have:

American Airlines, MIA-LPB
We’ll begin with the most painful volunteer, American Airlines, from Miami to La Paz, Bolivia.  Did you know that there’s as much fat in that salad dressing as there is in the person in the seat next to you?  Oh, hello rock-solid piece of bread.  La Paz Airport is the second highest in the world, so I couldn’t tell if I was sick because of the altitude or the…wait, is that Vaseline?  I’m getting out of here.

Dragonair, HKG-DACDragonair (now known as Cathay Dragon, based in Hong Kong), Hong Kong to Dhaka.  Never thought you’d see feta cheese and soy-glazed pea pods together?  The most representative Hong Kong food in this picture is the TimeOut chocolate bar.  Why?  It’s produced by Cadbury, a British company.  HK was a British territory from the early 1840s until 1997.  Folks, that’s the best I got…

Sichuan Airlines, CTU-SZX
Sichuan Airlines (based in Chengdu, China), Chengdu to Shenzhen.  Aviation food!  No need for the reminder, alas it’s not so much different from Chinese terra firma food.  That’s a standard Chinese breakfast food on the right, 粥 zhōu, or rice porridge.  In that oh-so-common air-tight packet to its lower left, pickled MSG.  No, it’s pickled daikon, a root vegetable.  If they gave a packet of sunflower seeds instead of pickles, the aisle would become louder than the engines at take-off.

Bangkok Airways, LPQ-BKK

Bangkok Airways, Luang Prabang, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand.  Khao niao, whereas khao=rice and niao=sticky in the Lao language, is present.  That’s the best we can do here.  Are those carrots wrapped in egg?  I have to start prioritizing my memory.

What do you remember most about airline meals?

Nutrition Facts, or Nutrition Lies?

Fuzzy math, indeed.

I was chowing down on some Nature Valley Pumpkin Spice granola bars the other day, when I noticed the perplexing Nutrition Facts label on the packaging:

“Nutrition Facts”

If I am reading the percentages (%) and Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) correctly, I should probably hold a conference call with my elementary school teachers first.

Let’s take the Saturated Fat content as an example.  According to this packaging, one (1) granola bar contains 0g of Saturated Fat.  However, doubling that amount to two (2) increases the content to 1g, which suddenly comes to 4% of one’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Saturated Fat.  I suppose we can infer that .25g of Saturated Fat = 1% of the RDA, but if one (1) bar didn’t have any to begin with, how does adding another give us 4%?

Not to mention, should consumers even be aiming for 100% Saturated Fat intake on a daily basis?  Is it analogous to selling products for $9.99 as opposed to $10.00?  Of course not…if you are eating nearly 100% Saturated Fat everyday, you’re going to be in for a world of pain just after a few weeks.  But if you saved one penny everyday on a purchase, you’d have just enough after one year to buy…a package of Nature Valley Granola Bars.  Whoops, there’s tax added after, too bad.

That’s just one of many cogent instances of a mostly pointless yet nearly ubiquitous Nutrition Facts label.  Did you happen to notice the Calcium, Iron, and Protein content, when comparing one to two granola bars?

You see, in the United States Nutrition Facts only became required on packaged food and beverages in 1990; even these days, some smaller packaging asks you to send a letter or call the company to inquire about nutrition information.

Moreover, as per the International Food Information Council Foundation

Serving sizes listed on packaged foods and beverages are determined by how much of that item people typically consume at one time. They are not recommendations for how much people should consume.

Quite the revelation…but then again, how does one determine a serving size for butter, soft drinks, or crème brûlée, things no one should be consuming?

Interestingly, it was only in 1973 that Nutrition Facts labels first started to appear on FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-regulated products; the things that had to be shown were:

  • the number of calories
  • protein (in grams)
  • carbohydrates (g)
  • “fat” (g)

and the percentage of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of:

  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • thiamin (vitamin B1, which converts carbs into energy)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2, breaks down carbs/proteins/fats to produce energy, and allows oxygen to be used by the body)
  • niacin (vitamin B3, helps keep nervous and digestive systems and the skin healthy, is involved in cellular metabolism)
  • calcium
  • iron

Curiously, sodium, saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat contents were not mandated to be on the original Nutrition Facts labels, as categories were at the discretion of the food manufacturers.

Although I have no hope for Nutrition Facts reform in the current Beltway morass, having a quantitative baseline legend ( x {for example, # of grams= 1% of the RDA of a nutrient}, 1+1 = 2, etc.) would be a start.  Not allowing food and beverage companies to include various incomprehensible chemical compounds and additives is a topic for another day – then again, many of us can opt not to buy those things – but I would like to see some clarity and honesty when it comes to nutritional content.

Tokushima Ramen (徳島ラーメン)

Located on Shikoku, the smallest of the four primary islands of Japan, Tokushima is a small seaside city best known for a 400-year old dance called the Awa Odori, an historic indigo trade, a citrus fruit known as sudachi, and Tokushima Ramen (徳島ラーメン).

Tokushima ramen may not be one of the better known bowls of noodles throughout Japan, having only been popularized at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in 1999.  It’s saltier and sweeter than the average Japanese ramen, generally has thin and soft noodles, and unbeknownst to me at the time, comes in three different types of broth.

Tokushima Ramen at 麺王

The most common broth is brown, using tonkotsu (豚骨), or pork bone broth, and a darker soy sauce.  Fried pork, spring onions, and a raw egg (already mixed-in in my photo) round out the Tokushima style.

Other types of Tokushima ramen might be yellow, due to chicken or vegetable broth and a lighter soy sauce, or whitish, using tonkotsu and a lighter soy sauce.   Amusingly, in a country where you might even see fried noodle-filled sandwiches, rice is a common accompaniment to Tokushima ramen.

St. Louis-Style Pork Steak

Due to the raging pandemic, I recently returned from a family visit near St. Louis, Missouri (USA).  With the notable exceptions of St. Louis city and county, that region of the state was significantly more open for business than where I currently live.  As someone who would normally travel hours just to try new food, and because it had been 25 years since my last visit, naturally, I had barbecue on my mind.

For those of you who may not be familiar, St. Louis is most famous for ribs, and for its high per capita consumption of bbq sauce.  There are other foods
which I may cover in later posts, but for now, let’s talk about the pork steak.

At first glance I thought, pork steak?  Isn’t that just a ridiculous synonym for a pork chop?  Apparently, no…you see, a pork steak – also known as a blade steak or Boston butt- is cut from the shoulder, and is said to be a cheaper cut, whereas a chop is from the rib/loin.

Pork steak, baked sweet potato, and unsweetened tea at Big Sticky’s in Troy, MO

Pork steaks were popularized in the St. Louis area more than a century ago, and may even be more common on an Eastern Missouri menu than the signature ribs.