Why Airplane Food Sucks

airline food preparation

Airline food is mass production; don't expect gourmet cuisine

I’m a big believer in science, even though I have some nagging doubts about the latest scientific explanation why airplane food (these days) tastes so bad. True, the explanation of how foods need to be spiced up to taste like anything at all and how taste buds suffer from flavor arrest the higher up we are, sounds logical, but does not explain why a pan fried steak with sauteed mushrooms and Pommes Parisienne on a transatlantic Sabena flight from Brussels to New York in 1972 tasted like heaven at 36,000 feet.

Some of us may remember flying in the sixties and seventies, before deregulation, when airlines like Sabena, Singapore Airlines, Garuda and Swissair served full meals with great tasting fresh food. The rhythm of a flight consisted of a snack after take off, a full meal in midair and lunch or breakfast, depending which way your travel went. I remember a Christmas Eve flight from Amsterdam to Singapore on Singapore Airlines in 1976 with stops in Rome, Bahrain and Bangkok, which at each take off was followed by those cities native cuisine dinner, lunch and breakfast, a true Tour de Gourmet that lasted 26 hours.

But deregulation came and flavorful food went first to the front of the plane and from there probably out of the window.
Today science (or maybe pseudo science) wants us to believe that the moment we step aboard a “modern” airliner, our taste buds loose all sensitivity.
It starts with the cabin atmosphere drying out our nose and as the plane climbs higher into the air, it numbs up to 1/3 of our tastebuds, science claims. But once the airliner reaches cruising altitude somewhere at 35,000 ft or higher, the artificial humidity inside the fuselage to reduce corrosion, wreaks havoc with our tastebuds as cotton mouth sets in.

Modern food safety standards require all meals to be cooked first on the ground and during that process airlines add a lot of salt, spices and sweeteners to their foods to try to offset the taste numbing experience that reportedly comes with altitude. After cooking, the portions are blast-chilled and refrigerated until they can be stacked on carts and loaded on planes. Another modern safety rules prohibits open-flame grills and ovens on commercial aircraft, so attendants must contend with convection ovens that blow hot, dry air over the food.

Experts these days agree that getting any food to taste good on a plane is an elusive goal, because the  packaging, freezing, drying and storage are hard on flavor. ‘Ice cream is about the only thing I can think of that tastes good on a plane,’ says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. I see a Cold Stone Creamery franchise in the friendly skies in our future, but I am still wondering why that steak at 35,000 feet on that Sabena flight so long ago, was one of the best steaks I ever had. Must have been the ambiance of a jetliner fuselage, being surrounded by strangers enroute to an exciting destination. Oh the mind, it’s such a powerful thing.

Pink Slime Offered to Children in our Schools

Pink Slime Offered to Children in our SchoolsPink slime is all over the news. Fast food companies have banned it from their oh-so-nutritious menus, but apparently it is good enough to feed to our children!

The following story is used with permission from The Tireless Agorist:

Take all the scraps and connective tissue left over from slaughtering cows. Throw it in a big vat. Grind thoroughly. Squeeze it through a thin tube and spray it with ammonia hydroxide. (Yes, the same stuff that’s in that bottle labeled “Ammonia – Do Not Drink” stored under your kitchen sink)

Sound appetizing? I didn’t think so. It’s banned in the United Kingdom. Even McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell, hardly bellweathers of culinary excellence, want nothing to do with the stuff anymore, although they have used it in the past.

It’s perfectly legal, after all. The U.S. Department of Agriculture first approved it for human consumption in 1994, and according to Beef Products Inc. more than 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S. contains the stuff. Curiously though, a number of grocery chains, including Publix, have recently announced they do not use it, and other meat outlets are running away from it rapidly now that consumers are becoming aware of the issue.

Not the USDA, though. To the contrary, they’re doubling down, having announced plans to buy seven million pounds of it for use in the National School Lunch Program. The cynic in me says it’s because the producers are suddenly having trouble unloading it elsewhere, and the USDA is more concerned about the profits of the meat-packing industry than the people who actually consume the products they’re supposed to be assuring are safe.

Not surprisingly, both the primary producer and the USDA promise ammoniated meat scraps are perfectly safe.

Its primary producer, South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., stands by their product and says it’s completely safe. And the U.S. government backs them up: the ammonium hydroxide compound has been vetted by the Food and Drug Administration and was allotted its “Generally Recognized As Safe” mark many years ago in 1974. “USDA would only allow products into commerce or especially into schools that we have confidence are safe,” the government agency said in a statement to The Daily in February.

My cynical side takes note of the fact that while the USDA and Beef Products Inc. are quick to throw around the “safe” word, I see no mention of “healthy” “nutritious” or “natural” anywhere in the coverage of pink slime.

This story brought to mind the story of the four-year-old and the chicken nuggets, covered quite ably at The Ponds of Happenstance.

So, apparently what went on, at the West Hoke Elementary School, is that an inspector from some State agency was busy inspecting preschool lunches brought from home and determined that at least one of them did not meet the USDA standards for a healthy lunch. A turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, chips, and some juice. Not a healthy meal. Uh-huh. The child was instead fed processed, pressed, breaded, and fried pieces of chicken, along with some other things that she chose not to eat.

No mention was made in the story of whether the chicken nuggets contained white slime (aka meat slurry), which is the chicken version of pink slime. You can probably figure out the guess my cynical side makes.

All I can say is I sure am glad we’ve got the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education protecting our children. Sure they cost us billions of dollars each year, but they’re so totally worth it. If it wasn’t for them, there’s no telling what sort of garbage the schools would be making our children eat. And who can guess what sort of garbage they’d be forced to consume from their textbooks.

After all, if it wasn’t for the Department of Education, who would teach our children about the Great Depression of 1920, statistics, the General Welfare Clause, the Perils of Paper Money, basic economics, or the Lesson of Athens, Tennessee?

…and that’s all I have to say about that.

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Change the Way You Think About Food

Change the Way You Think About Food

Change the Way You Think About Food

Changing the way our family thought about food made a big difference in getting the excess weight off. Eating is necessary. The calories you consume give you energy. You burn that energy by physical movement. We had to learn to eat for what we were about to do, not to eat for what we had done. Let me explain… you work hard all day and you come home starving. You likely have not eaten since lunch. So you eat a large dinner and do a few chores. Then you sit down to watch television, read a book or get on the computer for an hour or so before going to bed. Think about it, this is completely backwards, especially if you often eat a late dinner. You are not going to burn off all of those calories, are you? Of course not, so you start packing on the pounds.

Instead of coming home and eating a large meal, with little or no physical activity planned for the rest of your day, you need to do one of two things. You can either eat less, or squeeze a workout into your evening about an hour after dinner. Otherwise, those calories are going straight to your hips and thighs. I know you have heard this before, but you are better off consuming those extra calories in the morning, when you have the rest of the day to work them off.

It took some training, but we learned we had to eat for we were about to do, not what had already been accomplished.

Another change we had to make was more difficult, because we are “social eaters.” Food was always a huge, full-scale production. Even if friends and family were not coming to dinner, we would still make so much food we could eat off of the leftovers for days! We put a stop to having folks over for fish fries, and other large dinner parties every single weekend. We still cook out, but now the meals are healthier and reserved for special occasions.

We began using smaller plates, for a short period of time, to grasp the concept of portion control. Thanksgiving dinners and all you can eat buffets were horrible. A smorgasbord of heart stopping junk food! Eat as much as you can, get your money’s worth! At Thanksgiving, we would have seconds of stuffing and mashed potatoes while looking forward to a piece of pumpkin pie and whipped cream. It was overkill – and the ones we were killing were us!

We also learned we were eating seconds just because the food tasted so good. Now, we immediately put away the leftovers and save them for another day. If we grill eight chicken breasts, our family of four gets one each for dinner and the other four are immediately put into the fridge for lunch the next day.

Something else that was tough to overcome was the realization that we do not have to eat every morsel on our dish. As a child I was always told, “Clean your plate!” That phrase is absolutely not allowed in my home!

Change your relationship with food by understanding that it is simply fuel for your body. Food is not your friend, not your lover and not a warm blanket to comfort you when you’ve had a bad day. If you have a tendency to overeat, you must end the affair and change the way you currently think about food.

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Think I’m Not American? Pass the BBQ Please.

Stage Deli's Roger Maris Sandwich

Most of my steady readers know by now that I love to dissect surveys and research reports as they too often confirm what they were set out to proof in the first place and are most often sponsored by stakeholders/beneficiaries of the outcome. A couple of weeks ago I read the result of a study that concluded that “Immigrants and their children may choose to eat American food as a way to fit in”, adding that this may help explain why immigrants are catching up to America’s obesity levels in less than 15 years.

I thought it was less than professional how the study was introduced to immigrants by casting doubt on some subjects’ Americanness, asking if they spoke English or saying they had to be American to participate. Psychologically this provokes what psychologists call stereotype threat, the fear you’ll confirm negative stereotypes about your group or nationality. Although white immigrant participants weren’t as much affected by these questions, Asian-American participants were more inclined to list quintessentially American foods — burgers, BLTs, mac and cheese — as their favorites, when the researchers called their status as American into question. They were also more likely to order and eat those dishes, consuming an average of 182 more calories than their non-threatened counterparts. And that apparently was the motive for the study.

Just based on the demographics (school kids) they chose for the study, it seems that this particular group is still very susceptible to peer pressure. In my personal experience having a lot of Asian-American(?), European-American(?), African-American(?) and purely Asian acquaintances and friends in every place in the world, I have to say that when an individual no longer has the pressure to “fit” in a specific environment, and their cultural differences are just accepted by their peers, they tend to choose whatever is available AND they like. Sometimes that’s Asian, Middle Eastern, Chuggi, European and sometimes American.

Seeing is deceiving. It’s eating that’s believing.

As an immigrant myself I think that Food is one of those amazing things that tends to mark how we see the world, and yet, once you are exposed to many different cultures, it is just natural to learn to appreciate everything and everyone. Food is one of those rare things that can unite us more than divide us.

If you want proof of that belief then take a trip to New York where you can find food turned into a melting pot of tastes and flavors, as well as the authentic cuisines from around the globe, more than in any other city in the world.

I’m coming to the end of a fifteen day trip that took me to a great variety of eating establishments in the Adirondacks, Saratoga, New York City, Washington DC, Richmond VA, a magnificent Southern BBQ hole in the wall in South Carolina and last but not least, Charleston and once again discovered that truly the choice of food has little or nothing to do with my trying to fit in an American Culture, but has everything to do with what I can get for a decent price at a decent quality and at what time of the day. Honestly I don’t think it’s even a national thing. Ask any Californian who’d visited what Mexican food is like in Minnesota (not unlike eating a photograph of a burrito: it looks like one but tastes like cardboard). Ask any Pennsylvanian what a cheesesteak is like in California (for the love of God, why would you put avocado and lettuce in it?). If you are an Asian in the Midwest, your choices are bad Asian food, very bad Asian food, or burgers and pizza. If you are a central European in the Midwest, your choices are driving 250 miles to Chicago, or bad Asian food. Or burgers. I think the people will also assimilate to the good local foods rather than endure the terrible bastardizations of what they love back home. Nothing to do with fitting in, everything to do with availability.

Most of my friends shudder when I mention liver as one of my favorite foods, if prepared well. My favorite sandwich at the world famous Stage Deli in New York is the “Roger Maris” loaded with rare roastbeef, fried bacon and liver mousse. Not many Americans order this or eat goose-, duck- or liver paté. To me it’s a delicacy, as is a bagel loaded with nova scotia salmon and cream cheese with onions and capers. It’s a Jewish tradition born in New York. My favorite Italian dish is Oso Bucco, and have a burger at least once a week, as I go for Chinese once a week too.

From my trip and especially the New York City part of the vacation, I can positively reaffirm that the cultural divide is not one of nationalities, but is much more split along two different axes: Omnivore versus Vegetarian and Drinkers versus Non-Drinkers.

Seriously however, if the point of the TFA was to promote more fear about eating crappy food, they should just keep the findings of a flawed study like this to themselves. Reading the study’s conclusions made me hungry for crappy food. Forget mac & cheese… pass me the poutine.

Feeding the Hungry

An 11-year-old from South Florida, Jack Davis, brought about the Florida Restaurant Lending a Helping Hand Act after learning that restaurants throw leftover food away rather than donate it because of liability concerns. Now our own, Ritz-Carlton, Read more