Eating at Altitude

Bile rose in my throat as I choked battery acid back into my lungs. Ordering a large black coffee at the airport wasn’t a good idea to begin with, but it was the only thing keeping me vertical after a sleepless night leading up to the 3am departure. I should be excited about the trip of a lifetime looming just a few hours of air time away now, but all I could do was hold my stomach in agony. How much of it was physical churning, and how much could be attributed to the machinations of an unsettled mind? Either way, my inner workings wouldn’t stop spinning.

The complimentary meal service did nothing to improve the situation. Gingerly lifting the foil lid and releasing a foul, putrefying aroma into the stagnant cabin air, I immediately regretted unleashing this beast. Prison food immediately came to mind. A muddy brown, starchy morass oozing over swollen grains of rice enveloped a handful of token anonymous vegetables, steamed so aggressively that they dissolved on the fork. If it was in fact edible, I couldn’t summon the appetite to find out. A few cursory pokes was the most enthusiasm I could muster.

Where was the menu revitalization that gets so much press when it comes to air travel innovations? Wasn’t there supposed to be something a least a step above the moldering garbage that landed on my tray table here? Even the omnivores summarily rejected their rubber chickens and congealed lasagna bricks. I’m not asking for a gourmet meal here, but something at least remotely evocative of a recognizable fresh ingredient would be a bounteous gift.

Never travel hungry, never go it alone. Live and learn; if at least half of my carry-on luggage isn’t composed of easy, accessible snacks, I’m headed towards nothing but trouble.

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Snacks on a Plane

Fasten your seat belts and try to get comfortable; it’s going to be a long flight. You’ve downloaded hours of music and movies well in advance, kept your smartphone within easy reach, and even remembered the disinfectant wipes for those grimy in-seat remote controls. Long-haul flights are never fun, but you’ve prepped and packed well, done the research and steeled yourself for any length of idle time. Certainly, you’ve considered the food options, perhaps even locking in your ticket or choosing a seat. Vegan meals are more widely available than ever, providing essential sustenance when there’s no land in sight for half a day or more, but they still leave quite a bit to be desired.

Snacks are absolutely essential at this critical moment. Countless lists extol the virtues of sturdy grain salads, granola bars, and freeze-dried fruits, but what is it that we need to avoid? As I prepare to embark on an intimidating 14-hour flight, I considered the options for truly terrible choices to bring as in-flight foods.

BAD snack ideas that should remain grounded are as follows:

  • Yogurt, applesauce, and pudding over 3.4 ounces, which is the greatest amount of any “liquid” you can bring on board. That amounts to less than 1/2 cup, so why bother?
  • Dips and spread of all sorts, including but not limited to hummus, peanut butter, salsa, ketchup, and cream cheese. Packed separately, they can be considered a liquid, but you might be able to get around this restriction by bundling them into some kind of sandwich assemblage.
  • Peanuts in general, because you never know when you might be sharing space with an allergic passenger.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables. There are some exceptions to this (like bananas and apples) but many countries have restrictions on fresh produce. For your best bets, always cut and prepare them in advance, stashing them in ziplock bags for later. Smaller, peeled, or pitted, they’re usually easier to munch on without utensils, too.
  • Saucy dishes or overfilled containers, which could get very messy in case of turbulence.
  • Tofu/chickpea egg salad or fishless tuna salad in any format, because such strong odors are unlikely to be appreciated by anyone within a 10-foot radius… Which may very well be the whole plane.
  • Chips or crackers packed in zip lock bag. Factory-sealed is fine, rigid Tupperware will work, but I promise that any other attempts at conveyance will end in a sad handful of crushed crumbs.
  • Raw cauliflower, broccoli, or cabbage for most people. I mean, you know your body, but this kind of roughage just… Don’t sit well with most people. I’ll just leave it at that.
  • Excessive onions or garlic. Pretend you’re on a date with the other 100+ passengers on the flight; that dragon breath will not win you any new friends.
  • Caffeinated drink mixes, despite the fact that fun flavors might make it easier to drink more water. You don’t need extra energy to sit on your butt all day; the excess is likely to make you more agitated and anxious.

What’s on your no-fly list? Did you have to learn the hard way, or suffer from the poor decisions of your fellow flyers? Hopefully no one has to travel on an empty stomach after carefully weighing the choices!