Whenever we fly, we phone in advance to request special meals. Airlines are wonderfully supportive of various oddball religious and ethical dietary requirements — except mine, ironically. We’ve tried calling the airlines to request “low-salt, non-wheat California organic vegan, with an occasional piece of fish so our friends don’t stop inviting us to dinner.” The airline telephone reps don’t have a checkbox for that. We settle for whatever sounds least likely to put us in mind of festering globules of animal protein, and the debilitating effects thereof on leg-cramped passengers struggling to lift a suitcase after having not even stood up for 11 hours.
This time out, the entree of choice was advertised as “Asian Vegetarian.” My wife reasoned that any nonspecific veggie meal would invariably be manicotti or lasagne, some kind of heart-choking pasta of clotted cheese and cream, designed to appease by sheer fatty heft the heavyset passengers thinking that a $700 plane ticket ought to entitle them to more than 2 oz. of warm food.
Special meals on airlines are always accompanied by a side serving of anxiety, because the delivery of these meals is haphazard. The stewards have a passenger manifest with meal requests documented, and yet their success rate is only about 70%. Hence the anxiety — maybe my food will appear, or maybe it won’t.
Years ago, when I was less strict about my diet, I’d be occasionally afraid that the airline would have my special meal. Sometimes those chicken-in-sauce entrees sounded pretty good, swimming in lipids and lab-fresh flavoring agents. But these days I’m anxious that my meal won’t show up, because if it does not I’d be relegated to subsisting on the handful of almonds in my sachel, inside a baggie labeled “For emergency use only — break open in case of cheese.”
(Yes, the almonds are raw.)
The beginning of dinner service brought a typical round of confusion, with one steward frantically flipping pages, and another peering at sloppily-scribbled seat numbers on the meal packages while holding steaming trays of what purported to be Asian Vegetarian delicacies just moments away from being inhaled by ravenous passengers, e.g. me. But arrive the food finally did, and I was grateful for it.
What do Asian Vegetarians eat, you ask? If Lufthansa Airlines is any sort of authority, a typical AV dinner consists of:
Perhaps Lufthansa doesn’t fly to Asia. That’s the best explanation I can offer.
Breakfast was even less Asian. Maybe this provides evidence that cultures can evolve more quickly than previously thought:
I noticed that within two meals Lufthansa had managed to serve the three white starches famous for being the first to go in any diet plan: white potatoes, white rice, white bread. I tend to avoid all three, when I have a choice. Probably the last time I consumed all three in a single sitting was in college, where I degreed in refined grains and potatoes (not to mention whole milk). There’s little wonder why I slept through all those classes.
Anyway, all things considered I was generally pleased with my AVMLs. In a time where people’s enjoyment of air travel is defined by a bare-bones minimum level of expected service — e.g. passenger and luggage arrive at intended destination intact and within an hour of each other — anything so exotic as an edible meal constitutes pampering. I really shouldn’t complain.