It’s embarrassing to admit, but I enjoy airline mealsby Marion McGilvary / August 24, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
For most people, the opportunity to eat badly while balanced improbably in a large cigar tube in the sky is not something to anticipate with pleasure. Surely no one who has ever flown economy, strapped into the adult equivalent of a high-chair with a fold-down tray the size of a cat flap, still thinks flying is glamorous. And who even bothers to peel back the foil on their indeterminate chicken dish, let alone look forward to it?
Erm, that would be me.
On the ground I call myself a foodie, but put me in the brace position with my knees around my ears and I await the trundle of the trolley with touchingly optimistic impatience and a complete suspension of judgment. I devour the clammy bread roll with its limp Larry Grayson handshake as though it were a slice of Poilâne slathered with Deux-Sèvres and knock back the mini bottle of Chateau Dettol as eagerly as I do a vodka martini at the Duke’s Hotel—though without my lips going numb which, in the air, would probably be an advantage.
So what causes this lapse of taste? Well, it may be scientific. At high altitudes, food just doesn’t have any taste. The humidity on a plane is only marginally higher than in the Sahara; drying out our noses and impairing our ability to smell, one of the most important elements in stimulating appetite. One solution, recently proposed by Heston Blumenthal in his quest to improve BA’s inflight catering, was to use a nasal douche—words that just roll off the tongue, if not the palate. It didn’t catch on.
So what’s the problem? Well, we partly eat with our eyes—and what they’re presented with is gloop covered with yellow sauce served with dried-out rice. But it’s not just the aesthetics, or lack of them, that impairs our enjoyment of the mile-high TV dinner. While sour and bitter don’t change much (though heat can disguise bitterness, which means the furnace temperatures of aeroplane ovens is a blessing), the perception of salty and sweet are both experienced…