Airline food was a rich lode of material for jokery — until there was no more airline food. In the wake of Sept. 11 and apparently as part of the airline industry’s determination to make air travel as uncivilized and distressing an experience as possible, meal services were replaced by the peddling — cash only, please, and exact change preferred — of boxed junk: cookies, crackers, Velveeta spread, and all of the other industrial, hyperprocessed, sclerosis-inducing unfood that has made America the land of the fat.
I was stunned, then, on a recent Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu, to be presented with not only an actual meal — free! — but a choice of meals. A turkey croissant sandwich, a bag of chips, an oatmeal cookie: it wasn’t much, but it wasn’t bad, either, and I was beyond thankful to have it. Although flying is an ordeal at best, it is slightly less so when one’s stomach isn’t growling for hours on end and one isn’t constantly rummaging through one’s carry-on bag for a blackened banana or a fistful of Trader Joe’s dried cherries or salty pistachio nuts while wondering if one has enough cash to buy one of those $9 airport wraps when one lands, and how many unbearable moments hence will that be?
If food is civilization, in some basic way, what does that make the deliberate withholding of food from or the hawking of barely edible dreck to a captive and immiserated population? Insulting is one word that springs to mind; abusive is another. In recent years all of corporate America, not to mention the Bush government, seems to have been on a savage quest to find out just how much mistreatment the subject population would accept and how much said population would pay to be mistreated. And the answer seemed to be, on both counts, a lot, at least until the Nov. 7 elections, when the word Enough! at last rang across the land. Even I heard it, and I was in Hawaii, not at all hypoglycemic despite the five-hour flight and the usual where-is-the-luggage circus. A big aloha (sayonara version) to George and the gang back in DC, and an even bigger mahalo to the voters of America, who finally resisted the temptation to hit the snooze bar yet one more time.