Fly, read, eat!

Pub date April 23, 2008

Even the best-laid dietary plans can go awry when dieters make pilgrimages. Air travel in America entails many gaudy food horrors, from cold and grudging $8 airport sandwiches (even if sold under such reassuring signage as that of Il Fornaio and Firewood Café) to the minuscule packages of Lorna Doones the flight attendants fling at you, as though they are warders in a dingy, 19th-century French prison and you are a prisoner consigned to the deepest dungeon, which happens to be airborne. I have been reading Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo — a superb potboiler — but the book is too fat to carry comfortably on a plane. Air travelers must give priority to survival rations, not the fate of the honorable Edmond Dantès.

Although the wastefulness of American life is everywhere visible, it is nowhere more apparent than in the infrastructure of people-moving and people-storage: at airports, on planes, in hotels. Even the most miserly crumbs and dribbles are carefully packaged in cellophane or foil, presented with too many napkins and swizzle sticks, or sealed in plastic bottles under plastic caps. Later, the prison guards move up and down the center aisle, holding open their trash bags while we chuck it all in there: recyclables, compostables, authentic trash.

Do the airlines and airport cafés sort through the waste stream? I found myself wondering as I obediently tossed my leavings into the sack, including a spent copy of Artforum magazine. While so much of the waste is generated unnecessarily, so much that is justifiable could be composted or should be compostable. Food-stained paper is an easy case, of course. But what about the bad novels being hawked to a captive and famished public desperate for diversion while their stomachs grumble and their flights are delayed or cancelled? All books are compostable in theory, but why can’t airport books be printed on some kind of cornstarch paper, so they could be flushed down the toilet when we’ve finished them or found them unreadable?

Better yet, make them edible! Print them on paper engineered from polenta, and use flavored soy inks (gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar?) so that when we give up trying to read them, we can just take a bite. A kind of literary Doritos. But not Monte Cristo, of course. That would have to be a nacho platter, party size.

Paul Reidinger