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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Could I get the Supersized Asian veg. meal please? 

I just took a hell of a long flight yesterday. It went Dublin to Vancouver, with stops along the way. One tends to get an appetite when in the sky for that long, and I always welcome the airline meals. As of late, I have been ordering the vegetarian meals, because now knowing how Cara foods packages and handles its meat, I’m steering clear. Factory farmed chicken at 35,000 feet just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

Now, some airlines have better veg options than the others. bmi airlines is pretty good, Air Canada is not, and United served me beef as a vegetarian alternative, so there. The Air Canada veg meals can be pretty gross. It’s usually either some chic-peas in strange sauce, or lentils that some guy sat on. My answer to this? The Asian Vegetarian cuisine.

This is actually a really good choice. Usually a tasty veg curry with rice, naan bread and chutney. Perfect. So, the flight attendant comes to bring me my feed yesterday, drops the tray in front of me, looks at my face and says, “Oh, I’m sorry sir, we’ve mixed this one up.”

“Okay,” I say.

She comes back and says, “I’m terribly sorry sir but I can’t find any kosher meals.”


“We have you marked down as wanting the Asian meal.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“But you’re not Asian.”

“AND, I’m not Jewish!”

“But you’re not Asian.”

So I explain that I want the Asian veg. meal because it meets my dietary requirements regardless of my religious or ethnic heritage. As I understand it, the airline offers alternatives to meet either dietary or religious beliefs. The Asian veg. is certainly a religious centered meal, but it fits the dietary requirements nicely, so hence it applies to me.

After a long consultation with other flight attendants I was finally fed my potato curry.

Now, this is quite funny, because I was just attending a conference on the 21st century challenges to overcoming racism and ethnic tensions, and the question of the white man’s rights to the Asian man’s meal never came up.

And this little experience brings up some interesting questions on how the western system and its institutions impose identity in every day life – even in such cases as the airline meal. I’m sure that if I was on Air India I would be served a vegetarian curry without question. Yet, it is always somewhat of a production to get the “special meal” on the plane. And there you go it’s the “special” meal, not just this guy’s meal. You know the one he paid for?

Airlines are not the only ones guilty of this. Supermarkets make it easy to find potato chips and Coca Cola, but the coconut and fresh chili peppers are a bit trickier, why not try the “specialty” market down the road? Why is there “common” food and “specialty” or “ethnic” food in the west, and not just “food?” Are we not all just “people?” Supermarkets and airline meals bring a lot of trouble with them in terms of how the food is collected, marketed and produced and the “specialty” options are usually a good way of keeping your nose out of the mass consumption culture. And indeed this economic oligopoly of today’s food network is clearly not just an economic culture, it is one deeply intertwined into questions of race and ethnicity.


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