The Joys Of Modern Life: 42. Airline food

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The Independent Culture
THE METAL trolley rattles into the aisle. It must be at least 20 rows away, but already a Mexican wave of descending tray tables is rippling its way back towards you. The tantalising smell of hot food seems to fill the air as the cabin staff move with agonising slowness in your direction. If it weren't for the lack of leg room, you'd be on the edge of your seat with excitement. It can only mean one thing: you're about to get an airline meal.

Far too many people seem to think it's clever to sneer at the food on planes, especially those who'd be hard pushed to rustle up a boiled egg and soldiers on terra firma. They're obviously missing the point - I bet they don't like Sunset Beach, either.

For a start, in a world where restaurant menus are so encyclopedic you need to have done a speed-reading course to get through one by the time the waiter comes, it's a relief to have just two options for your main course, and none at all for your starter or pudding. Better still, there aren't any mystery, voguish ingredients, or complex descriptions to decipher; on a recent flight, the choice was "chicken or fish".

Of course, it's when you actually get your food that the real fun begins: all those little square boxes to explore, lids to remove, foil to rip off. You never quite know what you're going to find, but one thing you do know - it's bound to be as square as the boxes. There'll be cubes of beef, chunks of fried potato, slabs of fish, cheese and biscuits with corners. These cunning cooks can even make a chicken with corners. Squarest of all, though, are the puddings.

And what puddings they are: yellow sponge with pieces of mystery fruit inside; green mousse topped with a swirl of non-dairy cream; sometimes even green mousse sandwiched between two layers of yellow sponge. In normal circumstances, you'd give anything green and sweet a wide berth if you wanted a long life, but you have a little taste because you've eaten everything else, and before you know it, it's all gone.

This isn't a problem, however, as calories get lighter the higher up you go, so by 37,000 feet they hardly have any effect at all. This means you can eat the pudding without guilt, even if you never touch them back on earth.

Then you can sit back and wait for some smiling member of the cabin crew to bring the tea and coffee. This, too, is a welcome change from the usual eating-out experience of snooty waiters. And they don't even expect a tip. Well, I could always add something to the bill, you think. Then you remember: there won't be a bill. You settle back with a contented sigh: not long till the next meal.