From the moment you first step onto the plane for your long-awaited holiday, several things are usually a given. First, you’ve probably forgotten to pack something. Whether that’s your phone charger, toothbrush, or even your passport! Secondly, you’re more than likely going to be the unfortunate person who finds themselves in the seat in front of the screaming baby or child that kicks the backs of seats. Third, that the in-flight cuisine is going to be, at best, mediocre.
Is this entirely true though?
Travel food and in particular, airline food, has quite a while had a reputation for being somewhat bland and sub-par. But is this concept now outdated? Is the food on offer improving? In this guide we explore the food available, by rail, air and sea, to gain a greater insight into what changes are happening with our travel food.
By rail: train food
If someone told you to picture food on a train, the chances are you’ll imagine a trolley being squeezed down the narrow aisles, serving average teas and coffees and overpriced crisps and other snacks. Unless you’re travelling in first class, crisps and biscuits and dry sandwiches are about all you can expect from train travel. And that’s if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your view), as many services have axed their on-board trolley services.
A lack of sustainability is often blamed by operators as the main reason behind the decision to scale down or, in some cases, terminate catering services on their trains. There’s simply no reason to pay so much for a sandwich or packet of crisps on-board the train when the same, if not better, food exists a throwing distance from the train at a slightly lower price. Train stations are filled to the brim with all kinds of outlets, and it’s not just Burger King and WHSmith on offer now. For many of us, it’s no trouble to pack our own food and bring that with us or grab something on the way to the platform.
If you find yourself travelling first-class, it’s likely that you’ll be treated to a complimentary menu most days and, at the very least, a variety of snacks to choose from. But as the Telegraph suggests, the array of food often doesn’t come to much, and when you consider the price difference between a standard and a first-class ticket, you’re technically paying for the food you’re eating anyway.
The elephant in the room is being addressed here. Or, indeed, the questionable meat floating in a generic gravy waiting to be poked at with the disposable cutlery provided.
The world we now live in has changed undeniably in recent times. It’s a place where we can talk face-to-face with people halfway around the globe on our smartphones, where we can instruct our boilers to power up and heat our houses before we get home from work, then the question is, why can’t we cook a decent meal in the sky? We’ve not only sent men to the moon, we presumably fed them on the way there and back. How hard can it really be?
In airline food’s defence, the pure volume of meals required in a limited space must a challenge to say the least. The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day, says The Guardian, giving a whole new meaning to ‘fast food’.
It’s not that airlines haven’t got the capacity to serve pomegranate-glazed lamb or chilled prawns with an aioli tarragon sauce. In fact, back in the 1950s, before the dawn of flight classes, meals were ridiculously flashy, with charcuteries featuring in the aisles of the then-smaller planes.
But then it dawned on airlines that they could split flights into classes and offer this ‘better’ food to the first-class flyers, and less-expensive food (or maybe none at all) to the much cheaper economy class. Even with technology like sous-vide allowing for food to be vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked to keep it tasty even when cooked in the air, technological advancements in airline food don’t often filter down to economy class plates.
Ultimately, it’s all down to sales. The huge variation between economy class food and first class is designed to encourage people to want to pay more and upgrade their seat. For those with frequent flyer points, many choose to spend their points on seat upgrades rather than a free ticket, and as Business Insider notes, a flight costs an airline more than fancy food does.
By sea: ferry food
It’ll come as no surprise to that travelling by sea is nowhere near as popular as travelling by air, which is probably why we hear so little criticism for sea-based cuisine. Or perhaps it is because space isn’t so much an issue on a ferry as it is on a plane or train — you tend to find a good array of restaurants and food services on a ferry. The quality isn’t so much an issue as the price, with many advocating taking your own food with you in order to avoid the ever-present expense of travel-based food.
"The largest independent airline food provider makes 685,000 meals every day"
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