In the summer of 2012 I wrote a short post about a breakfast that I was served on a United Airlines flight back from China—how the meal’s plastic beauty fascinated me and how intrigued I was about the mix of exotic processed proteins that had been used to create it. For me, the inflight fakery evoked comparisons to meals served in dystopic science fiction futures.
Yesterday while on an Air France flight from Casablanca to Paris, however, I was served a breakfast very different from that earlier one—an anti-United meal that was as simple as it was tasty. It consisted of a roll with cheese, croissant, and a nice-sized cup of coffee and orange juice. The breads were fresh-tasting and had a nice texture to them. The cheese was salty but had a satisfying thickness and consistency. My wife noted that the cheese appeared to be hand cut—enhancing a sense of freshness. She particularly enjoyed the cream cheese that was served with the breakfast, and ate the extra directly from the cup. The coffee had a rich flavor and the OJ just a hint of tartness. Both beverages were served in cups that gave the sense of offering a nice sized portion. Aesthetically, the meal had a range of colors, flavors and textures: dark and light brows; yellows and golds and blues, grays and whites; crispiness and tender softness; light and creaminess; salty and tartness.
I also noted that the breakfast generated very little waste. Even the single-use plastic utensils seemed designed to be sturdy while using minimal material.
The inflight meal was simple, but seemed so real. It also seemed to be something that, while perhaps Spartan, displayed a sense of care. I don’t expect meals on airlines to be excellent or tasty, but it was so refreshing to feel like someone somewhere cared about the simple meal.
Even as the tray was served to me, I immediately thought of the meal I had had on the earlier United Airlines flight back in 2012. That meal was so clearly just a cynical artificial creation—something made to look like something else. Faux food. Industrial alchemy. Profit without care.
As I plopped a huge dollop of cream cheese on the remaining bite my croissant, I considered the satisfying meal karmic payback for having endured the crap I had been served on that earlier flight.