Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food


Airline lounges and other hazards.

Filed under: Airline food — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 18:37

I’ve pondered for a long time whether or not to make this post. It could be easily taken the wrong way, seen as some sort of conspicuous consumption on my part. But, the truth is that I do a lot of travel on business and sometimes, not that often, I get to go business class. Part of that experience is the lounge, with food and drink for which you’ve already paid in the fare. Here are a couple of meals I had on my way to Australia.

CDG Air France Lounge meal

Vegan meal in the Air France lounge at Paris CDG.

This first tray is from the lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The sandwiches were explicitly labelled as vegan (in French), and contained roast vegetables. Sometimes they have another vegan sandwich containing guacamole with chunky tomato. They’re both pretty good. Most of the biscuits on offer contained egg (mentioned in the traditional 4pt type, in French only), but the ginger ones shown are fine. Fruit salad is boring, but good, and if there’s dairy in that chocolate, I don’t want to know. The coffee is from a bean-to-cup machine and is excellent.

Hong Kong QANTAS Lounge mealA 12 hour flight and some footering at the transfer desk brought me to the QANTAS lounge at Hong Kong. At first I thought the pictured offering was all they had for me – Vietnamese spring rolls with a sweet peanut sauce and Tsingtao beer – but they also had a carrot and coconut milk soup which I found later.

On the way back, we were on a flight that left Melbourne at about 11pm, so there was very little food in the lounge. There was bottle-conditioned beer though, and I did want to sleep on the flight. We’d had a blow-out meal at Enlightened Cuisine (strongly recommended) before leaving for the airport. The Air France lounge at Hong Kong is completely useless for vegans. Even worse, every morning at 6am, several 747s arrive from Australia and disgorge their passengers for an hour while they refuel. This is why none of the shops or restaurants open until 7am. We were there for longer, but the only vegetarian-friendly eaterie I could find was landside, where I could not go.

This was particularly frustrating as the only reason I’d had anything to eat on the flight had been because another vegan on board had not been hungry and refused their meal. It did not go to waste. One big problem with Air France is that they don’t pass on special meal requests to codeshare partners, not even KLM who are the same company. On the way out, I’d asked about my meal at the transfer desk at Hong Kong, and fortunately they only need a couple of hours warning there so it was fine. But as I was an Air France passenger, it was not possible for QANTAS to add a note themselves about it.

The leg from Hong Kong to Paris was Air France though, and the food was excellent. I needed it.


Why I take emergency rations on long-haul flights

Filed under: Airline food — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 19:48

I am just back from three weeks in the States and have been suffering at the hands of airline caterers again. I’m quite disappointed, because the airlines I chose, Air France and Delta, are ones which have previously fed me rather well.

This first meal was served to me on an Air France flight from Paris CDG to Seattle-Tacoma on May 8th.

VGML meal served in Air France economy class CDG-SEA

VGML meal served in Air France economy class CDG-SEA

It was technically the second meal of the flight – a light lunch prior to landing. My first meal went astray due to a game of musical chairs played at Edinburgh, and then at the gate – the cabin crew couldn’t find me. Travel hint: if you have your seat changed, let the cabin crew know where you were originally seated, and where you are now.

By lunch time, they knew where I was, and I got my special meal. It wasn’t bad – roast vegetables and couscous, with a fruit strudel and a piece of wonderful dark chocolate to follow. I only have one complaint about this meal, and that was the spread which contained milk powder. It was only possible to determine this by reading French in 2pt white type on a pale green background.

My next journey was by train, from Seattle to Portland. It took forever given the distance, but was just about quicker than flying if you take into account travel to and from airports, time for security etc. I raided Uwajimaya and had a nice selection of Japanese goodies to keep me going. There was some vegan food available in the buffet, in the form of hummus and crackers, and some interesting microbrews.

The big-name airlines in the US are trying to compete with the likes of Southwest (the airline on which easyJet modelled itself), without the smiles, so there was no food on any of the domestic flights. No food, but they were still happy to leave an aircraft on stand for 90 minutes, not doing anything and just costing them money. The state of vegan food at the airports was dire, too. I managed a peanut butter and jam sandwich at Baltimore, which might have been vegan (I wasn’t going to ask at this point, due to hunger). It was far too sweet for me, but it did fill me up.

And so, eventually, I made my way home via JFK to Edinburgh on a Delta 757. Alas, they seem to have acquired Northwest’s caterers for this is what they think constitutes a good vegan meal:

Economy class vegan meal served on a Delta flight between JFK and EDI, May 26th 2009.

Vegan meal served on a Delta flight between JFK and EDI, May 26th 2009.

It was awful.

It was simply boiled vegetables with white rice, a green salad, a roll and a fruit salad. They had contrived to simultaneously over- and under-cook the vegetables. They were cooked for long enough to lose their colour and flavour, but were still hard. Even the mushrooms were boiled. The only flavouring used was an excess of salt in the rice. The salad was just as flavourless and the main ingredient in the dressing was high fructose corn syrup. The roll looks as if it would be quite tasty, but I was not able to find out, as the spread was another dairy one, containing whey and other milk-derived ingredients. It was even marked Kosher-dairy, and it wasn’t because the rabbis were being paranoid about stuff made in the same factory as dairy products.

The fruit salad was the only thing I ate. It wasn’t that bad.

I wonder if I’d been given a vegetarian low-fat meal instead of the one I asked for?

There was no special breakfast available, but the standard offering included a bagel and a banana. Banana is quite nice spread on a bagel.


Continental and Northwest: a tale of two curries

Filed under: Airline food — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 21:06

I’ve just returned from a trip to Boston. Originally the flights were to be on Northwest both ways, but a single flake of snow on the runway at Turnhouse the night before led to a new routing on the way out—EDI-EWR-BOS with Continental.

When we checked in for the new flight, we asked whether my VGML meal request had survived the diversion. The woman at the desk checked, said no and immediately rang up catering to ask is they could stick an additional veggie meal on the flight. They said yes, and all was well. As I boarded, the cabin crew were even talking about the extra special meal for passenger in seat 9A (i.e. me). So I did not appreciate the grudging way it was handed over when I asked about it, and being told I should’ve ordered it in advance (presumably using the Psychic Telephone or something). It was also bloody revolting. One third of the tray consisted of what they described as black-eyed bean masala. What this is is a dry bean curry made with cheap curry powder. The central third was rice, and the other third a similar curry made with the same keg curry powder added to the standard frozen veg mix, a few cashews, raisins (did I mention this was British keg curry?) and a single piece of paneer, even though the packaging indicated that this was supposed to be a vegan meal. This was served with a sad looking salad, with brown lettuce, a ciabatta-style roll thing and a dessert I decided to avoid in case of plane-diverting unwellness.

On arrival at Newark, I was hungry so I checked out a newsstand. Mini Oreos appear to be vegan these days, as far as I can tell, and quite nice with it (Note: this is only the US version. Oreos in the UK contain milk). Also Apple and Cinnamon soy crisps are quite nommy, but none of this makes a balanced meal.

The return was as scheduled, on Northwest to Amsterdam. One of my LJ friends, who needs to be dairy-free and had asked for a vegan meal to be sure, had flown out of Logan on a British Airways flight the day before, and had had a really bad experience, with milk in everything she’d been offered. So, I was a little worried, and had been to Whole Foods to stock up on emergency rations.

The initial snack was vegan, and consisted of a small bag of pretzels. My meal was yet another bean curry, served with rice and a green vegetable of some sort. It came with the traditional sad salad and a (brown) roll. I checked the salad dressing and it was vegan; I checked the spread and there was no hint of any animal ingredients at all; I looked at the fat-free brownie for dessert and it too was utterly vegan. Everything that came with ingredients listed was vegan, so I figure it’s safe to assume everything else was as requested. The curry was as insipid as Continental’s, but at least had some sauce, and the greens were good. The chocolate brownie was a little hard on the teeth. For an economy class meal, this wasn’t too bad.

My best economy class meal experience was last year on Delta, flying between Dublin and JFK. Northwest are now owned by Delta, and they appear to be rebranding them as Delta, so I hope for better food in future.

For the record, my best business class meal experience was on Air France between Paris CDG and Narita; the worst was the return trip between Kansai and Paris.

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