Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.
(The first two ingredients, by the way, on a box of frozen fried egg patties are egg whites and egg yolks. This sounds totally normal, until you ask yourself why it doesn’t just say “egg.”)
Where is this going? So my wife travels a lot for work. One morning, she rose bleary-eyed for a flight, sighing about the inevitable culinary lounge mediocrity and gate-adjacent price-gouging of her upcoming food options. I’d also lived my own version of this experience countless times.
But this time, for some reason, I did something really obvious: I made her a sandwich. I wrapped it in foil, and I put it in a bag with some Ziplocs of carrots and roasted almonds. That’s right: I packed her a lunch. Several hours later, while waiting for her connecting flight out of O’Hare, she texted me with maybe the purest joy she had ever expressed in our marriage.
Call me a food snob. I get it. I’ve opened restaurants, I shop at farmers markets, and I write cookbooks. When I want an egg, I cook a whole one, in its entirety, rather than allow a corporation to combine an amalgam of an indeterminate number of whites, then shape some portion of them into a circle with a yolk from somewhere else, cook it, freeze it and serve it to customers.
Why, I often wonder, do we subject ourselves to this?
The lounge-less traveler has even greater challenges. You could wait in line, once you’re already inside of an airport, for an upcharged coffee and a Wake-Up Wrap from Dunkin’ (its eggs, by the way, boast 12 ingredients), so that you can chug your caffeinated beverage, then wait in line again, this time for the airport or plane bathroom.
It is a sad reality that Starbucks is one of the better options, and it almost always has a stunningly long line, too. Then there is “Insert: Weirdly Branded Bar & Grill You Have Never Heard Of,” where you are forced to decide what is a safer bet (Buffalo wings, a quesadilla or a Caesar salad), while hoping that there’s enough overpriced beer at this establishment to make the food taste good.
Then there’s the food on the plane. It’s an old trope that airplane food is bad, though chefs are trying to improve it. I recently ate “vegan soup” on a flight that was actually a cardboard cup of just-add-boiling-water couscous and dehydrated vegetables that never seemed to get their hydration back.
We subject ourselves to this inevitable torment, over and over again, because it’s the way things have always been. We are pleasantly surprised when something “actually isn’t that bad.” We eat food that, in almost any other scenario, would not dare grace our kitchen counters.
It didn’t have to be this way. I could have rolled up a homemade breakfast burrito or put scrambled eggs inside of an English muffin. I could even have purchased a sandwich in advance in the real world, from a place that actually makes a good sandwich, and brought it with me into the airport. I could have packed myself a lunch, like millions of adults do for their children every single day but inevitably won’t do for themselves.
I still look back wistfully at the time I stopped at Emily’s Pork Store in Brooklyn to get a sandwich before I raced off to JFK. At some airports, I’ve even resorted to fasting out of indignant protest.
I will add one caveat: You have to be conscious of the people around you. This is, after all, still a society. Your opinion may vary on a full rack of pork ribs on the tray table next to you, but I think we all agree that maybe the warm tuna casserole should stay at home.
There is a better way. I implore you: Pack a lunch.
Noah Galuten is a Los Angeles-based chef, as well as the host and author of “Don’t Panic Pantry.” You can follow him on Instagram @galuten.
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