Airlines Culinary Travel

Tastes on a Plane. What vegans go through on long-haul flights.

In an increasingly diverse world, dietary choices and requirements are fast becoming the one aspect of flying that is leaving a bad taste in the mouth of many, especially vegan, business travellers, but what is the answer?

A South African, a Frenchman and a vegan walk into a conference room. No, it’s not the start of a teeth-suckingly un-PC joke, but a real life visual that really demonstrates how far things have come in the business world, except for one thing; the vegan can’t eat anything in the lunch buffet. Eyes roll, half-hearted offers to “run out and grab a tub of humus” are whispered and it all results in a withered defeat from the vegan. I’m that vegan and I will go hungry, again. Or perhaps I’ll make good use of the two apples that nobody else is interested in, after they’ve enjoyed a plethora of smoked salmon and cream cheese mini bagel bites.

I’m not angry. I’m not even disappointed, but I am a little confused. In my mind, being vegan is, thankfully, becoming a lot more mainstream, so it always shocks me when the best on offer is a sad jacket potato with no butter or a cheese-less pizza in a restaurant. I’m my own worst enemy in meetings though, as instead of insisting I find something to eat, I’d rather get on with the confab and address what we are there for, so in between important discussions about reach and engagement, my stomach chimes in with a supportive gurgle or a dismissive groan. What does get my goat, however, is the lack of diversity in airplane food.

Premium offers aside. Image: JetBlue Mint.

First off, let’s address the fact that every airline does have to offer a meal that vegans can eat on a long-haul flight, but I am yet to find the piece of legislation that states that it has to be a curry. Hey, I like a curry, I really do, but be honest; would you fancy an unknown curry when you’re 30,000 feet up in the air with two bathrooms being shared between a few hundred people? No, I didn’t think so. Plus, there’s never any real flavour to the meal itself, as the airlines don’t want to risk making something too spicy, so it’s a never-ending joy to once again be served with a my-first-curry in a flaccid plastic tub.

How about getting down to some even worse issues? I think it would be conservative if I estimated that at least 50% of airlines seem to assume that being vegetarian and vegan is exactly the same thing. It’s an easy mistake to make, I’m sure, but there really isn’t anything more demoralising than opening up your food, expecting a waft of generic curry aroma to hit you in the face like a cold and soggy towel, only to see an omelette jiggling back up at you. Oh hang on, there IS something worse that that: having to call the steward over.

Have you ever had to make a complaint about the food you’ve been served on a flight?  Let me tell you just how arduous it is. You’re looking awkward as hell, pinned into your seat, when a smiling fountain-of-youth wafts down the aisle to see how they can help. They spot your untouched food and the smile disappears. You explain the problem. They don’t understand. You explain again and they suck the last morsels of fresh oxygen out of the cabin and in through their teeth before explaining that there are no more meals and that you should have specified a more specialist option. Cue one email print-out confirming that you did, a suspicious appraisal of your entire being and some very haphazard rustling ‘in the back’ for some peanuts and crisps. I’d love to say this has only happened to me once, but that would be a lie. The only thing that changes every time is the uniform of the weary steward trying to “deal with me”.

So what’s the solution? Naturally, better variety for vegans choosing to travel by air would be fantastic. We don’t expect miracles, but the odd falafel instead of curry would be great. Maybe even a three-bean chilli. These aren’t expensive meals and they travel well, so perhaps if we all put on our pleading eyes, we can get somewhere with a menu improvement initiative, but if not, I have a common sense solution for you.

Obviously, I feel akin to ANYBODY that struggles with airline food, not just vegans. I know people with Crohn’s, Coeliac disease, peanut allergies and all sorts of other hard to manage conditions that lead to unwanted in-flight hassles and to all of them I say the same thing: take or make your own food (included: a recipe for delicious banana bread oat cookies). It might not be the glamorous option and it’s a really bitter pill to swallow that your flight incorporates the cost of a nutritious meal that you won’t eat, but in every life a little rain must fall and if, like me, you are usually travelling for business, you really don’t have time for bickering with BA, Virgin or any other airlines’ finest.

If you’ve ever watched Hannibal, you might recall one of the final scenes, where Lecter is escaping on a plane and cannot bring himself to eat the food provided. So, instead, he pulls out a very stylish lunchbox filled to the gills with luxurious, decadent and…how shall I put this…exotic delicacies.

(and promptly feeds them to a child).

Of course, I’m not packing pieces of broiled brains in my pack-up, but I do enjoy a better selection of slow-release energy snacks and properly seasoned treats that I prepared myself. And don’t go thinking that I’m undermining my image as a professional as I do so, because I pack a stylish stainless steel Rover Planet Box that is easy to pop through the x-ray machines and fits into my carry-on bag without an issue. (No, I’m not endorsed, I actually do own and heartily recommend this receptacle!)

Happy purchase.


You know what? I think I’ve just realised that the answer to my lunch-meeting woes is to do exactly the same thing. As much as I’d like to believe that more people will start to ask if there are any special dietary requirements to cater for, there’s probably as much chance of me looking out of my window-adjacent plane seat and seeing a flying pig floating past, enjoying a mild curry as it goes. I’ll tell you one thing though; I’m more than happy to be proved wrong if any airlines would like to step up to the (vegan) plate and show me something a little more adventurous…

Book Recommendation:

Vegan on the Go: Fast, Easy, Affordable―Anytime, Anywhere

Amazon Review:

Vegan on the Go will rescue your lunchbox and inject some vegan flavour back into your lunchtime, with delicious, nutritious food that you can take anywhere.

With a focus on easy and affordable lunches, Vegan on the Go packs 100 vegan recipes into its pages, with ideas for snacks, soups, salads, sandwiches, sweet treats, and more. Whip up delicious portable lunches including polenta parcels, sweet potato burgers, courgetti salad, and tofu sushi.

Vegan on the Go tells you exactly how long you need to prepare and cook each lunchbox recipe, with mouth-watering photographs of every dish to whet your appetite. Discover top tips on which ingredients to stock up on, and how to store and transport your vegan lunches to ensure they taste fresh and delicious every time.

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