Funny thing, real food. It seems so obvious. So ubiquitous. So glaringly present in our minds, but where is it when you’re away from home? For me, after a few days of travel, my body began to crave vegetables straight from the garden. Bread made with just flour, salt and water. Oil from olives not too far from here. Eggs that glow brightly when cracked and cooked.
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1 Nov 2012 - 11:54 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

But here’s what I read on a pre-packed roasted beef sandwich delivered in that most trapped of all places – on board an aircraft. (Some bits of writing hadn’t printed properly, so I left those with question marks.)

Wheat flour, water, mixed grain (kibbled rye, kibbled wheat), baker’s yeast, vinegar, iodised salt, wh???, canola oil, soy flour, emulsifiers (481, 472e, 471), vitamins (?? Thiamine, folate), beef, water, salt, food ??? , mineral salts, (450, 451, 452), vegetable gum (4070), flavour enhancer (635), sucrose [ie, sugar], hydrolysed maize protein, canola oil, flavour?? , ??? (150c) [apparently a food colouring].

There was also some pesto (with potassium sorbate and lactic acid in it) and lettuce. Whatever potassium sorbate is. I usually put basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and a good pecorino in mine. And a bit of lemon juice for bite.

The packaging also said the sandwich had been lovingly handmade. By someone in a hairnet with gloves on, presumably – as if anything could live in (or on) something with so many essentially non-food ingredients.

I expect a max of four ingredients in my bread, and no numbers. Just beef in my beef, not textured vegetable protein (which is what the maize thingy is), and no flavour enhancer. But maybe I’m so far in the minority. Maybe people don’t care if food is actually food anymore. Or, maybe, we just feel trapped in the supermarket, on the plane, in the ruts of our life and don’t realise just what has become of the noble ingredients that farmers have produced for thousands of years. Grains, vegetables, meat, oils, milk. Maybe our food legislators are so frightened that nutritious food may also contain enough goodness for bugs to breed, that we have to produce sort-of food. Food-like ingredients, I think the acclaimed US writer Michael Pollan calls them. Not real food, but kind-of-like food.

So it was a relief to come home to a mountain of broad beans. Simply fried with bacon and a little spring garlic in olive oil, and tossed over pasta with grated cheese on top. They fixed my yearnings. They satisfied my hunger for greens, for real food not too long out of the earth.

It made me realise, yet again, how lucky we are. How blessed to be able to grow our own, or source our produce close to home. Many don’t have that luxury. Some people live where little is sold the day after it is picked, let alone in the week it was picked. And we’re not the worst place in the world. Even as bad as airport food can be, it’s not as bad as in the US, apparently. There are some fresher options in some of our airports. Some things not from the deep fryer, and maybe even some pastries that don’t contain trans fats (though I wouldn’t count on it). But most of it is built to a profit margin, not a nutritional or gastronomic standard. We could have it worse, and we could also be doing much better.

All I really know is that it’s great to be home. And if you’re heading out on a trip, it never hurts to pack lunch.