The Insidious Food Rule We Should All Break: Food Deserts & Travel in America

updated May 30, 2019
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Next week I leave New York and head west to Seattle for four days, the first of a few trips I have planned this summer. Unsurprisingly, most of these trips necessitate that I fly or take the train which, besides mini toiletries, means one thing: a dearth of decent food. If you travel by plane, train, or bus in the US, you know that transportation hubs are food deserts with an insidious message: Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Kosher? Doesn’t matter. What you eat while traveling doesn’t count.

Or so says Elissa Altman of Poor Man’s Feast. In a recent post she rants (as we all have at one time or another) against the state of food in airport terminals and train stations, and sarcastically dubs the situation “America’s Most Important Food Rule”:

So long as you’re getting from Point A to Point B by plane, train, bus, or automobile, culinary and nutritional time stops. Food ceases to matter. Health issues flitter away like moths in a storm; gastronomical quality is neither assumed nor expected. Calories, fat—all of it stops counting. While you’re on the road, your blood cholesterol automatically plummets to that of an infant born to vegan parents in south Asia.

In other words, fast food restaurants, by virtue of the fact that they’re the only options available in most US airports, would have you believe there’s no taste preference and no dietary or health concern that anyone seriously lives by. Everyone knows the travel rule! All bets are off!

Of course, we know that’s not true. As Altman writes, the odds are pretty good that a large majority of the 2.4 million people who travel every day have at least one major food concern, and would desperately like options other than those “processed, packaged, laden with sugar, fat, salt, grown in a factory, and shellacked with chemical preservatives produced in a test tube.” It’s a cross-the-aisle food desert.

What is to be done? David Tanis takes an emergency food kit with him when he travels, which includes, among other things, harissa, a jar of mustard, fresh chiles, limes, a hunk of cheese, and sea salt. That might seem excessive, so here are a few other ideas:

15 Homemade Meals You Can Carry on the Airplane
• Holiday Travel: 10 Delicious, Portable Snack Recipes
• Good Food for International Travel
What Foods Can You Carry on a Plane?

How do you deal with food deserts when you travel? Do you make things ahead? What snacks or food do you take with you on the plane? Share your tips!

Read More: Our Most Important Food Rule: And How To Break It at Poor Man’s Feast