In the last article I said I would write about dining out. Like every journey there are twists and turns, and I will discuss dining out in the subsequent article. In this article I want to briefly touch on travel, specifically flying and food preparation.
One thing that is almost a given is that GF food is not likely found in airports. This has been our experience when Debbie and I travel. Sure, you can get one of those premade salads from the open refrigerator cases, chuck the dressing containing gluten and start gnawing on the wilted brown lettuce and cherry tomatoes that now look like little red raisins. If you are lucky you might find an apple or banana, but typically nothing truly substantial to hold you over during the 4 to 6 hour flight. Pretzels – out. Nuts – they have sometimes have hydrolyzed vegetable protein or wheat starch. Airline cookies – yeah right. So what is a GF person to do?
Pack it with you.
The important things you must do:
1. Plan ahead.
2. Prep and cook ahead.
3. You need to think thermal and food safety.
4. You must deal with TSA.
The first three are easy. Number four can be a real pain in the tuckus.
Planning – You are going to have to think ahead if you are going to fly cross-country, and especially if you fly internationally. The planning starts with simple meal planning, keeping in mind those foods that travel well and do not require any last minute cooking. Things like zucchini bread do not travel well as they are very soft and tend to spoil quickly. You’ll need to buy and freeze ice packs to store in your “food tote.” More on that below.
Prep and Cook Ahead – Since most airports do not offer safe GF options for people with Celiac (or other autoimmune conditions) you must provide your own food. Debbie makes some snacks and lunches the day before the flight. If you are taking a long flight, leaving mid-day or afternoon, be sure to pack extra food in the event of a flight cancelation or delay. Plan for the unexpected.
Think Thermal and Food Safety – When we travel, we take a nice sturdy tote on wheels that is fairly well insulated and easily fits in either the overhead bin or beneath the seat in front of us. Premade food is carefully packed into small insulated nylon “lunch bags” with ice packs. You can find these lunch bags almost anywhere – REI, Walmart, grocery stores, etc. These lunch bags are then placed inside the tote with ice packs surrounding the lunch bags, so you have a double-walled cooling chamber for the food. Remember, safe storage temperature for food is between 32 ⁰F and 40 ⁰F. While it is unlikely you will be able to sustain these low temperatures for long periods of time, it will be good enough to last you for at least one or two meals. Bear in mind some foods spoil faster than others.
Dealing with TSA – TSA stands for Transportation Security Administration, and their “agents/officers” are the people at the airport that frisk grandma, grandpa and grandchild baby Becky for bombs, while someone that fits the historic terrorist profile saunters through the gates because TSA agents are not allowed to “profile.” While this might seem like an exaggeration, it isn’t.
Debbie and I travel a fair amount. We fly frequently and find that while TSA policies and procedures are the same for all airports, the implementation of those policies and procedures grossly lacks any consistency. In fact, the only thing that is consistent is the fact that the inspections we have gone through are very inconsistent. The following stories are all true. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-smart.
On one occasion, flying back from New York, Debbie declared her frozen ice packs as is required by law. However, the TSA “agent” said, “You have too many ice-packs.” There are three problems with this. One, TSA rules and regulations have no stipulation on the number of ice packs a person can take on a plane. The only requirement regarding ice-packs is that they are frozen. Two, he had no knowledge of where we were going, how long it would take to get there and no degree or knowledge in thermal dynamics required to calculate thermal decay rates for the given frozen mass.
On a recent trip a few weeks ago flying out of Phoenix in the summertime, one TSA agent noticed a bit of the “blue-ice” had melted (during our 35 minute drive to the airport). Despite the fact that it was still rock hard and cold, he wanted to toss it in the trash. I told him to squeeze it and see that it was hard. He barked back at me, “I’m NOT going to squeeze it!” to which I responded, “Get a supervisor, NOW.” Here is where it truly gets weird. The agent told Debbie she would have to submit to a full-body pat-down in order to keep the ice pack – like one thing has to do with the other.
On yet another trip, one Phoenix TSA agent was pawing through all of Debbie’s food tote and purse. Debbie declared the ice-packs as she should, but she made the mistake of volunteering unnecessary information to the TSA agent. Then she showed him her Medic Alert bracelet to demonstrate her medical necessity and that she is not a terrorist, which she is under NO obligation to do. He responded, “Show me your medication.” Since when does TSA staff know squat about pharmacology? Debbie pulled some unrelated medicine out of her purse and showed it to the guy and he waved her through. The last I knew, LaraBars do not tick or explode. At other times we’ve been waved through without so much as a second look.
To TSA’s defense, they have a lot of turn-over which makes training to any consistent level a challenge. However, I should not be our responsibility to continually educate them in their own policies. Here are my suggestions in dealing with TSA agents.
1. Be tolerant and patient. (This is a struggle for me)
2. Read, review and know the regulations requiring frozen ice-packs, which is only that they are frozen.
3. Make sure the ice-packs are made of opaque material. Translucent ice-packs will show any thawing and you may have them taken away, regardless of how hard and cold they are. In other words, what they can’t see won’t hurt them. Do not offer any information not requested. Less is better.
4. If you experience issues or problems, immediately ask for a supervisor. If the supervisor’s response to you or treatment of you is unacceptable, ask for a manager.
5. Assert yourself but do so respectively.
6. Just in case, carry a letter of necessity from your physician. Often, we’ve received that confused puppy look when telling them we have a “Letter of Necessity.”
7. Plan for the extra time TSA will want to examine your GF brownies for bombs.
Until next week, stay well and be blessed,
Chef David Hall, CGC