By Mordechai Schmutter
Today we present two studies on food, conducted by scientists over several days of yom tov. Scientists love doing studies on food, because it means they can eat on the job, and also write off food as a business expense.
Our first scientific study explores why airline food doesn’t taste good. Yes, scientists decided to declare an official study, instead of just assuming that airline food doesn’t taste good because it’s not good.
“Yeah, but why isn’t it good?”
Airline food is never good. No one says, “I’m hungry; let’s catch a flight.”
These airlines are in the business because they’re good at flying, not because they’re good at cooking. You can’t complain. That’s like going out to eat and complaining that the restaurant doesn’t fly while you’re eating. You walk out of the restaurant and go, “Wait, we’re still in Brooklyn?” That’s disappointing.
It turns out that according to the study, funded by—surprise!—the airlines, the reason airline food is bad is that, as we rise up into the sky, our taste buds start going numb, and everything starts tasting blander.
That’s why they give you really salty pretzels. And no, I don’t know why they only give you six.
Classy. Blame the taste buds. If you come to my house and say, “This food doesn’t taste good,” I’ll say, “No, it’s your taste buds.”
Yeah, it’s your taste buds. It’s not because everything looks like mush and is slopped over into each other’s compartments—if there are any compartments at all—and foods that weren’t meant to be sealed in a little coffin together were stored together.
According to this, if you ever eat an airline meal down on the ground, it will be delicious. It’ll be three bites of complete enjoyment. But despite this, for some reason, if you’re stuck on the runway, they don’t feed you. Not until you’re up in the air. And you know why? If you eat it at sea level, it’s actually too salty. They’re already oversalted, on purpose. So they are bad, just not in the way you think they are when you eat them. But you definitely don’t want the airlines to add even more salt and kill everyone with high blood pressure.
It’s not unheard of that certain things taste better depending on where you are. For example, chicken soup tastes better in the sukkah. Potato kugel tastes better at a kiddush. That’s why, try as they might, these things will never become Goyishe foods.
So now that we know what the issue is, they’re going to start improving the food, right?
Probably not. Any food they develop is going to be made down on the ground. They’re not developing it up in the air. It’s really not worth the expense of setting up a lab on a plane or sending people back and forth across the country to keep testing the meals so that customers will like it and keep asking for more, which will make the customers heavier, the plane heavier, and will cost them more in meals and R and D, even though they’re complimentary with the flight and people choose flights based almost solely on price. (Factor #2 is destination. SOURCE: Educated guess.)
So let’s blame your taste buds. But the question they’re hoping you won’t ask is that if that’s why airline food is bad, then why don’t people complain about the food they brought with them?
There are also some other reasons the food isn’t good:
• According to a study at the Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center, going up in a tiny cabin with hundreds of people also dampens your sense of smell, baruch Hashem. So it’s harder to enjoy your food.
• Maybe, to enjoy food, you need elbow room. It’s hard to cut an entrée when your elbows are touching each other.
• It doesn’t help that you’re in a bad mood on planes in the first place, after delays and people rooting through your unmentionables, and then they’re like, “How’s the tiny meal?” And you say, “FINE!” So you’re not really enjoying it.
• Also, back when I mentioned cutting entrées with your elbows touching each other, you pretended to cut things with your elbows touching each other.
Our second story today involves birthday cake. According to an AP article, singing “Happy Birthday” makes cake taste better.
(“Happy Birthday” is a song designed to tell the people you’re singing it to that they should be happy because they’re one year closer to me’ah v’esrim, baruch Hashem, and also they smell like a monkey.)
I think I speak for everyone when I say: That’s great news. But, um, why do you need your cake to taste better? If you don’t like your cake, isn’t it healthier to just not eat it? Also, why “Happy Birthday”? Is it a magic song? Did they conduct the study by singing other songs and seeing if they worked?
“Okay, try “Shir Hama’alos.””
“No, that didn’t work. Now I’m not hungry anymore.”
And what if you sing the song incorrectly? Do you know how many people sing that song incorrectly? Forget the monkey people. Did you know that you’re only supposed to say the person’s name when you get to the third line? Many people don’t seem to know that. On the other hand, if you do it the right way, it takes two-and-a-half lines of the person awkwardly trying to figure out who everyone’s singing to and whether he should be singing with them, all so he could feel like an idiot right when the attention of the entire room is on him.
Is this one reason for zemiros—to make the Shabbos food taste better? I always thought the reason for zemiros was to settle our stomachs and give us time between courses. Eating four courses in a row is not easy. As it is, you always cook each course as if it were the only course you were serving, and then everyone eats every course as if that’s the last course they’re eating.
But actually, as it turns out, it has little to do with actually singing.
“We found that people’s attention is piqued when they perform a ritual,” says Professor Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota. “Rituals seem to improve the consumption experience because they lead to greater involvement and interest.”
So for example, this is why, even if yeshiva food isn’t that great during the week, it’s pretty good on Shabbos.
Rituals do make food taste better. For example, saying “L’chaim!” and clinking glasses makes wine taste better. If you don’t believe me, try a glass of wine without doing that, and then another with. And then another with just saying “L’chaim” but not clinking glasses, and then another with just the clinking. Then try to figure out which one was best.
Lots of people have their own rituals before they eat, such as smelling the milk. And then they have a ritual to pass the carton back and forth, saying, “I don’t know if it’s good. Do you know if it’s good?” “I don’t remember what it’s supposed to smell like!”
Then there’s the tradition that some people have to lick the cream off a sandwich cookie and then eat the cookies. Do they eat their sandwich that way too? Do they open it up, lick out the tuna, and then put it back together and dip the bread in milk?
And some people have a tradition that, before they sit down to eat anything, they have to take some off the top with their fingers and taste it—I guess to see if it’s worth getting a fork dirty or something, I don’t know. I do it too.
And some people have a tradition that, before they eat, they have to stand in front of the fridge and go, “There’s nothing to eat! Oh, here.”
Then there are the people who have to take a picture of their meal before eating it. (That one might actually come in handy, though. I can never remember what I ate yesterday, and doing this might actually help. And then I can get the pictures developed and look through albums on Shabbos going, “Ooh, remember that sandwich? Good times.”)
We already make berachos on food, but the more traditions the better.
On the other hand, if tradition makes food taste better, why is it that by the ninth day of yom tov, no one wants to eat anything?
But my point is that maybe, if we want airline food to taste better, we should start singing on airplanes when we see the food coming.
If we do that, we can probably get entire rows to ourselves. That will definitely help with the elbow room.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.
By Mordechai Schmutter