We’re on a flight from Atlanta to LA. Clyde, bless him, has finagled first-class seats.
The flight attendant leans in, putting her lipsticked slash of a mouth closer to the ear of the passenger in the seat in front of me. “Today, I have the sausage and pepperoni calzone. Or I have the chef salad with ham, turkey, eggs, and cheese. Both come with a cheese plate and chocolate cake.”
That might be what she has today, but it’s not what we’ll have today, because we’re vegans. No ground-up pork for us. No cured meats. No eggs. No dairy.
Fortunately, two weeks ago, Clyde accessed our flight plan on Delta.com and, with two clicks of a mouse, let the meal planners know we wanted the “vegetarian, non-dairy meal.”
The critics on FlyerTalk.com are of two minds about Delta’s veggie/non-dairy meals: about half describe them as “inedible” and “revolting,” while the other half sigh loudly and call them “adequate” or “better than nothing.” So, as I watch the obese man across the aisle tuck in to his calzone plate (he starts with dessert, jabbing his fork deep into his cube of dark chocolate cake), I’m wondering what miracle of high-flying cuisine is about to land on my tray table.
Seconds later, when the flight attendant returns, I find out. “Special meal,” she says, beaming.
On the upper left of my plate lie two grey-blue black bean patties, each about the size and thickness of your standard Jimmy Dean sausage. They’re as artfully arranged as two previously frozen and recently reheated black bean patties can be. Along with these, I have seven bright orange baked sweet potato wedges, a member steamed spinach with sesame seeds, and a quarter-cup of a steamed squash and zucchini medley.
On the side, I also have a salad of mixed field greens (with an olive oil-based dressing — no buttermilk ranch, thank goodness), a roll (served, oddly, with a pat of Land O’ Lakes butter on the side), and a dessert plate of cubed melon, two orange slices, and two fingers of fresh pineapple.
Though I’m grateful for them, the black bean patties aren’t the best. They have no spice and very little seasoning, and a sprinkle of salt has zero beneficial effect. With a dash of hot sauce, they’d be pretty tasty; unfortunately, none of those travel-sized bottles of Sriracha or Tabasco are available. I do discover, though, that the sweet potatoes are insanely delicious, and when I mix them with the black bean patty, the more neutral beans soak up and extend that sweet potato goodness.
The steamed spinach fares least well of all my vegan treasures, especially since some of the sesame seeds seem to have mysteriously fossilized. The squash medley, though, tastes surprisingly good, and while I prefer my veggies a bit closer to raw, I scarf these right down. The fruit makes an excellent dessert (though, even now, my newly-aligned tastebuds can’t abide the taste of cantaloupe).
Next to me, Clyde has polished off his entire meal at jet-engine speeds. “Would you order that again?” he asks.
I consider this, checking in with myself. Am I satisfied? Sure. Did I have enough to eat? Sure.
“I wouldn’t order it at a restaurant,” I decide. “But if you hadn’t thought ahead, we’d have been stuck at 35,000 feet with dry salad a fist-sized cluster of seeded grapes.” I give his arm a little squeeze. “Thank you.”
He responds as Clyde tends to: “It was easy! Just two clicks of the mouse.” But there’s more to it than that, of course: there’s the caring, and the support, and the thinking ahead, and the actual doing of it.
I want many, many more years with this guy — and it’s that awareness that makes today’s black bean patties at 35,000 feet taste better than any sausage and pepperoni calzone on the planet.