Food Choices on Indian Airlines

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Whenever I fly on non-Indian carriers to India or there are Indians (South Asians) on non-Indian carriers flying elsewhere, I often encounter individuals who complain that they cannot eat the special meals that they ordered.

Steward(ess):  But, sir, you ordered a vegetarian meal, didn't you?

Passenger:  Yes, but I cannot eat this kind of vegetarian meal.

Steward(ess):  I can assure you, sir / ma'am, that our vegetarian meals have no meat or meat products in them.

Passenger:  But what you have given me has X, Y, Z in it.  I cannot eat it.  Please get me something else.

Steward(ess):  I am sorry, we do not have any other kinds of vegetarian meals.

Whereupon the passenger pulls out some biscuits from his / her carry-on bag and survives on them and whatever else he / she can scrounge up for the duration of the flight.

Stefan Krasowski recently booked a flight on India's Jet Airways.  Here are the choices he was offered for meals:

As Stefan observes, "The mind-boggling array of options demonstrates India's diversity.  I am especially curious about the 'bland meal'!"

I suppose that "bland" implies "not spicy," "spicy" being the default option for (most of the many types of) Indian cuisine.

Now, what intrigues me about this bewildering array of choices is that, although they are all in English and would seem to be fairly common fare for Indian air travelers, some of the choices may set American readers to looking things up on the web, for instance to remind themselves of what "purine" is and why someone might want a meal low in it.  Before consulting Wikipedia, I was ignorant of the difference between a Vegetarian Hindu Meal and a Vegetarian Jain Meal. Even knowing what "Lacto Ovo" means, I'm still puzzled about how a Lacto Ovo Meal can be different from a Vegetarian Lacto-Ovo Meal.  Furthermore, what can I expect to get if I order just a plain Vegetarian Meal, not a Strict Vegetarian Meal, or any of the otherwise modified vegetarian meals?  And what would Edward Said have to say about that Vegetarian Oriental Meal if he were still around to pronounce upon it?

Even with all of these possible selections, I'd bet that somebody is going to ask for a "Low Protein Low Lactose Low Purine Meal" or a "Low Calorie Low Cholesterol Bland Meal" or a….   Starbucks has figured out how to offer customers "more than 19,000 beverage possibilities", and a similar number of menu options is implied by the global combinatorics of dietary preferences and restrictions. In this context, "vegetarian" is apparently no more informative than "coffee".

If I were flying Jet Airways, after much consideration, I think my choice would be "Bland Meal – Non Veg."  Being a seasoned traveler, I always carry salt and pepper with me.


  1. be_slayed said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    The Veg vs. Non-Veg distinction has some interesting semantic extensions in South Asia, e.g. someone launching into a joke might be interrupted with the inquiry, "Is this a veg or non-veg joke?" (where a non-veg joke = a dirty joke). I suppose this originates from the idea (even for non-veg Hindus) that veg food is more shudh ('pure') than non-veg.

  2. Derek Balsam said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    FYI, diets low in purines are often recommended for sufferers of gout (like me). Gout is a disorder of purine metabolism. [Actually, the newest science recommends a different diet for gout, which is not limited in purines. It's just going to take a while for all the dietitians and menu menus to catch up.]

    The vegetarian Hindu meal sounds good to me…

  3. Theo Vosse said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 9:44 am

    I wouldn't know what Vegetarian Hindu tastes like. Probably chicken.

  4. Some Guy said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    Puns always make me wince. The one at the end if this post was quite subtle, but I still winced.

  5. Peter Taylor said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    What could "bland" imply other than "non-spicy"? For me it immediately brings back the best Goodness Gracious Me sketch: Going for an English.

    "I'll have the blandest thing on the menu!"

    I do wonder what someone unconstrained by religious food regulations who wants a spicy meal with sodium, purine, lactose, cholesterol, calories, and gluten should choose.

  6. Amy Reynaldo said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    I'll bet the airline makes a small number of meals that can apply to multiple categories. Back in the day when domestic airlines would feed us, I chose a lacto-ovo vegetarian meal from a pull-down menu (probably for United). I received a vegan meal of rice and vegetables. Meanwhile, people who had not specified a veggie meal could choose a tasty-looking cheese lasagna—exactly the sort of vegetarian meal I was hoping for. I'll bet Jet Airways has three different vegetarian meals at most.

  7. Aaron Davies said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    I was impressed when Silk Air (a "budget" carrier associated with Singapore Airlines) offered a low-carb option on a recent flight; not so much when they failed to not serve me fish, which I'm severely allergic to, despite a request to that effect made several days before the flight.

  8. Spectre-7 said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    I do wonder what someone unconstrained by religious food regulations who wants a spicy meal with sodium, purine, lactose, cholesterol, calories, and gluten should choose.

    Good question. Perhaps the Non – Vegetarian Meal? From my own very American perspective, it feels a little odd having my default choice listed as non-something, though. In fact, I don't think I've ever once ordered a meal that was non-anything. Interesting.

  9. JS Bangs said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    I found it very interesting when I visited India that "Non-Veg" was the standard terminology, as it implicitly treats vegetarianism as the unmarked choice.

    On a more linguistic note, any idea why the "Muslim/Moslem Meal" has both spellings? Are some people offended by one spelling or another?

  10. MattF said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    Wonder what happens if you order salad. Or, as they say, salad salad.

  11. jfruh said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    My wife eats seafood but not bird or mammal meat, and so often ends up requesting the vegetarian meal on flights — only to receive the lowest common denominator, generally a vegan ball of rice with some lettuce. The only airline we've ever flown that offers such diversity was British Airways, actually, on which she ordered and quite enjoyed the "Hindu meal."

  12. James said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    Aaron Davies, did they really fail to not serve you fish? Maybe they had planned to refrain from failing to not serve you fish, but they just forgot to refrain to fail to not serve you any.

    VM, when the passenger is unhappy that the meal has X, Y, and Z in it, is that because the passenger doesn't like XYZ, or for some medical or religious or ethical reason?

  13. Nathan said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    Why can't they just list the foods themselves and let people choose?

  14. JS Bangs said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:40 am

    @Nathan, probably because the exact food choices vary quite a bit from flight to flight and may not even be decided at the time that the airline sells the tickets.

  15. Dan T. said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:52 am

    I've had doctors say to eat "bland" food, in instances when they thought the less-bland stuff might be irritating my stomach.

    I note the absence of Kosher (or variants such as Glatt Kosher) on this list; apparently they're not catering to Jewish travelers.

  16. Dan T. said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:53 am

    (Since some of my doctors have been from India, it could be that they got some of their terminology from there.)

  17. John Cowan said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    Sensible people buy food of their choice before traveling and eat it on the plane. Unfortunately, this does not work when traveling from Canada to the U.S., because the ag inspection is done before you leave Canadian soil, and any food you have with you gets discarded. I nearly wound up with a low-blood-sugar attack (I'm a diabetic) because of that.

  18. Słowosław said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

    Interesting that there are no meals specified as Sikh (Hindu, Jain and Muslim are all covered). Is this because Sikh dietary requirements are less strict?

  19. SlideSF said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

    What? You mean some airlines still offer food?

  20. Stephen Jones said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

    I thought the title actually referred to the domestic carrier, Indian Airlines, India's answer to Aeroflot in the competition to be the most user-unfriendly airline in the world. Advice regarding food choices there is don't.

  21. carla said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    My guess is that some of these meals are the same – that there are not really as many choices as there seem to be. So, for example, the Vegetarian Jain meal and the Vegetarian Hindu meal may in fact be the same meal, but by giving them different names they allow the passenger the comfort of choosing one that meets his or her specific requirements without having to worry "hm, does 'Vegetarian' guarantee that such-and-such ingredient will be excluded?" (I picked those two examples just as illustration, not to make a factual claim about the equivalence of those two meals.)

  22. Jim said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    "I note the absence of Kosher (or variants such as Glatt Kosher) on this list; apparently they're not catering to Jewish travelers."

    Wouldn't the vegetarian meals qualify as kosher, at least as far as the ingredients were concerned?

    Here's another consideration – how do they ensure that everyoen's meal wil be prepared by soemone who is fit to touch the traveller's food? Do they have Brahmin food handlers to make meals for Brahmins? That may be one reason that they don't offer kosher meals.

  23. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    A little research on Sikhism (6-7 sources) turns up this. (I was curious because a grad school roommate of long ago is descended from Sikhs.) Please correct me if I got something wrong.

    In general, I get the sense that Sikhs are pretty ecumenical when it comes to diet (and other aspects of their lives).

    Many are vegetarians for cultural reasons (when in Rome . . .), which may have led to custom or preference. There are no prohibitions against meat itself. Originally, animals were to be slaughtered in a way that caused as little suffering as possible. (One decapitating sword blow.) In a more modern world, this mostly means that Sikhs do not eat meat that has been ritually killed, as in the halal (Islamic) or kosher (Jewish) manner, since this requires a slow blood-letting, which Sikhs consider cruel, and also because they dislike rituals. I can find no prohibitions against certain vegetables such as the Jains have (eg., no root vegetables, to answer that question).

    Sikhs practice charity, and a pillar of Sikhism is the elimination of hunger. One consequence is that they have a regular practice in which they put out a large, free meal, which is by custom vegetarian, so that members of all faiths (and members of all Hindu castes) can eat without inhibition. This is called Langar, and I suppose it contributes to the tendency of many Sikhs to be vegetarians.

    I do not get the sense that the Langar practice would directly affect a Sikh's food choice on a plane.

    A Sikh would most likely know what kinds of vegetables are implied by a Jain meal, for instance, and make a choice according to preference. A Sikh would be unlikely to choose a Muslim meal, I think, especially if the meat content were not specified (but even then, you never know when lard or gelatin will turn up). Likewise no Kosher meal, should one be offered.

    That was a fun exercise!

  24. Brad said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

    As an American vegetarian, I'm used to characterizing things as "vegan", "vegetarian", "ovo-lacto vegetarian" and what I keep thinking of as the 'Seattle option' of vegetarian plus fish, so it's a bit surprising to see that many variants. Then again, it does seem a bit like the vegetarian version of the old airline choice of 'Would you like beef or chicken?' since I do have to suspect as the others have that there are simply meals being served which meet multiple categories if only for practicality.

  25. Karen said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

    @SlidesSF: ALL airlines offer food if the flight is long enough: they're required to. Flying to the UK from Maryland nets you two meals.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    I'd guess that "bland" meals, in addition to (or in subtraction from) not having spices, would have little or no citrus, tomatoes, pickled or smoked food, aged cheese, etc.

  27. Sili said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    You mean to say that the Reichssicherheitshauptamt allows you to take pepper through the check? But you could incapacitate the whole crew with dangerous chemicals like that!!

    Food? I did get some nice rolls on SAS eight years ago.

  28. Peter Taylor said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    @Sili: I'd have thought they'd be more concerned about the salt. White powder could be anthrax spores…

  29. Ellen said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

    Karen: Required by who? There's no world-wide government. Not all airplane flights start or end in the U.S.

  30. TB said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    Don't you think "bland" means "satvika", which if I understand correctly means vegetarian food without onions and garlic? I believe it's eaten by some Buddhists and Jains (who eat no root vegetables at all). Japanese Buddhist monks eat food like that called "shojin-ryori".

  31. William said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    A lot of the religious traditions in India have a tradition of excluding certain ingredients / spices. Buddhist vegetarian food (both in India and elsewhere in Asia) tends to exclude certain ingredients (seen below) that are unrelated to the Western concept of "vegetarian" (not eating meat). I believe this came from Hinduism originally (could be wrong there).

    In China, pretty much the only concept of vegetarian comes from Buddhist vegetarian, so food is either 素 (sù, as in vegetable), or 全素 (quán sù) (or zhāi – 斋), completely vegetable/vegetarian, which has religious implications. The second will usually mean no egg, meat or fish, and nothing "stimulating" (which I think means it makes you think about sex) — generally no onion, green onion, garlic, cilantro, jiu cai (Chinese leek), and sometimes hot peppers (there are some slight variations on this between different sects and different geographic areas). Milk is not prohibited, though eggs are (I believe because eggs historically would have had the potential to be a life, as well as the fact that cows were historically well treated in India, not to mention the importance of dairy to most Indian food), and while milk isn't that common in most parts of China (since most Chinese are lactose intolerant), you will often find small amounts of dairy (in the form of whey or casein) in a lot of processed mock-meat products, as well as sometimes in some other foods. For someone from this culture to understand someone who is "completely vegetarian", but wants onions, garlic, etc. is difficult, same as it would be confusing for a western person asked to accommodate someone whose idea of vegetarian included not eating these things.

    It's possible (just a guess) that "bland" may be a translation for this sort of food, since there isn't any specific word for it in English.

    Jains are probably one of the strictest groups of vegetarians, and many Jains don't even eat certain root vegetables.

  32. Private Zydeco said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    A particularly confounding informational side-
    effect of foreshortening the word "Vegetarian"
    on any menu – where it describes the presence
    or nonpresence of animal-derived substances
    in any one of several dishes listed – is that one
    can just as easily foreshorten the word "Vegan"
    in the same fashion, and end up describing a
    dramatically different course!

    This issue has come up more than once in per-
    sonal experience, but, fortunately for everyone's
    sanity, the proprietors of the venue proffering the
    bill of fare spoke perfectly fluent English and, ac-
    cordingly, made sure to ascertain from the chef
    that the item in question contained nary a residue
    of butter nor milk. (Vegan for eight years now)

  33. Dan T. said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

    Regarding lactose intolerance, from what I've read, the normal state of affairs is for adult mammals to be unable to digest milk, since its original purpose was as food for infants and grown-up creatures had no need for the ability to drink it. Lactose digestion in adult humans is the result of a mutation that occurred relatively recently in evolutionary time, and has only partially propagated itself through the human gene pool, being more prevalent in some populations than others (and perhaps having selective pressures more in favor of it in climates where dairy products were more likely to be useful to survival).

  34. Shannon said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    This isn't restricted to India. Air New Zealand has a similar list when making online bookings!

    It's just that the average person has no idea these options exist unless you see them online in a combo-box. Air New Zealand choices are: Low Calorie, Raw Veg, Seafood, Child's, Bland, Diabetic, Fruit Platter, Oriental, Asian Veg, Muslim, Hindu, Kosher, High-Fibre? Lacto-ovo Veg, Low fat/Cholesterol, Gluten Free, Low Purin, Dairy Free Veg, Low Sodium/ No Salt, Purin, Non-Lactose and, finally, Standard.

    Of course, anything but 'beef or chicken' has to be pre-ordered. I just stick with Standard, but given that traditional kiwi fare is meat-and-three-veg, it's not going to be spicy..

  35. Sol said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

    When I go to Starbucks, I order a "coffee," and hope the cashier is apathetic enough to not ask any more questions.

  36. dr pepper said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    Lactose tolerance is most common in europeans. I've often wondered why nazis don't hold chugging ceremonies to prove their genetic lineage.

  37. Joshua said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

    Some airlines actually explain on their web sites what the different kinds of special meals mean to them. For example, British Airways at has an explanation. So does United Air Lines at,6998,51499,00.html and the pages linked from there.

    Then again, almost all my flights nowadays are domestic ones on Southwest, so the concept of an airline meal is something I have to think back quite a while to remember.

  38. Sol said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

    Also, I'm surprised that Indian Airlines doesn't offer a Kosher meal, especially given that India is a very popular tourist destination for Israelis.

  39. Clare said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

    The modality is interesting. If they gave the 'lowest common denominator' to everyone (for want of a better word than 'lowest') and made it taste good, everyone would be catered for. No-one MUST eat meat/dairy/onions/gluten. There are excellent Hare Krishna places that make vegan food minus onions & garlic that are diverse and surprisingly tasty (I didn't believe it). Just do this without the gluten and you'd have most of your bases covered. There'd be no slaughtered animals needing rituals or shellfish/mixing with dairy requiring Kosher/Halal approval. AND meat and dairy are massive contributions to climate change (more than the bloody planes themselves), so you could greenwash the move quite easily (if you wanted).

  40. James C said,

    September 1, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    Clare: Yes, but doing it that way might (God forbid) cost more than the preprocessed, preserved crap they (for the most part, in economy class) already serve. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the main requirement for an airline meal wasn't taste or quality, it was that there would be at least two different colours on the plate.

  41. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 12:31 am

    @TB and William: I certainly should have included onions and garlic on my list of things missing from a "bland" diet (though garlic might be a spice), but I'd never heard of satvika, shojin-ryori, or quan su, so thanks for the information. Maybe "bland" on Jet Airways is different from "bland" on Air New Zealand.

    @Clare: I think there are plenty of Americans who, if given three tasty lowest-common-denominator meals on a flight to India, would cancel their return tickets and try to find a way home with acceptable food. I'm not limiting it to the people I see here in New Mexico with bumper stickers that say, "Beef—real food for real people."

  42. Jack Collins said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 1:20 am

    Ordering the "Hindu vegetarian" meal on British Airways garners a MUCH tastier result than their regular vegetarian meal. The flight attendants are always a little confused because they are looking for an Asian in my seat.

  43. ShadowFox said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 4:22 am

    Judah Goldin, a couple of decades back, used to tell his airline food story. He was flying El Al, which generally offers all Kosher meal. In the middle of food service, one stewardess yelled through the cabin, "Who ordered a Glatt Kosher meal?" Goldin was quite incredulous–Glatt Kosher? Isn't regular Kosher enough??

    I soon found out that among some Israeli denominations of Judaism, Glatt Kosher is actually low grade, not high. They demand Kashrut certification by a specific rabbi, with visible signature. They will only fly on airlines that will cater to them (e.g., El Al and Canada Air). The meal comes multiply wrapped, with the Rabbinical signature card placed below the final plastic wrap. I was amazed, when I watched one such meal unwrapped, that it contained rice, a boiled chicken drumstick and some crackers, with a tea-bag and a small apple on the side. An average flight may carry 4-6 different Kashrut certifications, sometimes more.

  44. ShadowFox said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 4:26 am

    Barry Popik has more on Glatt Kosher.

  45. jo said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 7:52 am


    Interesting that in British Airways' list of meal types, the vegan meal is given the unusual (to me) designation of "Vegan vegetarian" as if it was a particular type of vegetarian diet along with lacto, Jain, etc. Maybe this is a case of nerdview, meaning that for some reason it makes sense to meal providers to think of vegan meals this way, even though it would not be obvious for a vegan to guess that the airline would consider their diet to be a type of vegetarianism.

  46. Ellen said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 8:39 am

    I can't vouch for the Vegan viewpoint, but it seems to me pretty normal for those of us who aren't Vegan nor Vegetarian to think of Veganism as a type of Vegetarian. So such thinking isn't nerdview. Now, I wouldn't write or say "Vegan Vegetarian", I would consider "Vegan" sufficient. Still, the idea that Vegan is a subtype of Vegetarian seems pretty normal.

  47. Terry Collmann said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    I thought the title actually referred to the domestic carrier, Indian Airlines

    That sort of confusion is one reason why British tradition is not to cap up the first letter in every word in headlines …

  48. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 11:46 am

    I think Clare and others could be right that many airlines collapse down the multiplicity of differently-named choices to fewer actual selections through a "lowest common denominator" (where "lowest" means "strictest") approach. One practical problem, however (at least for those who would like to avoid having their diet more strictly limited than they desire or feel obligated to do), is that there is not a single hierarchy or axis of strictness with the different options signifying different positions on it. For example, I often try to follow (with varying degrees of rigor and completeness) the complicated and ever-shifting seasonal dietary norms of the Eastern Orthodox Church, according to which there are a number of days in the year in which it is fine to eat fish but not eggs/dairy, but no occasions on which it is fine to eat eggs/dairy but not fish — which seems to invert the most common hierarchy-of-strictness found in the U.S. And the strictest EO dietary regime (for e.g. weekdays during Lent) is basically vegan, oh except shellfish are honorary vegetables and thus perfectly fine, oh and also you want to avoid wine and "oil" (which may mean just olive oil or may be any vegetable oil, depending on who you ask). This reflects an implicit hierarchy of strictness at least as idiosyncratic as the no onion-and-garlic one alluded to above.

    The linguistic point is perhaps that virtually none of these food categories (or the words which denote them) reflect any sort of coherent natural kind, and if you think they do you may not be taking a sufficiently hard look at the contingent/arbitrary features of your own culture.

  49. Jennifer said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    "Strict vegetarian" is often used to mean "vegan."

  50. Jim said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    "what I keep thinking of as the 'Seattle option' of vegetarian plus fish, "

    Yes, Brad, and here in Seattle we call that "pescatarian." A lot of people are basically pescatarian without thinking much about it, simply for the sake of variety – there is a lot bigger variety fish than of meat and often the quality is better.

  51. Heather Pringle said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    Here's another airline food story. For about 20 years, I was on something known as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which vetoes sugar; any kind of grain whatsoever (from rice and wheat to quinoa and flax); any milk product with the exception of a few types of cheese; and a host of other things. I existed on nut-flour muffins (that I made myself by laboriously grinding almonds and pecans into flour), carefully selected meat recipes and large fruit and vegetable salads. And I became an expert label-reader, discovering to my amazement how many products in the supermarket contain glucose, sucrose etc. I did this all for medical reasons and it worked extremely well, but I found it impossible to adhere to while I was travelling. I would parse all the airline diet choices (Air Canada had 7 or 8 in those days) meticulously, and try to find one that would fit with my very strict diet. It didn't exist, and I relied on my own bags of crumbly muffins to get me through long flights.

  52. David Stern said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    It's all true. And of course there are some people who won't trust any meal no matter how kosher because they don't trust the stewardesses, who
    usually aren't religious, out of the fear that some truly evil stewardess will unwrap all the plastic, immerse the boiled drumstick
    in pig lard, then professionally re-wrap the entire package. FYI: all meals on El Al are kosher (of some sort) but here's my own story: not on El Al, but on Tower, which was a charter line flying to Israel just like El Al,
    as a matter of principle, I tried to order a special non-kosher meal, figuring that if, someone who keeps kosher flying on a regular airline can order a
    kosher meal, then it was only fair that someone who doesn't keep kosher should be able to order a non-kosher tv meal on a kosher airline. Not only was it impossible but they almost threatened to cancel my ticket. I thought of taking it to the supreme court, but I just didn't have the time.

  53. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

    I don't think I've dealt too much with people who not only were but identified themselves as "pescetarian," but to judge by wikipedia such persons apparently should be presumed to be ok with dairy and eggs unless otherwise specified, which illustrates my point above about a "standard" U.S. hierarchy of strictness which my own intermittent practice rather inconveniently deviates from. (If you get a fish-based dish at a kosher "meat" restaurant, you can be sure it's dairy-free, but not egg-free, because the kosher notion of what counts as parve involves yet another venture in idiosyncratic line-drawing which does not necessarily map cleanly onto anyone else's categories.)

  54. Janice Huth Byer said,

    September 2, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    Although no expert on what constitutes Kosher, it's my understanding that the "Muslim/Moslem meal" would respect the same dietary restrictions – no pork, shellfish, etc. Western historians say early Islam adopted Jewish dietary laws wholesale in an attempt to make conversion more palatable to Jews . [With apologies for the pun to Some Guy :)]

  55. Philip Newton said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    @David Stern:

    > if, someone who keeps kosher flying on a regular airline can
    > order a kosher meal, then it was only fair that someone who
    > doesn't keep kosher should be able to order a non-kosher tv
    > meal on a kosher airline.

    If you can find someone whose religious or dietary requirements specifically prohibit them from eating kosher, then you have a point. Otherwise you're comparing apples ("can't eat non-kosher") to onions ("doesn't want to eat kosher").

  56. Dmajor said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    Welcome aboard It's An Airplane Not A Diner Airlines. Your meal choices today are (a) an Apple and (b) no Apple. Please make your selection and notify your servers as they reach your row.

  57. Adam said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    > If you can find someone whose religious or dietary requirements specifically
    > prohibit them from eating kosher, then you have a point. Otherwise you're
    > comparing apples ("can't eat non-kosher") to onions ("doesn't want to
    > eat kosher").

    I doubt there are many observant Jewish people who are physically incapable (allergies, intolerances accepted) of eating non-kosher food, they just prefer not to for religious reasons. There are those of us who believe kosher (and halaal for that matter) methods of slaughter are cruel and unnecessary and should neither be tolerated nor implicitly-supported. Why does one person's religious reasons trump another person's moral ones?

  58. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    Assuming that the moral objections to kosher/halal food as such are motivated solely by animal welfare concerns, the problem is easily solved without even needing to find another airline. If you consult, you will see that various meat-free (but presumably kosher) options are available, including some suitable for Hindus/Jains. No expressly halal options though. On the more Muslim-oriented side of the airline industry, all food on e.g. Gulf Air is said to be halal, but there are lots of meat-free alternatives (again including some targeted at Hindus etc.). No kosher options though.

  59. lynneguist said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    When I was first hospitalized for Ulcerative Colitis, the hospital put me on a 'bland diet'. It was the accepted name for a diet with not much spice at all, little grease or roughage. I assume that it's this medical-ish use of the term that is meant here, not any kind of religious preference.

  60. Sandra Wilde said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

    I think I've seen a similar menu for flights in N. America. I believe that there are actually only a small number of different meals, each of which satisfies the requirement of multiple categories.

  61. Karen said,

    September 6, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

    My (Brit) husband pointed out a standard UK food label: "suitable for vegetarians" – "…in whose opinion? I can think of lots of people who believe that roast beef is suitable for vegetarians."

  62. Eric said,

    September 8, 2009 @ 2:11 am

    I'd be interested to know what the value for X, Y, Z usually is.

  63. links for 2009-09-08 « Rumblegumption said,

    September 8, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    […] Language Log » Food Choices on Indian Airlines […]

  64. Gregg Painter said,

    September 13, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    It seems pretty clear to me that the passenger probably wanted a vegan meal, and it is not necessarily clear to me that a "strict vegetarian meal" excludes all animal-derived products (i.e. dairy products).

  65. Rich said,

    September 17, 2009 @ 12:02 am

    I wonder if this menu is more for health issues for the passengers. Diabetic, gout, hypertension, sufferers. Kind of one size fits all menu to meet everyones needs.

  66. rufus said,

    September 28, 2009 @ 6:57 am

    @ Jim. I've never heard of a 'pescetarian' which sounds a puzzle to pronounce. Here in the UK 'vegequarian' is sometimes used instead.

    On another topic, my first flight was on Dan Dare (Dan Air, long defunct) to Tel Aviv 25 years ago. All the food was certified Kosher but I could have sworn I was eating turkey breast roll surrounded by pork fat (a dish incomprehensibly popular in the UK at the time).

  67. Naomi Gertner said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

    Response to "Spell Me Jeff":
    Fascinating research, but may I set you, the readers and your Sikh source straight regarding Kosher meat. The animal(s) are slaughtered painlessly by a very very sharp knife at a point in the throat that is specified and learned by specialists. The name of G-d and prayer is said at the moment the blade strikes extremely quickly. The animal must not experience fear, nor be dragged to the place of slaughter. As for the blood-letting being cruel…the animal is already dead when that takes place; removal of all blood occurs as respect to the animal because it is believed that all Souls, which are an ethereal essence from G-d, join the earthly form of a body, within the blood. So to respect the Soul of the departed, one does not consume the essence {blood} which contained it's Heavenly Soul.

  68. Ash Nallawalla said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 5:43 am

    It seems that this thread hasn't been seen by Indians, so let me comment.

    For an Indian, non-vegetarian means fish, meat and eggs. Vegetarian means everything else. A Hindu vegetarian or Jain will usually turn a blind eye to eating eggs in ice-cream and sometimes in cakes, because those treats can't be avoided. :) An Indian vegetarian flying a Western domestic airline will be disappointed by what he is given as "vegetarian". I tried it once in Australia over 15 years ago and was horrified to get some powdered milk substitute and very bland food. I have not heard of Indian vegetarians who don't drink milk. When I lived there, I had not heard of "lacto-ovo" or "vegan".

    Bland has no common definition, but could be lightly spicy minus salt, or salty and slightly spicy. For some it might be just rice and yoghurt. For others, it might be Indian bread and yoghurt with some lightly spiced vegetables. To a southerner, all northern Indian food is bland. :)

  69. Indian Sydney said,

    August 23, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    What a good laugh we had when we read the article! Our favourite was the "bland" meal! Really entertaining. We are running an Indian Restaurant in Sydney and receive requests that are quite bizarre, but not quite that bizarre! Thank you!

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