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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pastagate! Livin' high on the hog at 35,000 feet

Challenged by a Koch Bros front group, NC Congresscritter Renee Ellmers has come out against Italian food:
Ellmers’ outgunned campaign is fighting back. It released a radio ad Thursday attacking Holding for a recent "first-class trip to Jordan," a spokesman for Ellmers confirmed. 
“For Congress, we have a choice between a man who fancies cheese tortellini … and one powerful conservative in Renee Ellmers,” the radio ad says. “George Holding voted against the farm bill, against military funding to defeat ISIS. But Holding voted for cheese tortellini when selecting his meal for a recent first-class ticket on a trans-Atlantic flight that he billed to you, the taxpayer.”
After the North Carolina congressional redistricting plan was tossed out in February for racial bias, a new plan lumped Ellmers and fellow Republican critter George Holding into the same district.  Ellmers, a Teabagger who dithered about the last government shutdown and whether she should draw her pay (she did), has fallen from favor. She also got crossways on ideological nuances with NC Congressman Walter Jones, who let slip a rumor Ellmers was carryin' on with California Rep. Kevin McCarthy- whose campaign to be House speaker last year foundered after he confessed the endless House Benghazi investigation was just ginned up to drive Hillary Clinton's popularity down in the presidential race.

So it's a tough race, and little surprise it is turning into a food fight.

But will North Carolina voters, obsessed by genital regulation, take time off to calibrate the moral and fiscal implications of airline food on the nation's future?

Cheese tortellini has been around airline galleys forever, and it is possible, though rare, to get it done well. A Business Insider writer, Jacqueline Smith, had it recently on a UK-US flight with La Compagnie, a small business-class carrier:
Passengers had a choice of chicken in a red wine sauce, or spinach and cheese tortellini served with warm bread. I went with the pasta. It was simple, yet flavorful. And the portion sizes were perfect.
But that article came out today, and Congressman Holding's congressional delegation trip was thirteen months ago, Roll Call reported:
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, is leading a delegation that will culminate in a meeting in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who just won re-election and addressed a joint meeting of Congress earlier this month. 
According to readouts from the speaker's office, the group started out in Manchester, England, and made a stop in Amman, Jordan. Discussions have centered around sustaining U.S. relationships with longtime allies and recognizing the threat Iran could pose in the Middle East should diplomacy fail to rein in the Islamic republic's nuclear program. In a taped interview for "State of the Union" that aired Sunday, Boehner said the House would take action to sanction Iran if talks reached an impasse. 
Boehner filled out his CODEL with "senior lawmakers charged with oversight of the United States' efforts to defeat the terrorist threat and support our partners in the region." They are also all Republicans, and many of them count themselves among Boehner's closest friends: Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California; Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline of Minnesota; Middle East and North African Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida; Appropriations Subcommittee Chairmen Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Ken Calvert of California and Mike Simpson of Idaho; and Reps. Martha Roby of Alabama and George Holding of North Carolina.
Still, it might have been a decent meal. Around that time, James Larounis reviwed the tortellini on AA for The Forward Cabin:
On the meal tray included: 
A Mediterranean style salad with a Greek vinaigrette dressing
A pita bread, hummus and olive starter
Warm pretzel roll
Chicken Spinach and Cheese Tortellini (With roasted garlic Alfredo sauce and sun blushed tomatoes) 
Here are my impressions of the meal: 
The pasta was quite delicious, and I actually had hoped for an even larger portion since I was hungry, though it was a smaller size because of lunch. It could use a bit of spice, though, so add some pepper on top if you like a bit of a kick. 
The hummus side did not have enough hummus, but I’ve had other flights with more included. 
The pretzel roll was delicious, and not stale.
This continues to be a good “old standby” meal, and I’ll order it again on my next flight if the meat option does not look as appetizing.
Not that it terribly matters: Wikipedia's entry on airline food notes:
Meals must generally be frozen and heated on the ground before takeoff, rather than prepared fresh. Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Albright College who wrote about the history of airline meals, said that the higher altitudes alter the taste of the food and the function of the taste buds; according to de Syon the food may taste "dry and flavorless" as a result of the pressurization and passengers, feeling thirsty due to pressurization, many drink alcohol when they ought to drink water. Tests have shown that the perception of saltiness and sweetness drops 30% at high altitudes. The low humidity in airline cabins also dries out the nose which decreases olfactory sensors which are essential for tasting flavor in dishes.
Last summer a writer on  described the Lucullan repast, a staple of American Airlines' sky cuisine:
Cheese Tortellini with Romano Sauce – Homemade tortellini stuffed with three cheeses, topped with tomato, mushroom and mozzarella sauce, Parmesan cheese and parsley... 
I’ve had the Cheese Tortellini before in the previous years of flying on American, but don’t know how this version is. This dish is also known as Stuffed Shells or a variation of pasta with a large helping of pasta sauce. I opted for the chicken breast since it seemed like a safe option and I’m currently sick of having pasta.
A Gawker correspondent traveling to Europe on American got cheese tortellini in economy class. Henry Blodgett, the former Wall Streeter, said his wasn't the best pasta  he'd ever eaten, but neither was it the worst.  AA also serves it with tomato sauce.

In 2005, a correspondent at flew Paris to DC to LA on United and chafed at getting cheese tortellini on all three legs of her flight. It was, she wrote, "the regular meal."

In 2000, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman considered cheese tortellini just one of the standard-issue ripoffs of air travel:
When you're begging for a second bag of peanuts (the flight attendants will generally take pity, and even allow three or four), even the thought of smoked turkey and American cheese on a soggy croissant with yellow mustard and wilted lettuce (served with a box of raisins the size of a priority-mail stamp and a brownie so sweet your teeth hurt) can make your mouth water. And the reality of one of those sandwiches is enough to make you really believe that your heart and stomach long for nothing more than baked tortellini with cheese sauce or steak in wine sauce (known in high school as Salisbury steak, and little changed since then). 
Some airlines hire chef consultants. They correctly perceive the situation as a public relations problem, but incorrectly believe that by attaching a chef's name to a bad meal it will magically become a good one. Although chefs can provide ingenious recipes, they cannot compensate for third-rate ingredients, precooking in stages, freezing and thawing, microwaving and reheating, and cafeteria- and battlefieldlike conditions. Substitutions and shortcuts are fine, but you still cannot make roast chicken without a chicken and an oven.
In October that year, Popular Mechanics compared MREs- the standard military rations- to airline food, and declared the airline food significantly better- even the cheese tortellini.

So how much did Holding stick the taxpayers for?

In 2010, United Airlines let economy passengers pre-reserve a chicken tortellini first-class meal for $19.00. That's hardly gonna balance the budget.

But the Ellmers as also stresses that Holding flew first class. More tax waste!

Never mind that members only get into business or first class via paying personally, or getting an upgrade like everyone else. Of course, since congresscritters fly home and back nearly every week, it's easy to rack up plenty of frequent flyer points. In addition, members on official business travel at a government ticket rate, which saves taxpayers still smarting over Holding's fancy tastes.

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