airplane meals

Included Food Photo Project

Before I left I thought about doing some sort of photo project to consistently document my trip. I’d watched epic selfie videos and drooled over wanderlust Instagrams like everyone else, but knew I didn’t have the technical or creative insight to make something at that level. I departed not knowing what I would photograph, what theme would be the best or most fun way to chronicle my year. Then I happened to snap a quick picture of my airplane meal, my first meal of the trip, and I had a flash of inspiration that turned into a full-scale international photo project: I would photograph the included food I ate around the world.

This subject was not about the epic but the mundane, and that was what piqued my interest. It was a reflection of my daily life – this was the food I ate because I was a budget traveler who would eat anything I was given to save money – and hopefully would be a reflection of the locations as well. As a reminder, here’s some of what I wrote when this idea came to me:

I’ve been thinking about doing a sort of photo project on this trip. I want to focus on something(s) that is consistent but has variety within each place. … As I was handed my first of 4 airplane treats today (seriously they love to feed us) I quickly thought to snap a picture. Part of being a traveler on a budget is taking advantage of what’s included in any price you pay. Breakfast included is one of the things I look for when I book a hostel. It’s usually not stellar, but it can save a lot of money over time.

So I’m playing with the idea of taking a picture of all the “meals included” I get. I’m sure they’ll vary everywhere I end up, and it could turn out to be an interesting story of what different places think should be complimentary. Also, so many people document their food these days. Typically they show food that is pleasing to look at as well as tasty, and often from great but not inexpensive restaurants. This is sort of a play on that – I won’t be paying for pretty food, but here’s what I got. And maybe it won’t look worth documenting alone, but that isn’t really the point. I wouldn’t be photographing food for food porn but as more of a cultural experiment. Who knows, maybe every hostel in the world thinks rolls and sliced meats and cheese are breakfast. Or maybe what is offered will end up reflecting the location.

96 pictures later I’ve completed this culinary and anthropological photographic study. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results. The driving force behind it – that the included meals were a reflection of location – turned out to be pretty accurate. Brazil had the best fruit, white bread rolls were standard in South America, omelets and pancakes appeared in Southeast Asia, and cornflakes were universal. Australasia didn’t believe in complimentary food in budget accommodation or transportation – there are only 7 pictures from New Zealand, 3 from the same place, and 4 from Australia, 2 from the same place.

The fundamental requirement for the meals I documented was food that was included in my accommodation or transportation that I ate because it would save me money so I wouldn’t have to buy a meal elsewhere. It was about the places I decided to stay and what they came with. If they had rolls with butter and jam available till noon, I ate that for breakfast and lunch so I didn’t have to waste money on other food. If there were multiple options I photographed each one, which is why some places have a few pictures to show the variety. In the case of America del Sur in Buenos Aires I just photographed the entire breakfast bar – it was unlike any other option I had the whole trip. I would always wait until all of the food was there to take the picture, which was sometimes hard in the places where breakfast was served at a leisurely pace and I had woken up starving.

I did not include food that was part of a package deal, like the Amazon or Fraser Island, because in paying for the tour I was also paying for the meals. I did not include food that was paid for in hotels when my family came because those were not places I chose to stay or would fit in my budget; I didn’t have to eat the included breakfast because I didn’t have to worry about paying for my meals. These meals were my choices as a backpacker – I can’t tell you how many times I would forgo a meal for hours knowing that my flight would give me something, or mornings I consumed instant coffee and cornflakes purely to fill my stomach for the first part of the day.

I decided to show these pictures unedited. I think the lighting is important to convey the sense of where and when I was, whether it’s sideways illumination from the airplane window, dull light from an early morning, or no light on an overnight bus. Something that was unexpectedly interesting to me about these pictures was the backgrounds. The table set-ups and airplane trays became just as important to me as the food itself.

So here it is, the final result of my Included Food Photo Project. If only I’d come up with a more inventive name…

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Day 1 – All Travel

I ate all my meals on planes today. On the one hand, it’s a good way to start the trip. I didn’t actually spend any additional money (except on some M&Ms and a trashy magazine, the travel essentials). On the other hand, it means I just ate plane food all day. Which, as we all know but may have forgotten if you have only taken domestic US flights where they’d rather make you buy something or starve, is not great food. But it’s free food nonetheless. I’ve had some great plane food in the past – El Al to Israel was definitely the best, complete with hummus and champagne – but this was just regular old pollo or carne. At least they gave me wine with dinner!

My first flight from JFK to Bogota was actually quite pleasant. The seats were fairly comfortable and they reclined way more than I’m used to, the scrambled eggs weren’t too bad, and I had my choice of movies and TV shows. It made me wish that US flights were more like this. I got through breakfast and The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I thoroughly enjoyed, you should see it if you haven’t), then, just like the rest of the plane, I fell asleep. I’ve never been on such a quiet flight. I swear 90% of the plane was sleeping for at least an hour or two. By the time I woke up we were an hour an a half away from Bogota. A few TV shows later and I was in South America.

International flights still include checked luggage, and having my backpack checked through to Sao Paulo really alleviated the stress of this layover. The security to get to my connecting flight was quick and painless, so I had time to stroll around. And what was the first thing I heard when I walked into the Bogota terminal? Danza Kudro.

Some of you reading this know what that means (assuming you guys read this, you know who you are). Others probably have no idea why that matters. Danza Kudro became the anthem of our trip to Peru in 2012. We heard it, and danced to it, everywhere. I can’t say I remember much of the dance anymore, but hearing it within minutes of entering South America was both hilarious and comforting. It reminded me of how great that trip was, and except for the sadness of not having my friends with me this time, it made me excited for my next adventure. It also just made me laugh.

Since security was so quick, I had plenty of time to kill in the airport till my next flight to Sao Paulo. I quickly learned that airport waits are not as bad when the World Cup is happening. It was on every TV in the terminal, so I settled into a seat in front of the huge curved flat screen, along with a decent sized crowd. I was just in time to see Argentina pull off a win at the end of their game, then had to wait a quick hour until the Germany vs Ghana game started. Even though I couldn’t understand the Colombian announcers, they were so entertaining. The quick talking and excitement when anyone got remotely close to shooting on goal made me smile every time. And I wasn’t the only one. I can’t wait to hear the announcers in Brazil.

I got to see the whole first half before I had to board, and I boarded worried. As of writing this, I still don’t know what happened. 0-0 at the half was unsettling. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big Germany fan. After the US of course.) Hours later when I got internet: I just found out the score. HOW DID THEY TIE? WHAT ARE YOU DOING GERMANY? I am not happy. Moving on.

My second flight started out much different. Apparently Avianca doesn’t warn anyone when you’re in or in front of an exit aisle. This caused some seat shuffling and one passenger demanding a refund since her seat wouldn’t recline. I had no idea I wasn’t going to be able to recline for 5.5 hours either, but at least I was able to get my window seat back after they tried to give it away. When everyone calmed down it was an easy flight again, I had the pollo, and two more movies later we were almost in Sao Paulo.

Two things that came out of this whole day of travel: 1) I seriously need to work on my Spanish and Portuguese. 2) I’ve been thinking about doing a sort of photo project on this trip. I want to focus on something(s) that is consistent but has variety within each place. I am already thinking of taking a picture of my view every morning to show the variety of accommodations, and I want to take pictures of my bags as time goes on and in different locations, since I’m sure they’ll get beat up. But as I was handed my first of 4 airplane treats today (seriously they love to feed us) I quickly thought to snap a picture. Part of being a traveler on a budget is taking advantage of what’s included in any price you pay. Breakfast included is one of the things I look for when I book a hostel. It’s usually not stellar, but it can save a lot of money over time.

These free meals will vary, like my Israel flight meal did from today’s chicken and rice. Or the German hotels’ cold cuts for breakfast did from my Istanbul hostel’s rolls and cucumbers. So I’m playing with the idea of taking a picture of all the “meals included” I get. I’m sure they’ll vary everywhere I end up, and it could turn out to be an interesting story of what different places think should be complimentary. Also, so many people document their food these days. Typically they show food that is pleasing to look at as well as tasty, and often from great but not inexpensive restaurants. This is sort of a play on that – I won’t be paying for pretty food, but here’s what I got. And maybe it won’t look worth documenting alone, but that isn’t really the point. I wouldn’t be photographing food for food porn but as more of a cultural experiment. Who knows, maybe every hostel in the world thinks rolls and sliced meats and cheese are breakfast. Or maybe what is offered will end up reflecting the location.

Anyway, it’s just an idea right now. But so far I have pictures of today’s breakfast and dinner, on tray tables of course. I’ll try it out at my hostels this week (all with breakfast included) and see if it’s as interesting as I think it has the potential to be. I’ll keep you updated.

For now, I have arrived, but I have arrived at an airport hotel after midnight just to pass out. Tomorrow I will really arrive in Sao Paulo. Maybe then I’ll post the “I was dancing in the street in excitement that I’m finally doing this” post. Although I’m still not sure when what I’m doing will actually sink in.