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Food in the Air and Space: The Surprising History of Food and Drink in the Skies

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In the history of cooking, there has been no more challenging environment than those craft in which humans took to the skies. The tale begins with meals aboard balloons and zeppelins, where cooking was accomplished below explosive bags of hydrogen, ending with space station dinners that were cooked thousands of miles below.

This book is the first to chart that history worldwide, exploring the intricacies of inflight dining from 1783 to the present day, aboard balloons, zeppelins, land-based aircraft and flying boats, jets, and spacecraft. It charts the ways in which commercial travelers were lured to try flying with the promise of familiar foods, explains the problems of each aerial environment and how chefs, engineers, and flight crew adapted to them, and tells the stories of pioneers in the field. Hygiene and sanitation were often difficult, and cultural norms and religious practices had to be taken into account. The history is surprising and sometimes humorous—at times some ridiculous ideas were tried, and airlines offered some strange meals to try to attract passengers. It’s an engrossing story with quite a few twists and turns, and this first book on the subject tells it with a light touch.

233 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 2014

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Biblio Files (takingadayoff).
579 reviews292 followers
February 24, 2015
In the early days of commercial flight, a passenger could expect a thermos of coffee and a ham sandwich or cold fried chicken for lunch, and might have to pay for it. By the days of space flight, things were surprisingly similar -- astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich aboard Gemini 3. While the ham sandwich could have been a mess if it flew off the passenger's lap during turbulence, the corned beef in space was rather more of a problem. One bite of the sandwich sent a cloud of crumbs drifting into the zero-gravity capsule and in addition to being a nuisance floating around their faces, also threatened to clog vents and otherwise interfere with the delicate electronics on board.

Richard Foss covers the period from recreational hot air ballooning in the 18th century (champagne picnics) to the International Space Station (Pizza Hut). What did people eat in flight and how was it prepared? Being an airline enthusiast, I enjoyed the section on passenger flight the most, and I think Foss did also. The book is well researched, including menus, diaries and letters, as well as interviews.

The problem of how to heat food, let alone cook it, in flight was tricky and as we know, was not always successful. Then there's the problem of physiology -- our noses in pressurized cabins don't work very well which renders everything but the spiciest food quite bland. Foss explains these problems and the many attempts to overcome them. It's really very entertaining and I learned a lot about airline and space food. Five stars!
Profile Image for R.
339 reviews5 followers
December 11, 2021
Fun concept, meticulously researched. The early history of airline differentiation in a largely regulated and homogenous market was aerial food service.
Profile Image for Alf Rehn.
Author 20 books32 followers
July 25, 2023
Superb food history. Tight, fascinating, and with little too no boring repetition.
307 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2023
This's a nice history of airline food, with a couple chapters at the end on space food. There's nothing profound, and the author doesn't draw any conclusions; the motive forces are the well-known "Competitive Pressures," "Cost-Cutting," and "Customer Preference." But despite the lack of profundity, I thought it was fun to read about the airlines' inventiveness to get customers full meals before the end of the flight, only to have to give it up thanks to faster planes and then finally cost-cutting.
Profile Image for Drucilla.
2,452 reviews44 followers
January 14, 2016
Not only is this a history of airline food, but it's also a pretty nice overview of airline history/innovation. I was a little annoyed at first that there was so much focus on plane types and business mergers, but Foss is correct when he says that it's all tied together. I will admit it made me a little depressed. I'm lucky to get a bag of peanuts on my flights and people had multiple-course meals (at no extra charge) in the early days of flying. *sigh*
Profile Image for Hillary.
200 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2016
This was a really fascinating way to learn about the development of commercial air travel. Highly readable scholarly nonfiction (as opposed to nonfiction written for a general audience) is hard to find, but this fit the bill. Well illustrated with advertisements and photographs. It runs out of steam a bit at the end (the "space" chapters seem kind of tacked on), but that's my only criticism.
Profile Image for Heather.
841 reviews14 followers
March 16, 2015
LBC Bingo: Book Published this year

This was a fascinating look at the history of food served aloft. I think this would appeal highly to a narrow band of people, but would highly interest those few. The writing and organization wasn't perfect, but still a worthwhile read.
1,975 reviews6 followers
August 22, 2016
Wow. Outstanding . Read this on an international flight in dim lighting with lack of sleep. Despite this the book was amazing. I don't have a specific interest in the field but I still found the information presented in the book fascinating and well written..
Profile Image for S Modi.
145 reviews
March 22, 2016
Average writing, but I learned a great deal about the history of the aviation industry itself, along with its food. Was amazed to learn how altitude changes flavor!
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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