Air India served me beets today.

That’s right.

One of the most hated vegetables in the world was served to me today by the national carrier of our country. Google it. Beets consistently figure in the lists of most hated vegetables in the world.

Namaste

But, let’s back up a bit first.

I know people love talking crap about Air India. They love to criticise their customer service, their aircrafts, their air hostesses, their punctuality and their financial situation. I am not one of those people. I love Air India and love travelling with them.

They provide enough leg room to sit comfortably, and stretch our legs. Their seats are much more comfortable than any other domestic airlines that I have travelled with. They mostly leave from the international terminal, which is far less crowded than the domestic one.

And most of all, I like their mascot. The Maharaja.

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I also like the fact that not all of its air hostesses look like these pretty twenty something girls wearing a plastic smile at all times. It shows that Air India doesn’t care about your age or looks and gives equal opportunity to everyone. The air hostesses look like hard working, sturdy, experienced, genuine people who do not keep their real feelings veiled under a fake smile.

For example, today a guy was on a phone call while the aircraft was getting ready for takeoff. I had seen the air hostess asking him once to shut it off before she went away to attend some other passenger.

He didn’t switch it off and continued to talk.

So, she came back again, with no smiles this time, and said these exact words in a rather angry voice, “How many times do I have to tell you to switch off your phone? Do you not see the signs or hear the announcements?”

She stood there with that annoyed look on her face, staring straight at the guy. There was a moment of silence, when the guy kept looking at the lady, mouth half open in disbelief. He hadn’t seen air hostesses like this before. (Probably his first and last time with Air India)

Finally, he switched it off, and mumbled a quiet “Sorry, madam.”

I liked that. Some passengers do need a kick in the butt. If this was a private airline, the pretty airhostess would come and ask him again, with a fake smile, to switch off the phone and then probably go back, cursing him silently. Of course, the guy will not switch it off and would continue to talk till the aircraft takes off and telephone signals vanish.

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Anyway, I was sleeping when one of the air hostesses nudged me awake and asked me if I wanted a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian meal. I opted for the latter.

She came back 5 minutes later and told me that they ran out of non vegetarian meals and offered me a vegetarian meal instead. Being an ideal, understanding passenger, who did not want to end up on the bad side of an Air India air hostess, especially after seeing what happened to the other guy, I nodded yes.

The plate had a small bun, a yellow coloured sweet (Don’t know what it is called), some peanuts, and, get this, a box of steamed white rice with cooked colacassia (Arbi) and beets on either side of it.

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Now, let’s get this clear. I do not think anyone cares about airline food. I mean, when was the last time you depended on an airline to provide you a decent meal. When was the last time you thought, it would really ruin my day if I am not served a good meal on my flight today.

In fact sometimes, we want them to not serve us anything so that we could be spared off all the commotion that goes around with dragging that big food trolley and just drift off to sleep. I remember this one time, I was flying late on a private airline and fell asleep almost instantly after the plane took off. It was a beautiful, calming, relaxing, sleep.

You know the kind that takes you above the white cotton clouds into a land where there are butterflies, unicorns and rainbows. You see yourself running around happily in a lush green garden, with beautiful flowers, and cute waterfalls. At the far end you see an old man playing a beautiful tune on a harp while fairies played around with rabbits, puppies and kittens. It was one of those soul satisfying happy naps.

And then an air hostess woke me up and handed me a plate of stinking spinach and stale bread. I literally wanted to punch a hole in the seat in front of me. What the hell!

I know maybe they are under some obligation to serve food to everyone, but come on, when it’s 3 am and you see someone sleeping, how can your heart permit you to wake him up and serve a plateful of foul food.

Seriously!!

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Anyway, coming back to the beets. I didn’t eat it, obviously. I know arbi (colacassia) is just as bad but the reason why I am not saying anything about it is because people were eating it. I guess it was the lesser of the two evils.

I walked around the aisle from row 25 to 35, pretending I needed to use the lavatory, and shamelessly peeked into the plates of all the fellow passengers, and sure enough, arbi was gone, and beets were still there. Some did not even touch it. Some had a spoonful and decided to never touch it again. I bet if you look into Air India’s garbage bin today, you would see a lot of beets.

Many of you are probably thinking, why am I making a big deal out of this? So, they served a vegetable that you do not like. Happens, right?

I am completely aware that I am on a 2 hour flight from Chennai to Mumbai, and having paid around Rs.5000/- for the ticket, I cannot exactly hope for a meal with caviar and imported wine.

It is not about the beets. It is not. It is about the decision to serve beets.

Why would a reputed airline serve a vegetable that is considered to be one of the most hated vegetables in the world?

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Imagine yourself deciding on a menu for your birthday party. You would probably like to offer food that will be liked by most people. (It is impossible to please everyone). You certainly won’t offer food that most people hate.

Just ask yourself, when was the last time you had a killer craving for beets? Or how many of your friends or family members eat beets voluntarily? (Like, without a doctor’s prescription.)

There is a reason why they don’t put beets in a pizza. Or there isn’t a beet flavoured birthday cake. It will ruin the pizza or any dish that it is a part of. It will also turn your teeth and tongue red and leave an ugly stain on your t-shirt if it falls on it.

So, I decided to find out who is responsible for the beets in the flight meal. I found this small piece of paper which said “Taj Madras Flight Kitchen Pvt Ltd.”

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Aha! Another big brand. Interesting…

It seems like Air India have entered into a catering contract with the Taj group for the in-flight catering services. We have all heard of the Taj Mahal hotel. Whenever I visit Colaba, I look at the Taj hotel before looking at Gateway of India. It looks so elegant and beautiful. I was heartbroken, like the rest of my countrymen when few years back a group of terrorists invaded the hotel and set its dome on fire. I wanted the terrorists to die a painful death for killing so many innocent people and damaging one of Mumbai’s jewels.

Now apparently, a catering service belonging to the same group of hotels had served me the beets. Lapse in judgement??

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But then, it is hard to believe that Taj had served food to the passengers of a flight, without getting the menu approved from Air India first. I mean, if you are throwing a party and decide to hire a caterer, the caterer prepares the food, but you decide on what they cook. Right?

So, somewhere out there is an Air India official, with a designation like In-flight Meals Manager, who is actually responsible for the beets. Now the question was, why did he choose one of the most disliked vegetables in the world. What were his compulsions?

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The cost, I thought!

So, as soon as we landed in Mumbai and I boarded a taxi, I Google’d the vegetable prices in Chennai. (Click here for the list)

Since the flight was from Chennai, I assumed that the beets must have been bought there.

Sure enough, 1 KG of beetroots costs Rs.40 and is among the cheapest vegetables in the list.

Now let’s look at other vegetables that the manager could have opted for in the same price range.

Capsicum- Rs.35/KG          

Baby Corn- Rs.40/KG

Potato- Rs. 35/KG

Onions- Rs. 35/KG

All of these sound better than beets. Doesn’t it?

I mean wouldn’t you prefer some onion rings or potato wedges or stir fry baby corns instead of beets?

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Or did the manager look at the list, let out a devilish laugh and said, “Feed them beets!!”

Then it struck me. I had it all wrong. It is not like Air India and Taj group did not care for us. They do. They actually do. I asked myself what good can potato wedges, or onion rings to do my health? Beets are very healthy and clearly the manager chose it because of its nutritional values.

Sure, they taste like dirt but they have vitamins A, B and C.

Sure, they are disgusting to look at but it is scientifically proven that they can treat depression and lower blood pressure.

It is said that beets were even grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the ancient wonders of the world.

Also, beets have a thing called tryptophan, which relaxes the mind and creates a sense of well being. You know what else has tryptophan?

Chocolates.

So, it was almost like Air India served us chocolates. Almost!

(And I would not be writing this post if I ate the beets because then I would have a relaxed mind and a sense of well being.)

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So, I would like to formally thank Air India and its In-Flight Meal Manager, for actually caring for its passengers and serving us good food.

But I can’t help but think about all the good beet that was wasted today. Wasting food is a crime.

So here is a small suggestion. Next time when you are serving beets, make sure that you include a small info sheet listing out its benefits. People out there do not seem to know how good beets are. We need to be educated about beets.

And if they don’t eat it even then, bring in the air hostesses.

“Do you not know how good beets are for you? Can you not read the info sheet? Finish your beets, now!”

Jokes aside, I should have eaten those beets because apparently, nothing beats a beet.

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