Airplane food may be the butt of many, many jokes, but Matt Goulding admits to craving "the plastic tray of overcooked veggies, insipid sauces, and industrial condiments." And no, he's not joking. But he's quick to point out that context matters. "I've only eaten a handful of meals in my life on an airplane that would satisfy me back on Earth," he writes for Roads & Kingdoms in a piece highlighted on Slate. But in the air, there's a lot going on that you may not realize. For one, your ability to perceive saltiness and sweetness can plunge by 30%, which makes the delicate flavors of chicken and pasta taste just plain awful.
A plane's lights and engine also impact your flavor awareness, and cabins mess with your odor receptors, too. And then there are other weird considerations for the airline (like whether to pay extra to cut cherry tomatoes in half so they don't roll). Put it all together and in the end, "the fact that we are served even mediocre meals constitutes a minor miracle in kitchen science," writes Goulding. But there's a way to make your next experience with that minor miracle a bit tastier: Go for the sauciest dish, use those salt and pepper packets pronto, and always choose chicken over oft-reheated pasta. Read his full column here.