Some people ask themselves, ‘What will happen after I die?’
Others ask, ‘Is there a God?’
I simply ask, ‘Why is it that I absolutely HAVE to have tomato juice on an airplane?!?’
At first, I considered this to be my own private little quirk, then I noticed that other people had this same preference. And then, the few flight attendants I’ve met over the years confirmed that they serve tomato juice to a large proportion of their passengers. Then Google, wonder of wonders, showed me that people all over the world from all walks of life share my passionate craving in the air - but never on the ground.
It’s not an issue that keeps me up at night, but I just happened to think of it again when I met a friend for coffee recently and he ordered tomato juice. How odd, I thought. So I inquired about his in-flight tomato juice consumption habits and he just shrugged.
‘What? You mean you don’t have the same craving when you fly?’ I asked, surprised.
Perplexed, I went home and looked it up again on Google to discover that curiosity about the subject is overwhelming enough to have warranted a few scientific studies, the most recent one from February 2010 having pretty much the definitive explanation to this phenomenon. Apparently, in the lower cabin pressure, our taste buds are less receptive to certain flavors, and the tomato juice satisfies the higher intensity needed to taste anything at all. Whatever. It was a lot more scientific than that - leave it up to ze Germans (Der Spiegel magazine via the airline Lufthansa) to be scientific.
Still, many questions were left unanswered. Okay, so fruity flavors are better perceived - then why not grape juice? Apple juice? Orange juice? And what about Ginger Ale, my second most favorite in-flight beverage choice? Why don’t I crave 7-Up? Or Squirt? (Man, I love Squirt!). Also, I had heard on NPR not too long ago that it was actually the constant droning sound of the engines which dulled our senses of smell and taste, not just the air pressure. What’s the real story here?
I thought my mind was going to be put at ease about this topic, but instead, finding “The Answer” has only raised more questions. How is it that something, which is supposedly so readily explained scientifically, does not hold true for each person? Why do some of us crave tomato juice on an airplane while others feel perfectly content ordering a cola? Shouldn’t we all be the same? What is it about my taste bud sensitivity that sets me apart from or connects me to my fellow human beings?
Not only my dulled taste buds remain unsatisfied about this. Instead of feeling enlightened, I find myself oddly disappointed in learning that my hitherto inexplicable craving is not an anomaly -- just biological and chemical reactions to certain stimuli. And yet I feel a sense of belonging when I meet someone who shares my craving, and bewildered upon encountering people who do not.
I wish I could unlearn everything I just found out about low cabin pressure, dulled senses and beverage choices, and just marvel at my undying desire for tomato juice on an airplane. It’s the special trait I share with probably millions of fellow human beings - something that I can’t explain, but that I definitely feel and hold to be true.
It’s only a matter of time until ze Germans put their fastidious scientific methods to work exposing the truth about God and the Afterlife. Even if they prove that there is enough evidence to support one theory or the other, this will not possibly be able to apply to all human beings. Otherwise we would all crave tomato juice, wouldn’t we?
I don’t feel compelled to convince the passenger in seat 9-B that he needs to want tomato juice, too. But I accept tomato juice as my personal beverage choice on an airplane. Take it the way you want it -- with pepper, tabasco, vodka, a twist of lemon or as is -- and enjoy! You are one of us!!