A wider waistline thanks to aviation

Thanksgiving is upon us. Then comes Christmas and the New Year and an encounter with that dirty lying scoundrel known as the bathroom scale. I will gain weight over the coming weeks. You may well add a few ounces to your frame as well. Thank aviation for that bonus of winter girth. Thank it all year long, too.

The holidays typically bring to mind cheerful thoughts of family gathered around a beautifully set table. Delicious, perfectly cooked foods lay on that most important gathering spot. The kitchen is bustling and filled with laughter, while the cooks sample this and that as they work. The variety of foods on the table is larger during this season than it is all year. Or at least it seems so.

Now, I have travelled in my life. More than some, not as widely as others. But I have found my way through large portions of the United States, a smattering of islands off the coast, and a foray or two into Europe.

I mention this because Thanksgiving is on our doorstep and a deliciously wide assortment of gastronomic delights are banging on the door to our imagination. Yet in all my travels, I have not come across a boat filled with lobstermen or shrimpers while in Arkansas or Missouri. The cranberry bogs of Arizona have eluded me. I can also admit the kiwi orchards of Massachusetts have proven to be every bit as well hidden as the mango groves of New York and expansive citrus packing houses of Indiana.

I wonder, is it possible that aviation, that most hated of all activities, populated entirely by rich, selfish playboys bent on destroying the atmosphere and squandering the natural resources of the planet, could it be that aviation plays a role in delivering the repast that American families will gather around and rejoice of? Yes! Yes, I believe it does. It has. It will continue to deliver fresh food from one part of the planet to another. It will continue to deploy icky chemical agents to the fields that increase the crop yield. It will persist. Thank goodness.

Of course items of basic need can be shipped by air just as easily as decadent items of rarity or scarcity. Delicacies like Scottish salmon may ship in one direction, while cherries from the United States cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction. Is one more important than the other? That probably depends on your perspective. If you were hoping to add a slice of avocado to your salad, or fresh peaches to your cobbler, or whip up a bit of mango chutney for the holidays, you had better become a fan of global air freight. Most of those items are not available from local farms in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Maryland, or Utah during the holiday season.

The next time you hear someone attack aviation as a wasteful, selfish, non-productive plaything of the rich you might want to share that information with them. Unless they’re eating foods they canned themselves throughout the growing season, the odds are good that they’re already benefiting from the industry they see as a problem. Then again, there might be an even better story to share with them.

Consider the travels of Plumpy’ Nut.

UNICEF works with various humanitarian organizations to combat what they perceive to be deficient nutritional opportunities for children. Put another way, they’re trying to combat starvation in the Third World, particularly in children. One of the tools they have been employing with great effect is a processed food known as Plumpy’ Nut. They refer to it as a “ready to use therapeutic food.”

Rest assured, Plumpy’ Nut is not delivered from the factory to the recipient on the back of a donkey. It travels long distances in one of two ways. It travels by sea or by air. Of the two, which do you suppose has the ability to deliver emergency food supplies to a starving population more quickly, a lumbering ship at sea or a turbine-powered aircraft?

When you think of it in those terms, the value of aviation becomes fairly obvious, doesn’t it?

The long and the short of it is this: Whether you’ve got a craving for fresh Maine lobster and hope to impress your friends at a holiday party, or you’re awaiting a lifesaving container of Plumpy’ Nut to feed your starving child, aviation plays a role in your life. In fact, if you fall anywhere in between those two gastronomic opposites, aviation plays a role in your life, too.

So at least for this next few weeks, let me suggest we drop the hyperbole, stop trying to demonize one group of people in order to ingratiate ourselves to another group of people, and accept the simple, obvious, inescapable fact that aviation truly, honestly, and consistently plays a positive role in the life of virtually every person on the face of the planet.

Now go have a happy holiday season, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate. And when you see contrails overhead remember to say a word of thanks. Whether that airplane is carrying caviar or emergency food aid — we’re lucky to have the option available to us.

Gaining a pound or two doesn’t seem quite so unpleasant now, does it?


  1. Maynard McKillen says

    Jamie, you speak of a need to drop the hyperbole, but you concoct a straw-man, catch-all broadside like “… aviation, that most hated of all activities, populated entirely by rich, selfish playboys bent on destroying the atmosphere and squandering the natural resources of the planet…”

    So, you’re not guilty of a bit of hyperbole? Haven’t you implied the existence of a boogey-man group of aviation-haters?

    It seems you repeat the hyperbole when you say, “The next time you hear someone attack aviation as a wasteful, selfish, non-productive plaything of the rich…”

    I have friends of all political persuasions, pilots and non-pilots, and I have yet to hear anyone give voice to an “all-aviation-is-bad” mentality. Even if I hear one person speak such sentiments, I won’t make him a movement, I’ll merely make note that I have encountered a crackpot.

    In defending all aviation, you lump the rich, selfish, playboys in with the cargo pilots, military pilots, commercial pilots, crop dusters and bush pilots. I hope you and I agree that rich, selfish playboys should never have any greater influence than any other faction on the accessibility of the nation’s airspace.

    Yet credible argument can be made that supply-side economic policies have done exactly that. Private, non-commercial, non-corporate aviation is in a sad state, and yes, selfish, rich playboys have done their part to make it so. It shouldn’t be so. The economic status quo is not any kind of new normal, nor is it inevitable. No one should shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, well, such is life.”

    If you want to adopt a persona that says, “C’mon guys, we’re all in this together!”, you have to be willing to criticize those who deserve criticism, or you undermine your own premise.

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