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What if the airport was a huge farmer’s market?

May 11th, 2012 14 Comments

Just go with me for a second.

When we go to their airport, we walk down an aisle of fast food and are forced to choose between the lesser of many evils – processed snacks, frozen and then fried meals, food infused with preservatives, sterilized or canned veggies, over-sized desserts, and candy bars galore.

Carrying my homemade salad, I pass by these “restaurants” feeling so bad for people who travel often.  They have no choice but to consume this crap.  Then I think about how uneducated people are surrounding what they eat.  Even if there were fresh options, would they chose them?  Finally I come to, it’s a shame this is all a money game.  Processed food lasts longer and is cheaper than fresh food so the margin is higher for the airport and businesses.  OR IS IT??!

Farmers produce TONS of crop they are dying to sell to sustain their business.  The airport has a high demand for food, turns it over quickly, and sells it at high profit margin.  What if the farmers created fresh meals everyday and came to sell them at booths in the airport?  Since they wouldn’t need a kitchen or much manpower, the airports would generate a bigger profit.  Travelers could then choose from a variety of fresh and healthy foods!

Put the current food vendors aside; they’ve had their hayday.  Imagine they’re gone.  All that is left are magazine stands and retailers.  Now, fill up the old McDonald’s and Taco Bell that used to be dishing out deep-fried fat with friendly faces handing over sliced meat sandwiches and tossed salads.  Baked potatoes, chilled veggie sides, and homemade pastries are other options for you.  Each booth has a different flavor:  Mexican, Italian, Greek, BBQ, etc.  Everything was locally grown  then washed and sliced that day before being made into a hand-crafted meal just for you.  Take your meal to a group of tables or a bar nearby and enjoy!

Now my mind is going wild with ideas of developing the area around airports to support this concept.  Farmers would plant their crops nearby; community kitchens open to prepare the meals; airlines join in and have their planes stocked with the local food.

Everyone wins!

A dream that will never be realized I’m sure, but my hope is that as mainstream America becomes more conscious, these changes will be welcomed and embraced by businesses.

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  • Unfortunately, you’re right that this dream will never be realized. The idea of local foods sold at airports is a really nice idea– but yeah, probably not gonna happen. You’re right that typically unhealthier foods make higher profit margins than healthy, organic foods– but it’s not necessarily so much because processed foods last longer. I think it’s more because grain and corn- the main ingredients in most unhealthy junk foods– are subsidized by the government, whereas fruits and veggies and other healthier foods are not.
    So: 1.there isn’t really an incentive for farmers to be producing enough of these healthy crops to keep the prices low enough for buyers without the subsidies and 2. Like you said, terrible profit margins.

    You can’t really appeal to manufacturers or consumers en masse to change their habits and food decisions by popping up cute local farmer stands in airports and offering tasty, healthy foods It’s all about the $$$. I think if people truly want to enact change in the types of foods that are offered en masse to the American people by manufacturers and restaurants, etc, we need to focus our efforts on legislation and encourage counter-lobbying to the powerful agriculture orgs that have a heavy hand in current agricultural policy. Unfortunately not that many people care about this, so it’s highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. It’s a nice thought though.

  • AVa

    What airport are you referring to? I travel a lot and never have a problem finding healthy, fresh options. Or (gasp!), I bring my own food.

    • As you can see in my post Ava, I bring my own food too! Either a salad or quinoa with chicken. Along with a couple snacks: dark chocolate, gnu bar, nuts, or a clementine.

    • The JetBlue terminal at JFK is pretty impressive. SFO is also amazing, but that’s 2 out of 100’s!

  • Brittany

    I’ve honestly never had trouble finding something reasonably healthy to eat at various airports across the US, Europe, and South America, and I travel by air about once a month. If there is nothing and I really don’t feel like eating junk (although sometimes I certainly do), I simply hold off on eating for a few hours. It’s never seemed like a big deal to me.

  • dallas

    I’ve worked in management roles in airports in Australia, and the model here might be different to the US, but here the problem is that the prices and choices are forced from the top down. Airport owners (here they are corporations, not sure how they are structered in America) know the tenants have a captive market and charge exhorbitant square footage rates because of it. Leasees also need to pay shift work rates for employees who work around the clock. Because of this, we see a proliferation of chain “restaurants” at airports. The larger chains can absorb the extra costs because they have more leverage in the market place to negotiate better deals with the owners. And the sad fact for nutrition is that in airports, passengers get off planes and want to see and eat something familiar. They want McDonalds. So the chains have guaranteed customers. The passengers may come and go, but the staff are the losers. Thousand of employees work day and night (often both for shift workers) in this strange world that is like a city within a city, with no healthy food options for the days they have left home at 3am and not packed a lunch. There should be more options.
    Your vision is amazing and the public should put pressure on airports for healthier food outlets. But unfortunately while airports are in the business of making money it probably won’t ever happen.

  • Christy

    You feel bad for people who travel often? I think that’s taking it a bit far. I travel VERY often and have never felt that my food options at the airport merit pity. I pack my own food whenever I travel, OR I find the healthiest option available. Yes, airport food leaves room to be desired but saying that you “feel bad” for people who travel often is a bit much. I love every single aspect of traveling. If you’re someone with specific dietary preferences (as I am), it’s very easy to pack your own food and bring it to an airport and even when there isn’t time to do so, I’ve always been able to find some kind of healthy meal that satisfies. The Starbucks Protein Plate is one meal that I can always find at an airport that provides fresh, unprocessed food that will sustain me on a flight. As someone who works in the airline industry and travels several times per week, I can say that while it takes some creativity and planning, eating healthily on the road (or in the skies!) really isn’t much of a challenge at all.

    • Christy, to clarify, I don’t feel bad for people who travel often. I love to travel! I just feel bad that they are consistently presented with limited healthy food options.

      I’m glad to hear you have a system that works for you!

  • Moron

    I travel every week. To airports all over the country. I have never had a problem finding a healthy food choice – as a matter of fact, a lot of the airports have fresh food and organic shops. Also, there are somewhat healthy options at even the fast-food places so if you’re TRYING to eat healthy, you can. I think you need to do a bit more research before claiming there’s nothing healthy to eat in airports.

    • I think maybe the disparity here is what we all consider “healthy.” Which is fine. To each our own.

  • Jan

    I think healthy would be food (proteins, veggies and legumes) with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Right? I travel around the world (well to different countries in both Europe and Asia and sometimes within the states) quite a bit and I’ve never really had a hard time finding “healthy” food.

    Just because something isn’t locally sourced or organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unhealthy. It’s really easy to score a salad from any restaurant and not eat the croutons or go to one of the Mexican chain places and get a taco salad without the rice and not eat the tortilla bowl. The person would be able to eat beans, veggies, sour cream and a portion of cheese.

    This is coming from someone who is a major foodie and also shops at farmers’ market and is very picky about food. I am the kind of person who will seriously refuse to order a margherita pizza (when I do eat it once or twice a month) if the basil isn’t in season. That’s just my own snobbery and ridiculously high standards though.

    The point is, people can make it work at these airports. They just need to order the right thing. And so what if they order a greasy cheeseburger or a slice of pizza from a chain place?

    When it comes to traveling, I know *I do* when I have just gotten off a 9 hour flight somewhere and have a three hour layover and am starving. I want what I want. It has nothing to do with being “educated”. My packed almonds, sunflower seeds, and golden raisins are not enough for me.

  • I’m actually surprised to see this post because I actually do think that many airports are making moves in the right direction. With the exception of some very small airports I’ve generally been able to find choices that balance my desire for something relatively healthful and something that is flavorful. Here in Chicago, for example, one of my local airports has a stand by Rick Bayless that serves up tortas and salads. Their model actually isn’t that far off from what you’re talking about because they source ingredients from a lot of local producers. For example, their fruit comes from two local farmers that are also at their farmer’s market and their meats are top quality, naturally raised and antibiotic free. So sorry if I don’t agree with the conclusion you’ve come to.

    I think what you’ve also got to keep in mind is that eating healthier is not simply a question of access. As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry I can tell you that many restaurants have tried to offer things that are substantially healthier than their standard offerings and many of these items don’t sell. Generally when people are eating out, at a restaurant in an airport or otherwise, they want to treat themselves a little bit. So while an uber healthy item might sound good in theory I’m not sure it would have the mass appeal to work in an airport as you suggest. I know here (not in the airport) we have a chain that offers up uber healthy fare and even though I’m generally a relatively balanced eater, I don’t eat there because while the ingredients are great, it is missing the flavor.

    Really I think the most realistic situation is one that recognizes that not everyone has the same food priorities (and their differences of opinion doesn’t make them ignorant) and that sometimes you need more of a compromised than a purist solution.

    • I agree with all of you on many topics. Especially Kelly who says airports are trying. My thought is that the meals sound healthy, but the quality of the products could be poor. And I love a treat – fries, cookies, bugers, etc. But I feel better and therefore enjoy them more when they are made with all-natural, fresh, unprocessed ingredients. Unless it’s a Cinnabon :) which honestly doesn’t even appeal to me anymore.

      A ground beef hamburger is a good example. Why not use fresh patties? Or offer lean steak instead. Another is ketchup. Heinz now makes ketchup without corn syrup. There isn’t one place I’ve seen that serves juices that aren’t pasteurized.

      I’m standing in the airport now, and see two healthy option snacks: dried unsweetened fruit and nuts, but that’s not a meal. Chili’s offers a chicken breast and veggies, but I’m betting the chicken and the veggies were both frozen and covered in salt.

      I love that airports are trying, I just don’t think it should be that hard to get truly fresh food in here AND support local farmers.

  • Carson

    I work on a local farm, but we’re not hurting for business and little food goes unsold. (That food goes to the goats!) My immediate family raises chickens. In my travels I have never had a problem finding healthy food. But these things have been discussed in the comments already.

    But…a few other things. Fresh patties? My family raises chickens. We find that small-scale slaughtering and the immediate processing works best for us outdoors. Which isn’t really pleasant/possible when it’s cold out. Which leaves us with…3 months when it’s warm? Even for our bitty farm it’s not possible to have fresh patties year-round.

    Heavens to Betsy! I can not be the only person that reads this blog and studies microbiology. Pasteurization is good. Especially if the food is organic. Organic foods packs some of the worst pathogenic punches! How terrible would it be if even a few people died as a result of a bacterial infection from non-pasteurized juice or milk? If you don’t want pasteurized juice, just grow your own fruits!

    I love this blog, I do. And the idea is a great one. But there are a lot of little problems with logistics, not just those involving business. Where I live the area around the airport is all residential and our fall/winter/spring crops are limited to things like potatoes and cabbage. I can see how this would be a more realistic goal down south though!