Joan Menefee has never been a picky eater. She and her husband live in Menomonie, Wisconsin, where they tend gardens in two counties and eat plums and grapes in public parks.

In a jam

Writing ‘The Airport Security Cookbook’

January 31, 2011

On any given day in North America, there are thousands of anxious or downright angry people in airport security checkout lines. They are kicking carry-on bags that stand a 50-50 chance of getting gate-checked at the last minute. They are playing with their smart phones or trying not to fight with their children. They know they should feel compassion for the TSA personnel ushering the human glacier (of which they are each just a drop of ice) through the ingenious multitude of devices designed to probe person and baggage, the better to prevent bad things from happening very high in the sky.

I was one of those people at the end of December. Keen to celebrate a friend’s wedding in Vancouver, British Columbia, I booked a ticket that sent my husband and me from Minneapolis to Chicago (yes, backwards to go forwards) to Vancouver. I went up in the air with my eyes open and certainly met with nothing catastrophic or even truly awful during any leg of the journey. Nonetheless, I didn’t enjoy myself.

I was reminded by the trip that there’s little positive correlation between airports and food, despite what Jerry Honeywell has to say in The Famous Airline Cookbook.

I haven’t actually eaten an airline meal since the carriers started charging extra for them. I nosh during layovers, either a packed lunch or fast food. This trip, we spent 20 dollars on OK subs in Chicago and sat in an area depopulated by a security-door alarm that went off every two minutes. We passed most of lunch discussing the fact that the enforced gate check of our carry-on luggage on the flight from Minneapolis to Chicago made us regret not bringing maple syrup for our soon-to-be-married friends, since our little bags had been slung below in the hold after all.

Ah, yes. That whole “liquids on airplanes” problem.

Since 2001, I have been experimenting with the best ways of preparing sticky substances in glass bottles to be tossed at baggage-handler velocity. In the old days, I would just carry syrup destined for West Coast friends and family (along with knitting needles, scissors, and a little pocket knife) on the plane.

We measured: The allowable amount of jam on a plane is approximately 1/4 cup — and don’t forget the zippered plastic bag.

Knowing nothing about plastic explosives, I can only assume that this measure is necessary. What I didn’t learn until this year, however, is that more than liquids are governed by that three-ounce-limit-in-a-transparent-plastic-bag deal.

In Vancouver, we bought smoked salmon and jam for our loved ones. I made sure the salmon wasn’t from the North Atlantic (having endured that embarrassment before). The 250-milliliter jar of blueberry jam proudly bore the word “LOCAL.”

It wasn’t until we had checked in for our return flight and were headed toward the customs desk that my little brain started working. I said to the Canadian equivalent of the TSA greeter, “Jam’s fine, isn’t it?”

Like a simp, I had assumed that the airline regulations were all about viscosity — that if you could pour a substance, it was verboten. Water and syrup and shampoo: pourable no-no’s. But jam was innocuous, clinging to its jar like a baby.

“As long as it’s under 100 milliliters and in a plastic bag,” the greeter said, smiling supportively.

“But jam’s not a liquid,” I said, my hands closing around the base of the jar, which seemed suddenly enormous.

“Anything spreadable,” she said, “must be checked.”

Sometimes my power to make inferences based on very few data points can be a major liability. I handed the jar to her all hang-dog, my husband doffing his shoes, sadly watching our little drama unfold.

She took the jar and assured me that I could check my bag if I wanted to keep the jam. I shook my head and pushed onward, a mite sullen, I admit.

I wish now that I had asked her to take the jar home to her own family. For what most bothers me about the situation is imagining thousands of such jars being dumped in a landfill on the outskirts of Vancouver. As the plane taxied, I saw a tide of delectable butters and jams and patés, some of them homemade, lining plastic bins or chucked straight into garbage cans.

I know that it was in my power to check the regulations more carefully in advance. The waste could have been avoided. I am sadder, but hopefully wiser.

It fascinates me that the things that might camouflage bombs are the delicacies that make our crusts less dry — spreadables and lubricants, concentrated forms that we naturally turn to when we want to give our friends a taste of what we found when we went away.

I think it would be a lovely piece of performance art to gather that contraband food and make a rich, heady meal of it. If I did such a thing, I would name it The Airport Security Cookbook.

There are 14 comments on this item
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1. by sarajane on Jan 31, 2011 at 12:21 PM PST

In 2008 or so, I was going to visit my parents and taking them a gift of some apricot jam I had made. I managed to get it through by opening and tasting the sealed jar :(

2. by hokeypokey on Feb 2, 2011 at 11:27 AM PST

I lost a 1 oz snow globe that was in a plastic bag. I’ve also seen apple pies and lip gloss disposed of.

3. by anonymous on Feb 2, 2011 at 11:40 AM PST

I just transported several jars of blackberry syrup and jam in my checked luggage with no problem. I wrapped each jar in bubble wrap, then put them all in a large plastic bag, then bagged the whole lot once again. I put the bag in between all my clothing in my checked bag. No problem. Try that next time.

4. by anonymous on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:45 PM PST

I feel your pain. My incident occurred two years ago and involved peanut butter. There was a store on Long Island that I knew carried a particularly delicious peanut butter that you grind in-store. I even packed my own mason jars so that I wouldn’t be wasting plastic. I called the airline in advance and got the OKAY on PB. As I went through security and was told I couldn’t keep it, I was angry and sad--it was too late at that point for me to check my bag and now I’ve lost two large jars and their contents that I carefully planned for as well.

I also mourn all the lost goods, for both the waste of good eats as well as for the ever-filling landfills.

5. by Wendy on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:58 PM PST

well it wouldn’t have done a bit of good to tell her to take it home... they can’t! i had to watch a yummy bottle of hot sauce given as gifts to us at FoodBlogSouth in Birmingham 2 weekends ago get tossed... didn’t think that would be confiscated, so i had packed it so well in multiple plastic bags from the trash cans in my hotel room...the security agent treated me like some sort of terrorist, went thru ALL my bags/stuff (pulled me over to a side table and called in another ‘agent’ to do detailed search’) and was downright hateful smartass) to me! i told him to take it home and enjoy it (although i wanted to take it and squirt him with it!) and he made me walk over WITH him to watch as he threw that yummy nectar away! pathetic... to be sure it could go to local shelters or something, instead of into a dump!

6. by Tami on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:59 PM PST

I sent my much requested seville marmalade with my husband to take to my inlaws. 4 jars worth of expensive fruit and labour. ALL of them tossed in the large garbage can. heavy sigh...

7. by Wendy on Feb 2, 2011 at 1:00 PM PST

and p.s. when airlines now are charging $25 to check a bag when it fits on board, i cannot afford a $25 jar of BBQ sauce!

8. by Nancy on Feb 2, 2011 at 1:27 PM PST

I had quite the security gate incident with a sealed 8-ounce tub of baba ghanoush last year. I pleaded with the guard, saying, it’s not a liquid or a gel, it’s an eggplant puree! He made like he was throwing it in the bin, BUT when I got my carry-on tote back on the other side of the gate, the baba was inside! Eating that baba ghanoush was one of the more triumphant moments of my life.

9. by acmeplant on Feb 2, 2011 at 2:18 PM PST

I have wondered about this exact thing! I sometimes make small (1/4 pint) jars of jam/jelly, but I don’t think they’re quite small enough! P.S. I flew to Atlanta from NYC last week and when I arrived and was looking through my purse I found not only my Swiss Army knife but also my box cutter! I’d forgotten they were in there and obviously TSA @ LGA was asleep on the job. I mailed them home.

10. by wendy on Feb 2, 2011 at 3:26 PM PST

these posts perfectly illustrate what makes me so irritated by this whole crazy mess...if there was consistency from one airport screening to the next, fine, no prob!, but our posts just go to show that isn’t the case at all! when i left raleigh, they barely knew i’d come thru there, but OMG!, those folks in birmingham were airport nazis and wouldn’t have let their own grandma and her preserves thru there! couldn’t have been more extreme one to the other... so attention sauce and jam terrorists, do NOT attempt to board a plane in birmingham, al...

11. by anonymous on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:35 PM PST

Just had to share our loss. A year ago we packed eight jars of homemade jam and Gravenstein applesauce to bring to my family for the holidays. We unfortunately had crazy delays in getting to the airport so that we arrived so late they wouldn’t let us check our bags at the check-in counter. We were forced to take our luggage through security and then the airline would put it under the plane at the gate. I’m sure you can all sense where this is going...
Scanned bags showed all of our jars and we were forced to throw them out, mason jars and all. We pleaded and begged, at least for the staff to enjoy them, but they had to watch us throw the jars in the trash. It was heartbreaking and infuriating. No Chanukah gifts for the family. :(

12. by Marolyn Charpentier on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:26 AM PST

And then there was the foie gras I was taking as a wedding gift, tossed into the poubelle/garbage bin at the Bordeaux airport. Not liquid, certainly - but eminently “spreadable”. I commiserate with many who, like me, are learning the hard way...

13. by Laurie Cohen on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:02 AM PST

A side note: I was flying to Chicago and bringing my daughter some eggs laid by my chickens. Not one person asked to see them! That was in 2010. I also have enough implanted metal in my back but slid through the gate as if I was cheese!

14. by joanmenefee on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:20 PM PST

Here’s your list plus a few my facebook friends added (alphabetically) and tell me this list wouldn’t make a fun cookbook conceit/challenge:
apple pie, apple sauce, apricot jam, apricot liqueur, BBQ sauce, breast milk, eggs, foie gras, hot sauce, lip gloss, marmalade, peanut butter, snow globe. The baba ghanoush made it through; the snow globe would clearly present difficulties. Thanks so much everyone for making my food-wasting grief quite a bit lighter.

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