Next time you book a flight, online or with a travel agent, you might want to check on the availability of special meals.
Special here does not mean a luxury meal; in fact, it’s provided for free, as long as you request it before the flight.
On a recent Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight, I was served, as I had requested when I booked the flight, an Asian vegetarian meal. This came with a small piece of paper listing all kinds of special meals, with VOML (vegetarian oriental meal) highlighted in orange. I was amazed with the list of all kinds of special meals that could be requested, and their abbreviations. I’m sharing that entire list at the end of my column.
The list shows how varied the diets can be. For example, you have Asian vegetarian, western vegetarian, even raw vegetarian. The reasons for the diets are also varied: health, religious and ethical (I’ll explain this shortly).
It’s not that easy responding to so many kinds of dietary needs. For example, many people presume only Muslims don’t take pork, but it will take more than an NPML (no-pork meal) to accommodate Muslim dietary needs. You’ll notice PAL’s list has KSML, or kosher meal, which is for Jews who are strict with religious dietary rules and who will not take pork either, citing Leviticus in the Bible. Note that this strict adherence to Leviticus is shared with Seventh-day Adventists.
Returning to Muslims, PAL should actually be offering halal meals, which forbids pork but gets to be even more complicated than kosher meals, all the way up to certain requirements when slaughtering an animal for food.
The need to respond to all kinds of dietary needs reflects the way the world is becoming a global village, with greater intercultural sensitivity. Gaps remain, however. Even in my own campus, the University of the Philippines Diliman, I sometimes have to sit quietly eating rice with a few pieces of vegetable picked from a meat dish, because people forgot I am vegetarian.
It’s not easy explaining my personal reasons, for my diet is not so much about religious or cultural do’s and don’ts but has more to do with ethical considerations, using certain criteria to decide what is right or wrong. Here, vegetarianism is based on minimizing suffering, for example, and helping the environment because raising cattle involves so much land that could have been used for people instead.
I sometimes stop myself halfway with trying to explain, and end up cracking some joke about not eating anything that recognizes its mother (which covers all mammals and birds).
People take their diets seriously. Tastes are molded early in life, as early as infancy, and culture plays an important role here. For example, I have Muslim friends who actually feel nauseated just smelling pork.
But tastes can change, too, later in life, and will be defended with very strong religious or ethical convictions.
This is why it is important for airlines, hotels, restaurants, schools, and all of us as individuals who invite friends to our homes for a meal, to understand the reasons for all these dietary variations. Let’s not forget that such reasons for special meals might include allergies, which can be severe and life-threatening.
Attention to special meals is important business-wise; the Philippines is realizing, somewhat belatedly, how we’re surrounded by countries teeming with vegetarians. Then there’s the huge potential market for halal food, especially when you consider that the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, is a close neighbor.
Many years back, schools had classes on food etiquette: how to set a table, what kind of spoon or fork to use. In our world today, we need to teach a broader kind of food etiquette, including the proper use of chopsticks, for instance, but, more importantly, the different types of diets people have, and the reasons behind each diet.
Back to basics: When you ask a guest about dietary restrictions, you’re showing that you care for that person and are willing to go out of your way to prepare a special meal for someone special.
Salamat, PAL, for offering all these special meals, with hopes for more, especially halal meals:
AVML – Vegetarian Hindu Meal; Indian Vegetarian Meal
BLML – Bland/Soft Diet Meal
CHML – Child Meal
DBML – Diabetic Meal
FPML – Fruit Platter Meal
GFML – Gluten-Intolerant Meal
HNML – Hindu Meal
KSML – Kosher Meal
LCML – Low-Calorie Meal
LFML – Low-Fat Meal
LSML – Low-Salt Meal
MOML – Moslem Meal
NBML – No-Beef Meal
NLML – Low-Lactose Meal
RVML – Raw Vegetarian
SFML – Seafood Meal
VGML – Vegetarian Vegan Meal
VJML – Vegetarian Jain Meal; Strict Indian Vegetarian Meal
VLML – Western Vegetarian
VOML – Oriental/Chinese, Asian Vegetarian Meal
NPML – No-Pork Meal
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