what exactly was i served with my in-flight meal?


On my American Airlines flight from Tokyo Narita to Chicago O’Hare, about an hour or so into the flight the usual meal service began. I chose the beef with rice over the chicken with pasta. No real reason, just a spontaneous decision. And it wasn’t bad at all.

As I navigated my way around the dinner tray, tasting and discovering the small treats, I noticed a small purplish-black plastic something. It was only about an inch high and about a half an inch wide. I stared at it for a few minutes and tried to determine what it was.

My first thought was that it was a piece of the serving cart that had broken off – some small handle or something. Just as I was going to let the flight attendant know about it, I turned on the light and looked a bit closer. It was in fact a small vial of liquid with a small screw cap on it. Hmmm, what could this be?

Perhaps the crew knew that there was going to be a screaming baby in the row in front of me and it was a capsule of cyanide. Or maybe the airline was trying to tell me my breath was not as “fresh” as it could possibly be and it was some kind of Japanese-engineered miracle breath cleaner.

Maybe drinking it would temporarily give me the ability to understand Japanese [use only in case of an emergency]. This would have come in handy during my travels. Perhaps the flight attendant had seen me in the stark direct florescent lighting of the gate at Narita Airport and it was some kind of wrinkle remover [in my defense I am a winter and I should never be under direct florescent light].

Next to me sat a twenty-something Japanese hipster who was on his way to Chicago to study English for eight months. I turned to him, showed him the mystery vial, and asked him what in Shogun’s name it was.

“Soy sauce” he said.