Let's face it: Many aspects of air travel are a total drag, and this holiday season may be draggier than ever as passenger volume will be exceedingly high. But one thing we all love to complain about, airport food, is steadily getting better, as illustrated by a new report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
For the 14th year in a row, the group's dietitians surveyed the top 30 busiest U.S. airports and found that 23 of them offer at least one healthful plant-based entrée. They ranked the airports by dividing the number of restaurants with such an entrée by the total number of restaurants at that airport. The 2014 results are awash in Kasem-esque patter about who's moved up or down how many slots since last year, but also with plenty of good info about what the cholesterol-free, fiber-rich options are at each of the contenders.
Philadelphia International Airport had been off the list since 2006 but came back strong, just missing the Top 10 by tying with JFK and O'Hare for the #11 spot. PHL got a score of 78 percent, based on 53 of its 68 restaurants making the grade for healthy plant-based fare. Such as? PCRM gets specific here:
11. (tie) Philadelphia International Airport (78 percent): Philadelphia returned to the list for the first time since 2006. At Saladworks, passengers can create their own salads with their choice of greens, fresh vegetables, fruit, whole-wheat pasta, and beans. They can also build healthful vegetable burritos at Chipotle and Currito Burrito, which offers lettuce, broccoli, tofu, three types of beans, tomatoes, guacamole, corn salsa, mango salsa, carrots, cucumbers, hummus, and Asian slaw. Travelers who are craving a healthful twist on local Philadelphia cuisine can opt for the grilled veggie sub with onions, peppers, mushrooms, black olives, and cucumbers from Philly Steak & Gyros or the veggie sandwich with sautéed broccoli rabe, spinach, sweet peppers, onions, and marinara sauce from Tony Luke's.
This is all great news considering that last year PHL didn't even make the list, but let's not get too complacent. Having a Chipotle at the airport is better than not having one, and Tony Luke's having a veggie sandwich is great, but some of the other airports' menu items make ours look anemic, including "vegetarian [vegan] chili — on a salad or in a bowl — at Ben's Chili Bowl at Reagan National Airport; a 'pro Kale' salad with kimchi, cucumber, and dulse at Real Food Daily in Los Angeles; Le Grande Orange's chickpea lettuce wraps at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; hearts of palm stromboli at French Meadow Bakery and Café at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport; and a veggie burger made with sunflower seeds, brown rice, black beans, and vegetables at Colorado Sports Bar at Denver International Airport."
More adventurously, PCRM reports that "O'Hare restaurants now incorporate fresh produce grown on site in the world's first aeroponic airport farm. Los Angeles International has opened Real Food Daily, which sells only organic, plant-based cuisine, while Newark Liberty International plans to open an all vegetarian and vegan restaurant later this year." What - Newark!? Hmmmmm... maybe a Cory Booker influence there?
Either way, if you're at PHL over the coming weeks, check out some of these offerings. And a hearty congrats to the airport's management for this year's improvement. But let's keep striving toward the progressive and innovative end of the spectrum, where Philadelphia, with its history of starting big things, truly belongs.
Come on, folks - the sky's the limit!