Border Lines

If I were to search out the exact opposite of local, homegrown food, I would pass through the security gates at an international airport. The sportsbars, food courts and even neo-eco-healthy cafés are part of an isolated microcosm that I’m sure has allowed for evolution in isolation of the trends towards local, fresh food that are prevalent everywhere else across the country.

This is the only explanation I have for what one finds in such manufactured islands, bordered by seas of security and oceans of tarmac.

Sometimes, to better understand something, it is worth examining its opposite; thus, this week’s epistle.

I undertook a multi-day journey outside in February, not only beyond the borders of our fair territory, but, regrettably, south of the 49th parallel. I was exposed in transit to a wide range of security consciousnesses as I passed from aerial port to port.

We journeyed from the Erik Nielsen International Airport in Whitehorse to the dear, single story terminal on the outskirts of Yellowknife, to pleasantly empty YOW in Ottawa, tetchy Pearson in Toronto and finally absolutely dead quiet CMH in Columbus, Ohio.

At each stop – save Yellowknife, where all we did was get chilled by being right across from the open hatch for half an hour – we dutifully removed our shoes, placed laptops in the tray, checked all pockets, spun around three times and tried to nod ingratiatingly at the appropriate times.

In Whitehorse, as per usual, service was with a smile and a joke and no one looked particularly stressed going through the metal detector. In Ottawa we were swabbed for I don’t know what, likely because there were so few people about it gave the first security fellow something to do, but then we had a nice chat with him about his day and his job before moving on.

Then came Toronto. My smile became a little forced forced while three separate uniformed personnel were brought in to confer on whether or not my miniature nail clippers constituted a lethal threat.

I got to keep them, but my relief was short-lived because the next line was for United States customs. I don’t have any reason to be stressed about going into the States and yet I always go clammy. Knowing how much authority one individual has over you in that little zone of no-man’s land that is the border is enough to sketch me out even though I’ve had plenty of friendly border agents.

As an aside, I always carry snacks when traveling. I am one of those people who goes from hungry to “hangry” in a hurry – and nobody wants to be around that, least of all me. I declare my sandwich, or my granola bar, or whatever it happens to be, and have almost never had to ditch it. On with the story.

Standing at the counter things were going tolerably until it spilled out that we had a small bag of homegrown carrots with us. And a homegrown apple. And my partner, in whose bag the offending items were residing, had not checked the Yes box on the customs declaration for food items. We watched the freely flowing stream of relieved passengers heading through the open nothing-to-declare doors wistfully as we pushed our way through doors marked with an X.

We were passed along from one counter to the next until we stood in front of a bored-looking agent who blinked slowly as we explained why we were there to take up her time.

“Carrots?” We showed her the bag.

“You should leave the sticker on,” she said. It was our turn to blink. She continued, “From the store. The sticker that says where they’re from?” She spoke very slowly as if she doubted our ability to comprehend the words.

“Umm, we grew them?” I hazarded.

Without looking away from our hopeful faces she picked up the small Ziploc bag and tossed it into a bin, sighing and waving at us to move along. As if the injury wasn’t enough – my blood sugar was beginning to tank, and good grief that was a Yukon apple – we couldn’t figure out how to get the giant exit doors to open.

Finally released onto international “soil” (not that there is a speck of real dirt in the place) we scanned for something decent to eat. The next four hours included one small, fifteen dollar vegetable and hummus sandwich and a portobello mushroom burger that sported a shroom the size of a toonie as its pattie.

I can imagine that there might be some restrictions on what food items can be brought into the transit zone, and hate to think what employees at such places must go through every day. However, I resent that fact that just because travelers constitute a captive audience, they must be subject to overpriced, over-preserved fare.

Vancouver’s international airport is a great example of a space that welcomes international visitors with a display of art and architecture to make anyone proud. I think it would be great if the local food wagon could muscle its way passed security and do the same.

Tips for Surviving the Culinary Wasteland

1. Fly Air North. They feed you actual food.

2. Carry Yukon Grown stickers (available from the Yukon Government Agriculture Branch) for emergency produce identification.

3. Avoid entering any line in a state of or approaching “hanger” (anger inspired by hunger).

4. Accept the fact that a packaged granola bar is looked upon with less suspicion than a carrot.

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