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I almost took my first picture of an airline meal recently. Using this blog and the need for photos as an excuse, I came real close. But blog or not, there are some lines you just shouldn’t cross. Vacation photos of less than memorable meals is one of those.

Being a photography buff, when friends want to show me their snapshots from their latest holiday, I’m all for it. When one of the first pictures is of their on-board meal, I make an excuse about a just remembered meeting or date and flee. I don’t get those shots. I mean I could understand it if it was your very first airline meal. Or if you knew in advance all the American carriers were gonna start charging for meals, then a shot of your last ‘free’ one would make sense. In a humorous way. But regular meals don’t cut it. It’s not like airline food is anything to write home about. So you shouldn’t be snapping a photographic record of them either.

You still get free meals on international flights. In the front of the plane, they still make some concession to fine dining. But their bar has been slowly eroding and now it’s a lot closer to what you used to get back in steerage. EVA, the carrier I use flying into Asia, used to offer a pretty nice presentation. But they’ve quit trying. On my most recent TPE-BKK flight, breakfast was served. On Asian flights for breakfast you usually have a choice of Western or Asian fare. I’ve seen the Asian food, so always order Western. In the future, I’m gonna just order coffee.

eat the banana

The hot dish on the tray was a pair of hash brown squares, a pile of what was either one piece of scrambled eggs or an omelette, and a piece of what they call a sausage in Asia but is more of a half-size hot dog. Since EVA is a Taipei carrier and not Korean, the processed meat probably isn’t actually dog though. Topping the whole thing off was a nice big scoop of beans. Pork and beans. Like what comes out of a can. I don’t know if the bean idea was thanks to one person who should be fired, or a committee that needs to be disbanded, but it was a bad call. Canned beans barely qualify as food. Serving beans to a plane load of people who depend on recirculated air to live is just plain cruel.

Western and Eastern palates are a bit different. Flying an Asian carrier means even the Western meals will be a bit foreign. They make a noble attempt at getting it right, by the Asian cooking staff really doesn’t understand why we in the West eat what we do, or what it is that we really eat. That, I have to assume, is why a big serving of pork and beans landed on my meal tray. For some odd reason those in charge of the menu also think Westerners love spinach. I think they’ve seen too many Popeye cartoons.

I can take or leave spinach when it is prepared correctly, but a watery mess of overcooked frozen spinach as a topping on (fill in the blank because they seem to think it is the perfect accent to any dish) kills my appetite and makes me gag. That culinary boo-boo has become so routine on EVA flights that as soon as they start serving the in-flight meal I check to make sure my seat has been issued a barf bag.

Of course it’s not just badly prepared crappy food that can trigger a guy’s gag reflex. Yup, and I knew that’s exactly where ya’ll’s minds would be going . . .

eat the banana

The good news is that scientists have been busy solving the problems that often plague us. This time they’ve come up with a answer to that age old question of what to do when your partner starts making non-romantic noises during his efforts to please, uh all, of you. An awkward moment in any tryst, do you boldly push on and ignore the sounds, or back off, disappointed once again? Now you have a third option, a simple trick that researchers have confirmed can turn off the gag reflex in an instant.

According to a study done way back in 2008, by simply forming a fist with your left hand, tucking your thumb in and then squeezing it, you’ll disengage your gag reflex. (The same gesture seems to be of use for pain when you flip your partner over, too. But right now we’re dealing with gagging, not whimpering.)

The gag reflex is your body’s natural defense against choking on foreign objects. Sometimes you need to take a risk and open wide. Though an estimated 30% of men do not have a gag reflex, those that do often find it engages when their job is only halfway done. The scientific community is not sure why the thumb in fist squeezing gesture turns a bad job into a good one, but it works. So who cares how?

Surprisingly, or not, another simple trick to get past the point of no return is to hum. And yes, that’s why it’s called a hummer. Not only will humming turn off your gag reflex, but it’ll feel good too. You do, however, need to consider your song selection carefully. The theme to Jaws, for example, is probably not a good idea.

eat the banana

For those planning on turning pro, you may not want to rely on temporary tricks of the trade and instead condition yourself for whatever assaults you. That means lots of practice. Not that you’ll get any better at it, but the practice will be fun. When you’re ready to address the real problem, get rid of your date and cozy up to your toothbrush instead:

· Find out where your gag reflex starts. This can be done by simply using your toothbrush to brush your tongue. The point nearest the front of your tongue that makes you gag is where you want to concentrate.

· Brush your tongue right where your gag begins. Yes, you’ll gag. It will be unpleasant, but not for long. Spend about 10 seconds brushing that area (and gagging), and call it a night.

· Repeat the process over the next few nights in the exact same spot. You’ll notice you gag less each time you do it.

· Increase the brushing area. Once you can touch your toothbrush on that spot without gagging, it’s time to move the toothbrush further back. Try brushing 1/4-1/2 inch behind where your gag used to begin. This is your new starting point. Repeat the process as you did in the first spot.

· Continue moving the brush further. Each time you move the toothbrush back, your gag has been desensitized in the previous spot. Keep moving it further and further back until you’ve reached the furthest visual point of your tongue. Eventually, the toothbrush will come in contact with the soft palate, if it hasn’t already.

· Be persistent. This whole process should take approximately a month to complete. When it’s all said and done, you should be able to face any challenge without gagging. You might have to re-do the process from time to time, as your reflex may return if you don’t.

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The side benefit to learning how to not gag is that you’ll also learn how to swallow. Once you’ve learned how to open the door to the entree, handling the dessert is a breeze. Your new found talents will be much appreciated and your popularity is guaranteed to soar. And maybe your partner will ignore the fact you just got off a plane that served beans for breakfast.