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The Monday Rant: Drop the Chutney

Andrea Sachs

Chutneygate started on a travel day like every other travel day. As I walked through security at the Portland, Maine, airport, I had my boarding pass in hand, my flip-flops off, my computer in a tray, my toiletries squished into tiny vials in a tiny ziploc bag. I did not even give a thought to the blueberry chutney tucked in a paper bag among lobster- and sailboat-shape soaps.

In my culinary world, chutney is not a jam (which the Transportation Security Administration bans as a carry-on unless it is stored in a three-ounce or smaller container) or a sauce (see banned list again). It is, well, chutney-ey, which is saying, it is not jiggly or liquid but chunky and solid, like a cube of tofu, yet tastier.

But the TSA officials did not care.
They spotted it during the screening and pulled my bag aside. The official with the apple cheeks and skinny frame had never heard of chutney, so I gave him a quick lesson on Indian condiments. (A similar occurrence happened at the Hartford, Conn., airport, though that time the substance was hummus.) The screener was still not convinced and reading the label, pointed out that vinegar was one of the ingredients. That was enough to send the chutney into the trash bin.

And here is my exasperation: C'mon TSA. Please look at what a mockery our security system has become. An exchange about chutney and which food group it falls under? Don't you think it is time to stand back and look at the big picture and not lose your focus by staring at the small, insignificant details, like food labels (if only the FDA were so meticulous)? I know that rules are rules, but why do we have these rules? Must we be so complacent about them? Can't we question whether a mixture of fruit, sugar and vinegar can realistically be turned into a weapon? If anything, the glass bottle seems more dangerous than the contents inside.

What I am trying to say, TSA, is that I think enough time has gone by since you first implemented the airline liquid ban that it is time to reassess, maybe reconsider that list and bring some humanity back to the travel experience. Let us have our peanut butter, jell-o and pudding back. Let's think hard about the real threats and stop wasting time and energy on depriving a girl of her blueberry chutney.

Just consider it, TSA. We can discuss it over chutney and tea, if you'd like.

Epilogue: At the airport, a wonderful shopkeeper said he could mail my chutney. It cost $5, about the price of the item, but it was totally worth it.

By Andrea Sachs |  July 14, 2008; 7:34 AM ET  | Category:  Andrea Sachs , Monday Rants
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This is the same agency that allows apple pie but not pumpkin. Really, what did you expect?

Posted by: Liz | July 14, 2008 8:23 AM

Sorry sweetie -- there is way too much liquid in chutney for TSA to not believe you have rigged the raisins to explode. And chutney is way too good to pack in anything smaller than 16oz jars!

I'll be getting some wedding gifts out late this summer, since I make jams & chutneys (chutnies?), and don't want to risk mailing them or checking them, and won't be driving to the weddings. I'll be driving that way at some point and will deliver them in person, within my Emily Post-alloted 1 year.

And you can bring on single serving puddings, etc. You wouldn't really want to deal with the mess of a full jar of peanut butter on a plane, would you? Even if you had kids!!

Posted by: NC2 | July 14, 2008 9:31 AM

When traveling from the Kansas City airport I was forced to part with my very small (less than 1/2 ounce) tube of blistex because it was not in a bag (I carried it in my pocket becuase I had chapped lips). The man standing behind me in the security line, said, in a voice just loud enough for me but no one else, to hear, "they are afraid you will take over the plane with your smooth, glossy lips". The fact that I started laughing uncontrolably probably didn't please the TSA agent, though laughter is not a banned substance so he let me pass.

Posted by: Allen | July 14, 2008 9:40 AM

Allen,

Next time, don't even take the blistex out of your pocket. I empty out all my pockets, but leave the blistex. Since there's no metal in it, I don't even bother pulling it out.

Posted by: stephen | July 14, 2008 9:59 AM

For various reason, none of which had to do with being afraid to fly, I have not flown in several years. One of the main reasons is monetary, I have been working very diligently to get out of debt. One of the first trips I wanted to take when I am solvent, was to New York City, but after hearing all the stories about flying, can't carry liquids, getting kicked off the plan because you sneezed, being charged for water, I am beginning to have second thoughts about traveling...ever.

Posted by: Donna | July 14, 2008 10:11 AM

I agree that we seemed to have steered off course somewhere along they line. After adopting our son, we decided to take a trip up to Boston...knowing full well the rules and regulations re: water through security (we travel pretty regularly), but he is formula fed, and I wasn't going to take any chances. On the way up no problems. On the way back, even though I declared it, and it had not been opened, and there was an obvious 5 month old on my hip, I was told it cannot go through, and that the next time I needed to get something called "Infant water" because it has flouride in it - that this kind is the only kind allowed through security. So water with flouride is ok, but non-flouridated water: NO, NO, NO. Egads!

Posted by: Erin | July 14, 2008 10:28 AM

We just got back from a "triangle" road trip - we went from the Twin Cities to Central NY down to DC and back - for our annual family visit.

Yes, gas is expensive, but the price of three sets of one-way tickets were exorbitant. With our gas-efficient car, we actually saved a lot of money. But the other advantage was we were nowhere near an airport and TSA.

We didn't have to worry about all the stupid rules, and if we wanted to buy a few bottles of wine, it wasn't a problem. Insanely enough, getting through Customs (with our shortcut through Ontario) was far faster and more efficient than any TSA line.

So we could have bought all the chutney we wanted. And that huge jar of artichoke heart tapenade we brought home? Not a problem. And we figure that even though we were in the car for about 17 hours on each long leg, it was still probably less travel time than we would have spent on an airplane.

Now all we need is to improve our rail system, and I may never fly for personal reasons again.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 14, 2008 11:14 AM

"laughter is not a banned substance"

Yet. (Maybe.)

Try chapstick, which is more of a solid than a gel. I usually carry one in my pocket, which I suppose I'll have to give up if they put me through one of those body scanners. But I've had it in my bag too, and even the more zealous TSA agents have never asked about it.

Posted by: jane | July 14, 2008 11:52 AM

If you all want to read some real TSA horror stories, go over to Salon's pilot columnist, Patrick Smith, and read the comments on his latest TSA tirade. TSA has GOT TO GO.

Posted by: Beth | July 14, 2008 12:00 PM

it took a chutney incident for you to realize that the whole TSA system is a stupid cruel joke perpetrated on millions of poor undeserving passengers every day?

Posted by: Glenn | July 14, 2008 1:53 PM

TSA needs to start applying logic to the process. How many people have top secret government clearances but are still stopped for a too large bottle of shampoo? If you are under 16 years old you are allowed through without a photo ID, but heaven forbid you have a spare tube of lip gloss in your purse.

Posted by: tara | July 14, 2008 1:58 PM

It's time to make a concerted effort to change these ridiculous rules. Especially now that the airlines are charging to check bags, how is anyone supposed to take anything liquid back???

Posted by: DB | July 14, 2008 2:02 PM

You should see the TSA people's confusion if you come back from abroad with an aerosol product (say, bug spray) in a container with the capacity listed solely in grams. I have no idea why this Mexican bug spray was listed in grams instead of millilitres (TSA rules allow up to 100 mL), but the TSA guy in Charlotte was confounded by it.

Posted by: Rich | July 14, 2008 2:15 PM

What's really needed here is that the TSA needs to hire better-educated employees who are actually capable of making a carefully-reasoned judgement about the relative danger of something being brought on board the aircraft. The critical-thinking skills learned in the post-secondary scholastic environment are what is missing here, not to mention the appalling lack of training (most of the TSA folks I've encountered can barely speak English even though many of them were clearly born here and in fact it's a lack of education, not the geography of their birthplace, that impairs their language skills).

Last Christmas, I was given a small immersion blender as a gift. The blade was shorter than the blade of my scissors and the item wouldn't even work unless it was plugged into a 110-volt electrical outlet (of which there are exactly NONE on an airplane). Yet I was told that I couldn't bring it onto the airplane and I ended up having to ship it home to myself and almost missed my flight. What was I going to do, BLEND someone to death? And the TSA folks are given far too much power considering that they can't actually make a reasoned judgement. In my scenario above, neither the TSA officer nor her supervisor could actually tell me or quote me the part of the regulation that in fact prevented me from carrying my blender aboard the aircraft...but interestingly enough, I was able to find the list of allowed items in a 10-second search of the TSA Web site when I returned home. If I could find it that easily, shouldn't the people who work there actually KNOW this stuff by heart...or at least have some kind of reference book available?

Posted by: Fairfax | July 14, 2008 2:36 PM

We were prohibited from bringing my daughter's milk through security because it was in a sippy cup, not a bottle. Really? But we had 3 hours before our flight, and I like to argue, so I refused to leave the area until a supervisor came. I ended up going through 2 supervisors, until the 3rd was like, yeah, sippy cups are fine. Of course, by that point (45 minutes later) my kid had finished the milk. I agree - not a lot of critical thinking skills exhibited by some TSA agents.

Posted by: A | July 14, 2008 2:51 PM

I had a similar Lingonberry jam experience in San Francisco - wouldn't let me take home the jar of jam I bought at Ikea - I have also had arguments with TSA in Boston over toothpaste and my husband's shaving cream.

My favorite was when they started checking over my keychain that my daughter had given me - one of those hermetically sealed ones that resemble a magic wand and the sequins roll up and down inside! The guy decided after considering it closely that it was okay since he couldn't find a way to get the liquid out!

Posted by: Diane | July 14, 2008 3:49 PM

I'm not a fan of TSA, but I have to side with them on this. Common sense should tell you that if you think that TSA might have a problem with what you are bringing through security, then check it with your luggage.

Unfortunately, common sense is as about as rare today as carbon paper.

As a frequent flyer, I have two sets of toiletries, one that I will bring if I am checking in luggage, one with small items in a bag if I am just doing carryon. I also make sure that I put my cell phone, iPod and GPS in my carryon bag BEFORE I enter the security line. Just a minute of preparation can save a lot of time in the line.

The problem we have is that too many people think that the rules don't apply to them.
I was behind a lady in security in Houston last month. She had an open bottle of Dr. Pepper. When told she had to get rid of it, she replied "I'm a Christian, those rules are only for non-Christians".

You might not like the rules, but until TSA changes them (and I hope they do), you have to grin and bare it.

Remember: United we stand....in the security line.

Posted by: Dan | July 14, 2008 4:03 PM

Last summer, I flew back to MSP from DC out of Dulles after my grandmother suddenly passed away. My parents sent some mementos home with me that would fit in my suitcase and carry-on to minimize what had to be shipped out to me later on.

One of the carry-on items was an African head sculpture (a knock off of one of the more expensive wood head sculptures). It is obviously old and I didn't have time to clean it up, so it was still tremendously dusty and gritty and just smelled old (the kind of smell and grit you really can't fake).

And, apparently, it is also hollow. Something my grandmother probably didn't know either, since it is actually fairly heavy, and I doubt it had been removed from the top of her bookshelf in, oh, at least 35 years, since I can't ever remember it being anywhere else but the top of her bookshelf.

The TSA x-rays screen showed its hollow nature, so I was called over for a bag check (which I had been anticipating, because some of the jewelry and knick-knacks I was also taking home would present an odd profile). The officer dug out the head statue, told me it was hollow, and demanded I open it.

I looked confused, told him I had no idea it could open and explained its history. He insisted that we were going to have to open it so he could look inside, despite the absence of any obvious catches, latches, screws or hinges. If necessary, he was prepared to break it open.

After 10 days of heavy grieving, I snapped a bit. I told him he had two options: he was welcome to run the statue by itself through the x-ray machine so he could focus on the necessary detail (if it was hollow, surely he could see the presence of something inside the cavity), or he was going to be dealing with a hysterical grieving woman who was going to make sure that anyone and everyone knew they had destroyed a beloved memento given to me by my grandmother on her deathbed (hyperbole, yes, but I didn't care). Because I wasn't leaving it behind, and he wasn't going to break it.

He took the first option, gave it back to me and sent me on my way (wisely sensing my emotional state and implied blackmail, since this was only a week or two after the sippy cup incident at National Airport).

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 14, 2008 4:28 PM

Dan:

Oh my god, that's a riot. The rules only apply to Non-Christians? How about a culturally-Catholic but agnostic like myself?

I, too, have a dual set of toiletries and come ready to go through TSA. I will admit that if I was a TSA person, I would occasionally want to give someone a whack upside the head. The rules, while stupid, are still there and must be accommodated.

But when unusual things happen (like, say, my statue story above), they could try and think things through a little.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 14, 2008 4:31 PM

posted by Dan -
I'm not a fan of TSA, but I have to side with them on this. Common sense should tell you that if you think that TSA might have a problem with what you are bringing through security, then check it with your luggage

***
now think about this: check it in the luggage. Or even better ship it - perhaps as airline cargo!

Until recently, almost zero cargo put aboard passenger planes was being checked. And not much more is being screened now. The TSA gives the illusion to the demoralized travelling public that it is secure. They confiscate unopened bottles of water, toothpaste tubes that roll up to fit into the ziplock plastic bag, and have you dump the kids sippy so that you can support the airports and airlines by having to pay 3 times as much for the item in the secure area as you did at the local CVS.

(Imagine be held up at a malfunctioning kiosk, going through security, and not having time to buy water/food before you catch your flight. Then having to wait for a tiny little glass of water to come by on the beverage cart. We've all been there, and some airlines are charging for this!)

Until all of the cargo being stuffed under the jet is screened it's all an illusion anyway. (Not to scare anyone off. When it's time to get your ticket punched, you can't really argue with St. Peter.)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 12:01 AM

"I was behind a lady in security in Houston last month. She had an open bottle of Dr. Pepper. When told she had to get rid of it, she replied 'I'm a Christian, those rules are only for non-Christians.' "

Dan, you win. Even in the unreal world of TSA-induced travel wackiness, this is bizarre. Somewhere, Franz Kafka is laughing his a** off.

Posted by: BxNY | July 15, 2008 10:42 AM

I've been ranting about this ever since the first mindless TSA ban on things like tweezers (quietly lifted after a couple of years of throwing away travelers personal grooming tools)...

There are pointless demands by the petty tyrants at DHS/TSA which do nothing to make us safer (yes, if the chutney flies,the terrorists win!), and then there's complacent sheep ("passengers") who aren't willing to question authority (yes, if you question authority, the terrorists win!).

Vinegar is in the ingredients. but canola oil is in the ingredients of those very definitely solid brownies. Milk in is in chocolate. Who cares?? Such morons.

And just how qualified to screen security hazards is an adult in the US who has NEVER heard of chutney? There are plenty of non-Indian chutneys around (I buy a blueberry one in Maine), it's not some rare ethnic food. We're giving people barely qualified to work at Burger King the authority to control our lives, and we're getting the same level of security as Burger King provides quality gourmet food (hint: it doesn't).

TSA seems unfixable despite a community of people willing to point out the obvious over and over to them on their blog (about the only place feedback to them gets a response, short of a lawsuit). Fire the whole damn lot of them. And don't fly with chutney.

Posted by: omars | July 16, 2008 12:53 AM

You people are ridiculous thinking that you should be treated differently. Yes, the rules are inconvenient, but I don't believe there is some TSA executive making rules up just to irritate the chutney carrying public. For goodness sake, plan ahead and stop whining.

Posted by: Carolyn | July 16, 2008 9:46 AM

I am really tired of all the TSA bashing. I have never encountered even one TSA agent who wasn't pleasant and courteous. I certainly wouldn't want to be an agent dealing with complainers like you people all day. They are NOT morons and you babies should stop complaining and step up.

Posted by: Frank | July 16, 2008 9:49 AM

My carry-on has lots of electronics and wires in it. Passing through Chinese and Japanese security was slow. In both Beijing and Tokyo the security folks emptied my carry-on into trays and passed all of it back through the machine a second time. Then they hand inspected everything again. Took a half an hour.

In Newark the TSA folks didn't question or open anything I was carrying. They just wanted the poor guy behind me to remove his leg braces and the lady behind him to remove her baby's booties.

In Atlanta the TSA folks were careful to hand inspect all my mother-in-law's medications.

It is pretty clear that the whole security process is a placebo to make the masses feel secure. We delude ourselves. It's an expensive pill that only secures the jobs of the inspectors.

Posted by: Mike | July 16, 2008 11:01 AM

The Chutney incident reminded me of my TSA experience last year flying from Boston to California. I was leaving at 3:00am for a 6:00am flight & forgot to put a little can of New Hampshire Maple Syrup in my checked bag - it was still in the bag from the store, in my purse. This was a sealed metal can, shaped like a log cabin & I was taking it as a gift for friends. I do understand the liquid rules, but the TSA agent who found my 4 oz. can of maple syrup was pretty nasty about it & said if I did not want it thrown away, I could go back & put it in my checked bag, but then I'd have to come through the very long security line again. He said there was no way I could get it mailed. All this as the lady behind me bragged about getting her large size body wash through without being caught. I asked the rude TSA guy if he heard her say that, & he shrugged & said "not my problem since she wasn't pulled aside for a bag search"......unbelievable!

Posted by: Coryl | July 16, 2008 11:26 AM

the only reason that they are working for the tsa is because they cannot got a job any where else because thy are to stupid. they have no comin sense and they have to show there authority.

Posted by: doug | July 16, 2008 3:35 PM

"I am really tired of all the TSA bashing. I have never encountered even one TSA agent who wasn't pleasant and courteous. I certainly wouldn't want to be an agent dealing with complainers like you people all day. They are NOT morons and you babies should stop complaining and step up.

Posted by: Frank | July 16, 2008 9:49 AM "

Frank, I don't know if you fly very much but believe me, not all TSA agents are pleasant and courteous. My wife once blew out her knee skiing. When we arrived at the airport to fly home, the TSA agents took away her crutches, made her hop through the metal detector on her one good leg, then searched her knee bandages by pulling at everything on her leg and running their hands through it. This ordeal put her in such excurciating pain she started screaming. Now you tell me, do you think this woman flying home from a ski resort with a visible ski injury was an injured skiier, or a terrorist? Was it really necessary to cause pain? Don't you think they could have just wanded her?

Posted by: Andy | July 16, 2008 5:08 PM

Andy - I am shaking my head at what your wife went through. You should demand to be wanded. To this day, I will not take my shoes off if I am not wearing socks. Rather, I simply wait until the TSA agent tells me to remove my shoes, at which point I reply, "No thank you. I would like to be wanded." They will grudgingly do it, though they often will then hand search my carry-on. Fine by me.

Posted by: conchfc | July 16, 2008 8:12 PM

I recentuly spent a week on Nantucket and my boyfriend's only request was for "chowda". So let's look at the options: Take it on board and risk TSA confiscating it as it turns from frozen to mush. (Dry ice being out of the question!) Or, you can place it in your checked bag and when the airline tosses it around, the soup will be everywhere and on everything. Solution: After you land at DCA, have a bowl of tasty chowder at Legal Seafood right in the terminal...but it's never the same as when it's imported from Nantucket!

Posted by: CarolineC | July 16, 2008 10:19 PM

I long ago came to the realization that the TSA is managed by fools. End of story.

Posted by: robert tarpey | July 17, 2008 12:04 PM

This liquid thing is so ridiculous! Andrea, Can't you get a petition together, that we will all willingly sign, and harrass the government into rescinding this nonsense?! Somebody has to be the leader. And you probably have the connections that we don't have! Go for it!

Posted by: mfd | July 21, 2008 11:51 PM

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