A special Shiznit investigation: which food is acceptable to eat on a train?

Ali Gray

1st October 2018

Earlier this week, an unforeseen event shocked me to my very core. My good friend and colleague Matthew Looker, a professional and a family man, contacted me to inform me of some most distressing news, and he had pictorial evidence: a woman on his packed commuter train home had begun eating a whole melon with a spoon. Not melon chunks, you understand. An entire, spherical melon. No sooner had the perpetrator finished carving the guts out of the melon, satisfying her own perverted craving for flesh, she began carving up a second melon. The carnage was only contained when the carcasses of the large fruits were stored in a Tupperware lunchbox and removed from the theatre of conflict. Regardless, it was clear: the rules had changed, and none of us in the Banter Squad group chat would ever be the same again.

The incident - or as it was swiftly dubbed, The Melon Chronicles - left us pondering many questions. Was it pre-meditated? How long had the woman been carrying around two melons? How do you leave room for other possessions in a small to medium-sized rucksack if you have two melons and an empty lunchbox in there? Was the rucksack her melon rucksack, for transporting melons only? What meal is this? Or is it a snack? Is it a regular thing? Has she ever heard of pre-packaged portable melon snack pots? What would have happened if the consumption of the melons was not complete by the time her train journey had ended? What was her backup plan? Does one feel self-conscious about eating not one but two entire melons on a crowded passenger train? Should one?

That last question cannot be answered easily, certainly not within 2,000 words, I thought to myself. This requires further analysis, a deep dive into the details, a special counsel to investigate, off the books, with an external office space and a dedicated I.T. guy and no discernible deadline, like the Hutton Inquiry but for snacks. The real question that I intend to answer in this investigation: what kind of food is it acceptable to eat on a train?

I've sat there, watching in horror, as someone fully buttered a bread roll and cut some cheese on the Central line to dunk it in a Pret soup
It's a difficult question to ask, because I'm sure we've all been on both sides of the fence on this one. I've sat there, watching in horror, as someone fully buttered a bread roll and cut some cheese on the Central line - the Central line! - to dunk it in a Pret soup. But we must also have empathy for the train eaters, for they are us. I have also been on the receiving end of unwelcome stares from members of the public, most notably the time I bought a chicken and bacon sandwich from Sainsbury's that, unbeknownst to me at the time of purchase, came with a separately wrapped pack of "crunchy sage sprinkles” which required me to balance the sandwich on my lap, open the sandwich - basically the equivalent of me getting my dick out - and apply the accessory myself while onlookers turned their noses up at me. I felt more and more mortified with every delicious sprinkle. So what I'm saying is, let he who has never eaten an inappropriate foodstuff on a train cast the first stone.

Some ground rules. For the purposes of this hypothetical shaming, allow me to define the scenario. The control situation is thus: owing to its close proximity of passengers and lack of adequate ventilation, the imaginary train is a Tube train (sorry non-Londoners, just imagine an ordinary train but slower, busier and somehow less friendly); the seated eater is facing another passenger, or the snacking has a performative element (if you are in a closed off seat, or are facing a window as you eat, you respect privacy and therefore you are exempt from this investigation, you can eat a human baby for all I care); for simplicity's sake, let's say it's peak travel hours on a weekday, in standard class (first class ticket holders, go crazy, have a hog roast, bring your own fucking fondue, you've earned it, you've won, you've already won at life, you're bulletproof); also, it's summer. Essentially, the premise is 'you are on a train with someone and you don't want to see them eat'. Let's not overcomplicate it.

Right, let's get on with it. These are the new rules for what you can and can't eat on a train, in the UK, in 2018.

See also: popcorn
Relax, pal. You're on safe ground with crisps. Good old reliable crisps. You could even argue that they're tailor made for train consumption: no mess, no odour, no problem. However, there are conditions: 1) Volume is variable, so do the decent thing and suppress the sharpness of the crunch with your tongue; 2) No Wotsits or full pipes of Pringles or share size bags, chill out. Otherwise, feel free to tuck in without guilt or shame. If you're going to have a paddy at someone for eating crisps on the Tube then maybe public isn't the form of transport for you.

Chocolate bars
See also: snack bars, yoghurt coated things
Tidy, tasty, compact: allowed. Treat yourself. No showing off though and eating a whole kilo of Galaxy like you're Lord Snooty feasting in front of the peons. And no licking your fingers. Don't make me reconsider this.

See also: wraps
Yes, but within reason. Again with the caveats! I'm a purist, so my definition of a sandwich is a filling between two slices of bread. You'll never catch me referring to a burger as a sandwich, son. The filling must be on the pre-approved sandwich list: any sane combination of meats, cheeses and accompaniments, no mad sloppy meatball subs or jam sandwiches or disgusting egg combos. Sandwiches even come with their own packet bucket to store any leftover detritus. Just remember to eat your crusts, kids.

Yes, fine, but what are you, eleven? If you're old enough for an Oyster card then you're old enough to be ashamed of eating Skittles on a big boy train.

Any breakfast food except for porridge
Never let it be said I am not merciful. My dude: you are eating breakfast on a train while rushing on your way to work, probably to arrive just in time to contribute nothing to a soul-destroying meeting that could have been an email, and you're not even enjoying it - I won't kick you when you're down, you're already suffering. Depriving someone the single endorphin gained from eating a dry Upper Crust croissant on a train is Disney Villain behaviour. Porridge can get fucked though: if you've got time to heat it up in the microwave, you've got time to eat it at home. Do not mistake mercy for weakness.

Fruit, yes: all fruit
As the emerging authority on the consumption of foodstuffs on trains, I would love nothing more than to provide definitive guidelines. I would love that. But fruit? It's too broad! The variables are myriad! One rule may seem robust for one fruit but feel woefully inadequate for another. It's a lottery. Even size is not a determining factor. Work with me on a case by case basis. Banana? Yes. Grapes? Definitely. Apple? Maybe, depending on the brand, and whether or not you feel it necessary to accompany each bite with that overly theatrical KHHAAAOMMCHHHhhh sound effect like you're in an advert or a radio play. Orange? Outlawed: too much admin. Large fruits? It should be obvious, but no. If you can't hold it in the palm of one hand on a busy commuter train, then it's off limits. If you have a problem with these classifications then take it up with Melon Lady.

See also: Sashimi
You might think sushi and its ilk would be acceptable. It's neat, it's tidy, it's contained. What's the problem? The problem is that I don't want to see your fingers touching the walls of your mouth, and that is a dealbreaker. If you can master chopsticks on a moving train then you qualify on merit, but frankly if you're that talented you should be driving the train. Not that it matters, but are you applying soy sauce and/or wasabi to this sushi? No? Then you're doing sushi all wrong anyway. This was a bad idea, admit it. Stop watching me eat, I hear you say. No. The burden is on you.

Yes, I see you. We all see you. Just as you planned. Sorry, but salad, though healthy and inoffensive, is too loud and too showy. If you're capable of eating salad as a main meal, then you have the ability to ward off hunger until you get home. Don't make me share your vegan nightmare.

Ice cream
McFlurry = yes. Ice cream cone = no. Ice lolly = never. Spooning is acceptable, licking or sucking is not. I don't make the rules.

See also: chips
Yes, but hear me out. I know. Eating a Big Tasty on a method of public transport before 11pm is as socially unacceptable as drinking a can of Skol Super in a school playground. You can get sectioned for less. But: needs must. It's fast food. It wants to be eaten on a train. What are you going to do after five pints of a sturdy IPA on a Friday night, eat a Tesco Value ham and mayo sandwich like you're on a school trip with your mum? Let me live.

See also: pittas
But it's basically a sandwich, you say! No. Abide by the rules of sandwich. You think you're above those ancient laws, that they somehow don't apply to you? Get out of here with your goddamn baguette on a train, you piece of shit. You're asking for trouble. Some baguettes are so unwieldy you'd struggle to eat them neatly with a knife and fork at a table - good luck wolfing down that chicken, bacon and avocado sourdough loaf on the underground without getting chicken, bacon, avocado and spelt flour all over your chin you raging buffoon. Every time you eat a baguette badly on a Tube train, a French person feels acute ennui.

Rice boxes
See also: Bento boxes, Itsu
You're not kidding anyone, trying to eat a miniature meal on a high speed train. Sitting there with your Sicilian Chicken Meatball rice box from Leon, with its minted peas and its wedge of lemon. This isn't Scoff & Banter, this is the Hammersmith & City line. Show some respect for your environment.

It's actually quite a non-offensive food, not overly odorous, there's no hand-to-mouth contact, and it can even, depending on your circumstances, be classified as a drink. However: I don't want to hear you slurping miso soup from Heathrow to fucking Cockfosters. Miss me with that shit.

I feel like I shouldn't even need to qualify this one: it is not okay to eat pizza on a train. The brave men and women of the olden days did not work themselves to the bone while carving tunnels through rocks and granite so you could fill them with noxious fumes of cheese and cubed ham. Pizza loses more points for being so clearly shareable, so unless you're going to invite the entire carriage to join you in your meat feast, do what the rest of us do and slowly piece together a Domino's delivery order during stops using the intermittent station WiFi.

Any barbecued meats
A thousand times no. This is offensive on every olfactory level. It's you, you're the one who buys the little pre-sealed vacuum packs of hot meats in the supermarket sandwich section. If you absolutely must chew on some form of processed meat on your journey, the best I can do is allow you to eat a small pack of Mattessons Fridge Raiders, but only if you're comfortable with me pitying you at speeds up to 60mph.

See also: all Mexican food, sorry Mexico
Have you even been listeni- Christ. You couldn't design a food less suitable to eat on a train. It's a structural liability; a dirty bomb of food waiting to go off. You're lucky if you get 85% of a burrito on target on a good day. If a restaurant might require you to wear a bib to eat a burrito while you're sat still, you shouldn't need to ask if you can eat one bib-less while basically sat on someone's lap hurtling through a dark tunnel.

I will pull that emergency alarm and physically remove you from the vehicle so help me God, do not test me, I'll pay the fine I swear.

In a way, I respect you and your no nonsense attitude. You have literally no fucks left to give. You did life your way and to hell with the consequences. I don't know who hurt you, but you're owning it, and that can only be commended. In another, more accurate way, I hate you because you are eating a kebab on a train and it smells like the killing floor of an abattoir and you definitely voted Leave.

Anything from Wasabi
Statistically there is one person on every train in the UK slowly eating a sweet chilli chicken from Wasabi. Don't be that person.

Anything that requires a knife and fork
Literally what the fuck are you doing?

Basically anything overly fancy
You know what I'm talking about. Stuff like lobster rolls, King prawns, doggy bags of shiitake mushrooms, starfruit, sugar-coated almonds, deep-fried calamari, wasabi peas, absolutely anything from Waitrose's deli counter. You seem to have become lost on the way to getting an £80 black cab home to Kensington. This is the UK, we don't eat fine cuisine on trains. The English train is the great leveller: we're all trapped down here sweating our tits off regardless of creed, class and income. Stick to the accepted norms and you won't have any trouble - because the last time some poor lad dared take a bag of plain white bagels on a train, the British Transport Police had to get involved.
In conclusion: just to be sure, stay away from me if you're eating anything on a train, or even if you're not.

Earlier this week, during the window between writing this article and publishing it, I had a moment of madness and ate a Marks & Spencer Chicken, Bacon & Sweetcorn pasta pot with a plastic spoon on the 10.30pm Greater Anglia train from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich. This incident does not reflect who am I as a person and I apologise to anyone who was affected by the incident.

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