When it comes to U-2 pilots, I have always been haunted by two things: 1) Are you guys doing anything bad up there, and 2) What are you eating? And here’s what I’ve learned: According to the Military Times, U-2 pilots have a workaround to snacking at high altitudes. Enter tube foods. It’s food that goes through a tube, then a straw, then into a mouth. Tube foods!
The main tube food I consume is tube frosting, which I keep in my cabinet for days when I need to squeeze dyed sugar into my mouth using two forceful hands like an orangutan with something to prove. Is it a cry for help, or is it just a simple tube snack, an innocent indulgence that the whole family can enjoy? Is it both? These are the philosophical questions that haunt us all equally, and not just me, morning and night.
So what are U-2 pilots eating up at 70,000 feet in the air? Basically, it’s anything that can fit through a ⅜-inch-thick straw, including but not limited to pizza, pasta, and apple pie. The military has been doing this since the 1950s, and the system has even been used in space with astronauts (though it’s not the most typical method of eating in space).
The straw fits into the pilots’ pressurized helmets, which, along with their suits, have to stay on the whole time they’re in the air—so no using hands or utensils. The straws are connected to tiny aluminum tubes, and each tube filters food amounting to 150 to 300 calories.
The best and weirdest part of the U-2 pilots’ snack habit is that the tube foods still retain the texture of those foods. Originally, the tube foods were simply blended into a paste in order to fit through the straw, but since then, the menu has been tinkered with in order to make the texture more distinctive for the 19 varieties of tube food that exist. Example: apple pie that has bits of crust and beef stew with discernible chunks of meat and vegetables in it.
Here is where I diverge: I think all tube food should be mono-textural. What if you’re sucking on a casserole, and suddenly there’s a full-on pea that gets lodged in your throat? Or your snack is interrupted by military activity and you choke on your dessert? No thank you!