Which is More Likely to Get Past Airport Security? A Real Hamburger or a Fake One?

I travel often for my work. I also travel with many props for my humane education programs. Periodically, my props elicit some alarm among the airport screeners, especially my fake cheeseburger nestled with my clothes in my suitcase. On my last trip, this concern about my cheeseburger resulted in every inch of my bag being checked for drug and explosive residues and the unpacking of almost everything in my suitcase to find the suspicious cheeseburger. (It should be noted that there is nothing illegal about traveling with a cheeseburger even if it were real, although admittedly it would be weird to have it in one’s suitcase, unwrapped, next to clothing.)

I’ve had lots of time to ponder airport screening procedures, given that all told I’ve sacrificed literally weeks of my life in screening lines, taking off my shoes, my coat, my sweater and my scarf; emptying my pockets; taking out my laptop and my toiletries; enduring the pat down of my head (I wear a barrette), which invariably messes up my hair (I can be vain); and periodically getting full body searches (so fun).

And I’ve come to the conclusion that the TSA as an approach to safety is insane. Despite what the sign reads as you await your turn in line (“We care about your safety!”) Let’s consider how many people have died in terrorist attacks in the U.S. on airplanes in the last decade.


I don’t want to diminish the horror of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, but let’s be reasonable. Think about how much taxpayer money has been expended on the TSA ($8 billion/year). Sometimes in the Bangor Airport (my home airport) there are more TSA workers than travelers in line. Think about how much lost productivity has been sacrificed to the time-consuming process of each person practically stripping to go through security. Think about how much toothpaste and shampoo and jam has been tossed into garbage cans because they came in containers over 3.4 ounces.

And then consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the causes of death in the U.S. in 2010, these topped the list:

Heart disease: 597,689 deaths
Cancer: 574,743 deaths
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080 deaths
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476 deaths
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 120,859 deaths
Alzheimer’s disease: 83,494 deaths
Diabetes: 69,071 deaths
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,476 deaths
Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097 deaths
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 38,364 deaths

So many hundreds of thousands of these deaths could be prevented by eating a plant-based diet, not smoking and exercising regularly. Yet not only do we fail to prevent them, our tax dollars actually promote unhealthy diets by subsidizing meat and dairy products and the school lunch program that dumps high fat animal foods into our schools. We also permit the advertising of these unhealthy foods along with the advertising of tobacco products and alcohol (alcohol is a large contributor to the number of deaths by accident).

Something is terribly wrong when we spend $8 billion each year on the TSA when there has been not a single terrorist death on a plane in the U.S. in a decade, and yet we barely attempt to prevent the millions of deaths by certain foods, tobacco and alcohol – products either subsidized or promoted with hardly any restrictions.

That my fake cheeseburger – used to encourage critical thinking about our typical American diet – elicits actual alarm among airport screeners, while real life cheeseburgers served a few feet away in the airport elicit no concern at all, speaks to the failure of our society to think critically about the real challenges and problems of our time and the true dangers we face.


Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and free resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education; and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given several acclaimed TEDx talks, including “The World Becomes What You Teach” and “Solutionaries” and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.


Image courtesy Zoe Weil


Ariel Eckblad
Ariel Eckblad1 years ago

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Past Member
Past Member 2 years ago

Airport Security is also essential things that must be taken into consideration. Perfect information you have discussed here. (844) 808-2707

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg K3 years ago

Thank you

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Zoe, for Sharing this!

What is more Exasperating, is the Fact that Saudi Nationals have Preferred Traveler Status and they do not have to go through Security to get on the Plane!

Dan B.
Dan Brook4 years ago

No Smoking?


Dan B.
Dan Brook4 years ago



Elsie Hovav
Elsie Hovav4 years ago

May I suggest a solution for Zoe - just buy a real cheeseburger when you get to your destination..................

Elsie Hovav
Elsie Hovav4 years ago

I do think these searches are important even if they are so very annoying. Makes me feel safer.

Nirvana Jaganath
Nirvana Jaganath4 years ago


j A4 years ago

interesting irony