An unappetising look at food choice, flavour and control in US prisons
March 30, 2015 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Kevin Pang, 'What Prisoners Eat': It is within my civic right as a dedicated grocery shopper and keeper of leftovers, imprinted in the Charter of Man, that I am free to eat however much I want, of what I want, when I want. In prison, that right is stripped away. Craving pizza on a Saturday night? Feel like washing it down with cold beer? It’s not happening. Your right is reduced to eating portion-fixed food dictated by a warden on a set schedule. If you’re hungry after dinner, you’ll go to bed hungry.
posted by averysmallcat (43 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Although the economy angle is the one people typically go for in justifying giving dehumanizing food to our prisoners ("we feed prisoners this because it's cheap"), we are nevertheless a country that will spend profligately to ensure that others suffer at our command, and as a result of this very little about our prisons is in any meaningful sense economically efficient. This is to say, the economic angle isn't sufficient to explain why we do this - it's a cover story, because our prisons aren't economically efficient.

We must instead appeal to the pleasure we receive from knowing that we are the ones who can choose our own food, and those others over there can be forced to eat whatever they're told - reheated cabbage water and ramen packet; nutriloaf made out of burned scraps; a scoop of potatoes, four peas, and all the ice cream they want. Nutriloaf isn't a cheap food fed to prisoners as punishment, it's a crucial component of a very expensive system to provide us with the pleasurable thought of suffering prisoners.

Tl:dr; very little about the American prison system is about efficiency, and a great deal indeed is about the raw libidinal thrill of dominating and destroying other humans.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [68 favorites]


One time when an inmate inserted a plastic spork up his penis hole, her reaction was an exasperated, “Really?”

That person would have a great entry for the icebreaker MeTa discussion.

Horror stories about prison food reach their unappetizing nadir in the form of one particular dish. Its official name on Aramark Correctional Services recipe card M5978 is “Disciplinary Loaf.” Inmates know it as “Nutraloaf,” a baked foodstuff with the express purpose of providing the required daily nutrients and calories, and nothing more. Flavor isn’t an afterthought, it’s discouraged.

Every so often there is an AskMe question about human monkeychow. I think we just found the answer.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Hit post too fast.) the one person I know who works in a prison says the staff gets served the exact same meals as the prisoners and it is tasty but starchy and heavy. I think this is something that depends on which prison you are in, or even in what part of the prison.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


up his penis hole

I'm fairly sure that's called a urethra.
posted by localroger at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


>up his penis hole

I'm fairly sure that's called a urethra.


I'm fairly certain it's a dandy user name or band name!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:39 PM on March 30, 2015


I'm fairly certain that Disciplinary Loaf is the new ragy REM.
posted by bird internet at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nutraloaf previously.
posted by wcfields at 3:53 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tl:dr; very little about the American prison system is about efficiency, and a great deal indeed is about the raw libidinal thrill of dominating and destroying other humans.

If you wanted to make a serious effort at prison efficiency, I think you'd be best served questioning the existence of the prison system as part of the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation saves money. This never, ever does.
posted by kafziel at 3:57 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is what Soylent is perfect for…to ensure the preservation of the punitive element, in incarceration.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 3:58 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I appreciated that he mentioned that Georgia doesn't serve lunch to prisoners on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday anymore. People say that so matter-of-factly, but it is and should be shocking. I have a friend who teaches in one of the Georgia women's prisons. The women love her because she treats them like people and provides something interesting in the otherwise complete monotony, and because she brings them fresh fruit.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is what Soylent is perfect for…to ensure the preservation of the punitive element, in incarceration.

And the Silicon Valley angle to the torture makes it both more useful and more sexy; on the one hand, we get to use prisoners as involuntary test subjects, letting us see how living off of Soylent indefinitely affects the human body, but on the other hand, the fetishy packaging and grimly ironic marketing strategies associated with Soylent makes our subjugation of prisoners just that much hotter.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2015


I'm fairly sure that's called a urethra.

The hole itself is the urinary meatus. [halfthebattle.jpg]
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:29 PM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]


One of the things I am angry at Canada's current federal government about is the closure of the prison farms here in Kingston (and elsewhere.) There's an excellent case study here .

Kingston has had prisons, and a lot of them, for a long time. Who grew the food to feed the prisons? Prisoners. In modern days, the prison farms were an excellent tool for rehabilitation and skill training. Local farmers used the abattoir run by the prisoners. Local businesses supplied the farms with seed and tools. Food banks were given eggs and milk from the surplus.

Farming is not something every inmate is going to want to do, and gone are the "you farm or you don't eat" days of prison farms, but aside from the tangible skills taught in farming, machinery, equipment repair, etc. there are the benefits of meaningful, measurable daily work: doing something and seeing the rewards of hard work. Waking up early and working hard. Responsibility, but also the feeling of being useful.

I admit I don't know what they have (if anything) replaced the farming with, but it always struck me, down at its core, beyond any nickle-and-diming, as just plain mean. Taking something that could be used as rehabilitation, dismantling it, and throwing it away so that it could not be rebuilt. Replacing rehabilitation with punishment and a fat contract to Sysco.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 4:41 PM on March 30, 2015 [38 favorites]


Taking something good, dismantling it, and throwing it away so it cannot be rebuilt is what the Harper government does.
posted by squinty at 4:47 PM on March 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


Replacing rehabilitation with punishment and a fat contract to Sysco.

Being able to support yourself by your own hands and your own skills outside of the circuits of industrial capitalism is a privilege extended to the few. We absolutely cannot allow prisoners, of all people, access to self sufficiency.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:51 PM on March 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


$1.239.
$1.239.
$1.239.


.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:09 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Compare and contrast: "The best meal I had in Norway — spicy lasagna, garlic bread and a salad with sun-­dried tomatoes — was made by an inmate who had spent almost half of his 40 years in prison."
posted by asterix at 5:09 PM on March 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Food is essential. It’s a basic human right. But we’re also not going to give you shrimp,” [Westville public information officer John] Schrader says. “It’s not the quality of what you can get out in the real world. But is it something that’s bad? Absolutely not. If I really wanted to be healthy, I’d stop eating at home and start eating three meals a day here.

"Alas, I am forced to dig into bacon cheeseburgers, fresh fruit, and whatever the fuck else I want, when I want to eat it."
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:45 PM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


“Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”—Matthew 25:44–45

God Bless America.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:10 PM on March 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've seen the cookbook they reference in the article. It's grim to say the least.
posted by Ferreous at 6:59 PM on March 30, 2015


It's not all doom and gloom, I thought the article ended on a note of hope.
posted by Renoroc at 7:05 PM on March 30, 2015


Georgia doesn't serve lunch to prisoners on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday anymore.

That's truly disgraceful.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:32 PM on March 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Food cannot be used as a disciplinary measure. I can’t say you’re getting less food because you’re acting out. Food is essential. It’s a basic human right. But we’re also not going to give you shrimp," Schrader says. "It’s not the quality of what you can get out in the real world. But is it something that’s bad? Absolutely not. If I really wanted to be healthy, I’d stop eating at home and start eating three meals a day here."

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by ostranenie at 8:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, he'd save a whole lot on furnishings if he lived in a cellblock.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:43 PM on March 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm sure it's reasonably healthy if you are the exact median American white male. Aside from all the other problems, somehow I doubt they're monitoring to make sure that inmates who are prediabetic or have a family history of diabetes are getting fewer carbs, that inmates with a family history of things like colon cancer are getting more fiber. I doubt anybody asks if you need a low-residue diet. The whole prison population gets low-sodium because some people have hypertension. Except having low blood pressure is less common but not impossible.

One of the powerful things about food is how the specific makeup of what we eat impacts our health in ways that are hugely individual. You can't say something is just "healthy food" because there is no way to serve one meal to an entire prison and be serving appropriate food for every single individual. It isn't really independent of the taste thing; our nuanced sense of taste is absolutely related to how important variety and choice are.
posted by Sequence at 6:02 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would have a lot more sympathy if the meals they serve prisoners didn't intensely resemble meals they serve military members in our chowhalls. Or to schoolchildren in their cafeterias. And honestly, the complaining seems about on par with it too, down to scaring newcomers with the dread tales of That One Food.

Maybe it's just that cafeteria food which is required to be prepped in advance, not too spicy, not too anything, is just naturally bad?
posted by corb at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2015


I would have a lot more sympathy if the meals they serve prisoners didn't intensely resemble meals they serve military members in our chowhalls.

A serious question: do service members engage in black market popsicle / other food production operations, or consider ramen noodles to be a useful, all-purpose dining hall meal replacement/supplement?
posted by Going To Maine at 9:24 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes. Yes they do. Especially while deployed. You should see the shit we make with MREs.
posted by corb at 9:26 AM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although I will say deployment terrible food is often mitigated by nice old Midwestern ladies sending care packages to Any Servicemember, which I think but am not 100% on are not done for prisoners. I mean, it wouldn't surprise me if some church groups did, I just haven't heard of it.
posted by corb at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2015


soylent

Stop giving them ideas you crazy fuckers.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2015


Also, he'd save a whole lot on furnishings if he lived in a cellblock.

No rental payments! No mortgage! No health or car insurance payments! No utility payments! It's just high living off the government teat! Why isn't he taking advantage of this incredible deal?

i hate them all so much
posted by poffin boffin at 10:14 AM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I actually think that in a few years, once we have some good medical research published on soylent, it might be ideal for this situation - nutritious and not horrible.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:15 AM on March 31, 2015


I think there isn't really a way to make it not horrible unless it comes in multiple forms that are relatively indistinguishable from various real foods, though. Having textureless glop day in and day out is apparently really horribly demoralizing. There was a recent unlisted previously on this subject, sort of, where some guy subjected himself to some actually rather expensive meal replacement glop for a month and had a very unhappy time with it. IIRC one of the major complaints was a lack of textures.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


alternately, we could abolish prisons.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2015


alternately, we could abolish prisons.

So, like, what happens when people commit crimes?
posted by nicolas.bray at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, like, what happens when people commit crimes?

There's a range of answers to this question. A good place to start exploring proposed alternatives to incarceration might be Critical Resistance's web presence.

Hope that helps!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, like, what happens when people commit crimes?

I'm okay with simply exiling them for a period of time, but I understand most people are not fond of this idea.
posted by corb at 2:39 PM on March 31, 2015


I'm okay with simply exiling them for a period of time, but I understand most people are not fond of this idea.

Yeah I can imagine Canada and Mexico having a bit of a problem with that.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:40 PM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Again, there exists a prison abolition movement, it's full of smart people, and there are in fact alternatives to incarceration that aren't outlandish. I wish I had time to put together an "abolition 101" reading list, but I don't. Nevertheless, it might be useful for people opposed to the American incarceration regime to go to Critical Resistance's site and see what Angela Davis's people have been up to.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:07 PM on March 31, 2015 [5 favorites]


I actually think that in a few years, once we have some good medical research published on soylent, it might be ideal for this situation - nutritious and not horrible.

Well there's that whole destroying intestines because nothing is moving through them thing, that's kind of a problem.

So, like, what happens when people commit crimes?

Norway has some ideas.

I'm okay with simply exiling them for a period of time, but I understand most people are not fond of this idea.

Exile to where, precisely? Be specific. Once again, glibertarian ideas are about 'fuck you' and not about caring for humanity.

The simple reality, borne out by decades of research, is this: punishment does nothing. Rehabilitation does. Treat people like actual human beings deserving of dignity, help them reintegrate into society, and apart from actual sociopaths you are going to see beneficial effects for society. Punitive justice isn't.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:45 PM on March 31, 2015


You Can't Tip a Buick: "This is what Soylent is perfect for…to ensure the preservation of the punitive element, in incarceration.

And the Silicon Valley angle to the torture makes it both more useful and more sexy; on the one hand, we get to use prisoners as involuntary test subjects, letting us see how living off of Soylent indefinitely affects the human body, but on the other hand, the fetishy packaging and grimly ironic marketing strategies associated with Soylent makes our subjugation of prisoners just that much hotter.
"

You know, I would volunteer to test Soylent.

No cost, right?

#NotInPrison
posted by Samizdata at 7:28 AM on April 1, 2015


You know, I would volunteer to test Soylent.

No cost, right?

#NotInPrison


Yes, that. The choice thing you have. That's the difference, precisely.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:02 PM on April 1, 2015


I've often wondered what it's like for prisoners with food allergies to common ingredients like wheat, soy or corn. It's hard enough when you can pick and choose what you like. Must be hell when your only source of food doesn't give a fuck about you.
posted by fivebells at 6:58 PM on April 3, 2015


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