BAD FOODS


    OCTOBER 02, 2014

    Exposing Underbelly Of Privatized Prison Food

    The Detroit Free Press has been publishing a terrific series of stories about Aramark, a private vendor of prison food and commissaries which has operated at several Texas jails.

    The articles are listed below:

    ^Four Aramark prison workers caught in sexual romp with inmates

    ^Aramark prison worker accused of smuggling in heroin, other drugs

    ^Aramark prison worker suspected in attempted hired hit

    ^Aramark contract at Oakland University hindered by prison infractions

    ^Michigan fines Aramark $200,000 more for poor prison food service

    ^Prisons director canceled $98,000 fine imposed on Aramark


    Private Food Provider Serves up Little Meals at a Big Cost

    07/19/2013
    Piper

    Aramark, a company that operates a variety of food services in prisons, has come under fire again for its business practices after a new expose by the Associated Press. The findings are not good for the company.

    They include:

    "- In Ohio, a 2001 audit found that Aramark had charged the state for 1.7 million meals it never served in just two years -- adding up to $2.1 million in extra costs.

    - In Florida, the company made off with $4.9 million a year by charging the state per head instead of per meal. The state dropped its contract in 2009.

    - After a 2009 prison riot over poor food service in Kentucky, an investigation found that Aramark had not only been substituting lower quality meats and skimping on portions, but also padding its numbers by charging for 3,300 people it wasn't serving. Once again, the state was over-billed for $130,000 a year."

    It appears that the company hasn't behaved much better in the Lone Star State.

    From grossly overcharging for commissary items in Bexar County to spoiled food in Tarrant County, Aramark hasn't left a good mark on Texas. Without a list of which prisons have a contract with the company, however, it's impossible to say just how many incarcerated people are being served bad food at a bad cost.

    Jail and prison facilities with contracts with Aramark may want to be asking some hard questions after these latest revelations.

    Aramark's Web Site

    Private Food Provider Serves up Little Meals at a Big Cost


    Three Meals a Day for Texas Prisoners: The Petition Campaign

    By Richard Connelly
    Dec. 6 2011

    More sir, please.

    ​The daughter of a Texas inmate is getting thousands of people to sign a petition demanding the state resume feeding its prisoners three times a day seven days a week.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced this fall that budget constraints were forcing them to feed prisoners at some units only twice a day on the weekends, a move that raised eyebrows around the country.

    Destiny Bowser has collected more than 4,000 signatures in a month on a petition entitled "Give Texas Prisoners Three Meals a Day" on the change.org Web site.
    (http://www.change.org/petitions/give-texas-prisoners-three-meals-a-day)

    "If you cut the budget, the last thing you should cut is food," she tells Hair Balls. "TDCJ is responsible for the health and well-being of its inmates."

    Bowser says her father is a TDCJ inmate who has a health condition that forces him to take medicine that causes him to lose weight. (Blake Bowser is serving time for a 1999 Travis County murder.)

    "In just a few days, thousands of people have joined my campaign on Change.org, and many more are sure to join in," Bowser said in a release. "As a civilized society, we have an obligation to set an example and protect the human rights of all individuals, even prisoners."

    She hopes to put pressure on Texas legislators and also on the American Correctional Association. She's asking the ACA to remove its accreditation of TDCJ.

    "What Destiny Bowser has accomplished in just a few days is remarkable," said Change.org's Jon Perri in the release. "With no budget and armed with only a laptop, Ms. Bowser has managed to recruit thousands of supporters from across the country and the endorsement of the Texas Prisoner Family Association. Change.org is about empowering anyone, anywhere to demand action on the issues that matter to them, and it has been incredible to watch Destiny's campaign take off."

    Three Meals a Day for Texas Prisoners


    Nov. 11, 2011

    TEXAS STATE LEGISLATURE AND TDCJ:
    Stop the cuts on prisoners food and feed the prisoners

    PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION >>> CLICK HERE

    Why This Is Important

    My name is Destiny Bowser and I have decided to come up against the new legislation for food cuts in TX prisons.

    I have started a petition on Change.org and would love for you to sign it and spread the word.

    My dad is in prison here in TX and he is sick and on constant shots that make him weak and loose weight constantly. I read an article that stated when they are sick a dietician would come in and assess when and how the prisoner should eat. But when I contacted Medical at his prison he stated to me that it is not the frequency on which they feed them it is the calories that are on the tray, but the prisoners don’t eat everything on the tray, something must be done about this immediately.

    WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!


    Let Them Eat Nothing – No Lunch for Prisoners

    • by Cathryn Wellner
    • October 24, 2011

    A growing number of U.S. prisons are taking steps to shatter any illusion that the role of prisons is to rehabilitate rather than merely punish. Eliminating lunch on weekends is gaining ground. The New York Times recently reported that Texas prisons scrapped mid-day meals on Saturday and Sunday last April. Still available are “brunch” from 5 to 7 a.m. and dinner between 4 and 6:30 p.m. Then last month they chopped last meals for inmates scheduled for execution.

    Texas is not alone in skirting American Correctional Association standards by reducing the number of meals served. Ohio, Arizona, Georgia and Indiana all operate their food services on reduced schedules. Georgia inmates go three days without lunch, Friday through Sunday.

    Slashing food budgets may create other financial headaches. On October 11th, inmates in a privately operated Oklahoma prison rioted over the poor quality of food. Kentucky prisoners rioted in 2009 when they were served soup filled with worms and burritos containing human feces. That same year, inmates in a privately-run prison in Texas set fire to the facility to protest inadequate food and health care.

    More Than Money at Stake

    The practice of cutting meals or serving mediocre food seems like a simple budgetary issue, but the implications may be far reaching. A study of the impact of mild hunger on the decisions made by eight Israeli judges showed they made harsher parole decisions before meal breaks. After analyzing more than 1,000 decisions made by eight experienced judges over a period of 50 days, the researchers found, “The proportion of favorable rulings fell from about 65 percent to nearly zero during each session separated by the two food breaks, leaping back to 65 percent immediately after the breaks. If judges are influenced by mild hunger, prisoners surely are too.

    A study currently underway in the U.K. is testing the link between poor diet and violence in prison populations. It is based on the findings of 2002 study showing that prisoners receiving nutritional supplements committed fewer violent offenses. The lead researcher, Bernard Gesch, says the link between behavior and diet is not new. Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso saw a connection between terrorism and poor diet in 1892. Many other studies showing links between diet and behavior are analyzed in a report called, “Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental health and behaviour.”

    The Impact Is Still Unknown

    The impact of reducing the number of meals served to inmates has not yet been the subject of a study. So far the prisons reducing the number of meals are not reporting increases in behavioral problems. In an era of tight budgets, more prisons are likely to join the experiment.

    Inmates who protest will not find much sympathy from Texas State Senator John Whitmore. The Democratic chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee responded bluntly to questions about the cuts: “If they don’t like the menu, don’t come there in the first place.”

    Read more: Let Them Eat Nothing – No Lunch for Prisoners


    OCTOBER 23, 2011

    Thousands of Texas prisoners now "brunch" (before 7 a.m.) - weekend meals reduced at 36 units

    The New York Times reported this week (Oct. 20) that:
    Thousands of ... inmates in the Texas prison system have been eating fewer meals since April after officials stopped serving lunch on the weekends in some prisons as a way to cut food-service costs. About 23,000 inmates in 36 prisons are eating two meals a day on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three. A meal the system calls brunch is usually served between 5 and 7 a.m., followed by dinner between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

    The meal reductions are part of an effort to trim $2.8 million in food-related expenses from the 2011 fiscal year budget of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency. Other cuts the agency has made to its food service include replacing carton milk with powdered milk and using sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns.

    Prison administrators said that the cuts were made in response to the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall in 2011, and that the weekend lunches were eliminated in consultation with the agency’s health officials and dietitians.

    Michelle Lyons, an agency spokeswoman, said that inmates with health problems who have been prescribed a therapeutic diet continue to receive three meals per day.

    The Times' Manny Fernandez notes that these reductions actually began in April, during the last fiscal year. The cuts as a practical matter were even bigger than depicted in the Times article. Grits reported back in January that this line item was formally cut 13.5%, or more than $14 million, from 2009 levels (which IMO is the better point of comparison in a biennial budget). Still, this is the first story I've seen offering any detail on how implementation has directly impacted the quantity and quality of prisoner food. One imagines scaling back to two meals might also spur commissary sales, which through a jaundiced eye might look cynical after the Lege told TDCJ last spring to seize money in prisoner commissary accounts to pay for their healthcare and confiscated commissary profits for budget reduction that would have gone to "inmate recreational and educational materials."

    It was a long, hot, un-air conditioned summer in most Texas prisons, with another one likely next year. Tack onto that rationing food and healthcare and reduced oversight of private facilities, and this issue joins the list of looming budget-related flashpoints before the Legislature meets again. That's especially true since, between weather and the commodities market, as Grits wrote when the budget cuts were announced, "food costs are rising, so that leaves reduced quantity or quality as the only real ways to save money on that line item - unless, of course, the state decides to simply reduce the total number of people it's feeding three times per day." Having failed to do that, front-line austerity in the prison cafeteria became inevitable. The question becomes, is it sustainable?

    MORE: Best headline on this from CNN-Money, "Texas prisoners lose their lunch." AND MORE: At Texas Justice Dot Org.


    In Bid to Cut Costs at Some Texas Prisons, Lunch Will Not Be Served on Weekends

    By MANNY FERNANDEZ
    Published: October 20, 2011


    HOUSTON — Texas prison officials last month ended the decades-old practice of serving last meals to inmates about to be executed after one man ordered an elaborate feast of hamburgers, pizza and chicken-fried steaks that he did not eat.

    But the 300 inmates on death row are not the only ones coping with food restrictions.

    Thousands of other inmates in the Texas prison system have been eating fewer meals since April after officials stopped serving lunch on the weekends in some prisons as a way to cut food-service costs. About 23,000 inmates in 36 prisons are eating two meals a day on Saturdays and Sundays instead of three. A meal the system calls brunch is usually served between 5 and 7 a.m., followed by dinner between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

    The meal reductions are part of an effort to trim $2.8 million in food-related expenses from the 2011 fiscal year budget of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the state prison agency. Other cuts the agency has made to its food service include replacing carton milk with powdered milk and using sliced bread instead of hamburger and hot dog buns.

    Prison administrators said that the cuts were made in response to the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall in 2011, and that the weekend lunches were eliminated in consultation with the agency’s health officials and dietitians.

    Michelle Lyons, an agency spokeswoman, said that inmates with health problems who have been prescribed a therapeutic diet continue to receive three meals per day.

    By reducing its weekend meals, Texas has set itself apart from most other state prison systems. State inmates in New York, California, Nevada, Florida and several other states are fed three times a day, seven days a week. Federal prisoners receive three meals daily, as do inmates in the county jails throughout Texas. Most states serve their inmates milk in cartons, but Texas prison officials said switching to powdered milk would save them an estimated $3.5 million annually.

    Ohio and Arizona serve two meals per day on the weekends to reduce food-service costs. Georgia serves two meals per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, though inmates on work details receive a third meal.

    Inmates’ relatives and legal advocates in Texas said the elimination of milk in cartons and weekend lunches was an unnecessarily harsh cutback that had a negative effect on prison life. In August, 19 inmates at the Hutchins State Jail near Dallas, one of the 36 prisons that reduced weekend meals, signed a petition and sent it to the Texas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, calling the food cutbacks a violation of the federal Constitution.

    “I think it’s really easy to take things away from inmates,” said Susan Fenner, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “One inmate told me, for some of them, that’s all they have to look forward to is a meal.”

    Inmates are allowed to purchase chips and other snacks from prison commissaries.

    In prisons that have cut back on weekend meals, food from the commissaries has taken on a new significance. Prisoners’ relatives said the meal reductions affect low-income inmates the most, because their families cannot afford to send money to keep them supplied with commissary snacks.

    The weekend meal reduction appears to be out of step with the standards adopted by the American Correctional Association. In adult prisons, the association recommends serving three meals per day. Variations are allowed based on weekend and holiday food-service demands as long as the meals meet basic nutritional goals, but the standards do not state that the variations can be done every weekend or as a cost-cutting measure.

    Daron Hall, the sheriff of Davidson County in Tennessee and the president of the American Correctional Association, said Texas prison officials had adopted a loose interpretation of the food-service standards and needed to monitor the impact of the reductions on inmates. “I’ve never read the standard to mean you can do it every weekend,” Sheriff Hall said. “In the economic climate we’re in, you’re asked to do some creative and inventive things. You have to balance that with the safety and welfare of inmates in the facilities.”

    Prisoners’ rights advocates said that serving inmates fewer than three meals a day falls into a legal gray zone based on various cases around the country. In Texas, a state law requires inmates to be fed “three times in any 24-hour period,” but the law applies only to county inmates and not to state prisoners.

    “We’re beginning to see this more frequently, as states and counties begin to cut back on food in a short-sighted attempt to cut costs,” said David C. Fathi, director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Prison Project in Washington. “This is not something the Supreme Court has addressed.”

    Texas prison officials said they have no legal concerns about the food cutbacks, believe that they are in compliance with the correctional association standards and stress that inmates have not reported health problems stemming from the meal reductions. “Extensive consultation with T.D.C.J.’s health services department and system dieticians prior to implementation of this plan have allowed us to avoid any medical issues,” Ms. Lyons said in a statement.

    State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee whose outrage over last meals on death row led to the end of the practice last month, said the reductions were not a major concern to him. “If they don’t like the menu,” he said, “don’t come there in the first place.”

    In Bid to Cut Costs at Some Texas Prisons, Lunch Will Not Be Served on Weekends


    Crime Diet - The relationship between vitamins and aggressive behavior

    06/14/2009

    Crime Diet

    Researchers examine the relationship between vitamins and aggressive behavior.

    In prisons across America, convicts are meeting for group therapy, taking college courses, and even studying the Bible as part of programs that aim to reduce crime among convicts. But according to Oxford University scientist Bernard Gesch, there may be an easier, cheaper and quicker way to prevent crime: just take an over-the-counter vitamin tablet. Gesch just published the results of an 18-month study on inmates at a maximum-security prison in England, and found that those receiving vitamin supplements for a minimum of two weeks were involved in 35% fewer disciplinary infractions than those who received a placebo.

    At a maximum-security prison in England, Gesch and a team of British scientists enrolled 231 prisoners in a study designed to test the effects of over the counter supplements containing vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. They tracked the prisoners' behavior for nine months before administering vitamins, tallying the incidents of "antisocial behavior," which can run the gamut from mouthing off to a guard to starting fights with other inmates. They also observed the prisoner's diets. Overall, he says, the prison offered healthy choices and most inmates were getting close to the recommended doses of vitamins. But, Gesh says, "a lot of the prisoners were not getting the nutrients they needed because of poor choices…You could have salad and artichokes in béchamel sauce but what they chose to eat was the pile of chips."

    To supplement prison diets, the study randomly selected half of the prisoners to receive vitamin supplements for the following nine months, while the other half received a placebo. Over those nine months, researchers saw instances of antisocial behavior plummet in the group receiving vitamins, while the placebo group's behavior remained virtually the same. Minor offenses fell by 33% among the vitamin group, and serious offenses, including violence, fell 37%.

    These results may be surprising to some, but not to Stephen Schoenthaler. A professor of criminology and sociology at Cal State Stanislaus, Shoenthaler has been studying the effects of vitamins on inmates in California for the last 20 years. In a study among young offenders in California, Shoenthaler found that young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems. In a large study of prison diets in California, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Florida, he found that prisoner's eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. "Normally, you'd say the best predictor of violence is how people behaved in the past," Shoenthaler says. "We found that's not as good a predictor as looking at people's diets."

    The next step is to figure out why this is happening. Shoenthaler' s studies suggest that low concentrations of nutrients in the blood can wreak havoc on electrical activity in the brain, affecting processing of neurotransmitters like seratonin.

    It makes sense on a common-sense level, too, says Gesch. "Despite that fact that it's only 2% of our mass, [the brain] uses 20% of the energy available to the rest of the body…When we make changes to our diet, which is the organ that is likely to be affected the most?" Schoenthaler and Gesch are hoping to have their studies replicated to find out if vitamins always have this effect.

    If replicating the study shows it happens consistently, there could be broad implication. Gesch says vitamin supplements could be even more effective among the general population, noting that diets among criminal in the community are likely to be even worse than in prison, where people at least receive regular meals. Could giving out vitamin supplements prevent young people from starting out on a life of crime in the first place? That's what he really wonders about, Gesch says: "What would have happened to these young men had they been properly nourished all their lives? Would they have been in prison? We don't know but I think it's about time we started looking into it."

    CONTACTS:

    Bernard Gesch: Director of Natural Justice
    University Laboratory of Physiology
    Parks Road, Oxford
    OX1 3PT, United Kingdom
    Phone (UK): 011 44 1229 580055

    Stephen Schoenthaler: Professor,
    Sociology/Criminal Justice
    California State University
    Stanislaus, CA
    Phone: (209) 667- 3222

    Crime Diet


    Jail food provider in court today accused of bribing Potter County sheriff

    September 5, 2008
    By WENDY HUNDLEY
    The Dallas Morning News
    whundley@dallasnews.com

    The CEO of a Dallas-based company that provides food services for several jails around the state is expected to be in a Collin County court today accused of trying to bribe the Potter County sheriff in order to maintain a contract there. The case was moved to McKinney from Amarillo on a venue change.

    Robert Austin Jr., CEO of Mid-America Services Inc., is charged with engaging in organized criminal activity for offering money and other benefits to Sheriff Michael Shumate to keep the company’s contract at the Potter County Jail. The Texas Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case that was investigated for more than two years by the FBI.

    Mr. Shumate, who had been the Potter County Sheriff since 2001, was removed from office in June after an Amarillo jury convicted him of engaging in organized criminal activity. He is currently serving a 180-day jail sentence. He was also fined $5,000 and will have to serve eight years of probation.

    Mid-America has had a long — and often troubled — history involving its dealings with several Texas sheriff’s and county jails, including former Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles. In 2004, Mr. Bowles was indicted for misapplication of fiduciary property in a case that grew out of a special prosecutor’s investigation of Mid-America. The case was later dismissed.

    Jail food provider


    July 16, 2008

    Food poisoning possible at Galveston County Jail
    If confirmed, it would be the third outbreak in 6 years

    By HARVEY RICE
    Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

    GALVESTON — The outbreak of illness at the Galveston County Jail that officials suspect was caused by food poisoning was the third such case since 2002, according to court documents.

    Prisoners in the two previous outbreaks sued the Baton Rouge, La., company that provides meals to inmates under contract with the county, and both lawsuits were settled out of court, records show.

    At the height of the illness last week, 543 prisoners — about half the population of the jail — were suffering symptoms that included stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

    One prisoner was taken to the hospital because of severe dehydration, and at least six others were given fluids intravenously at the jail because of fluid loss, said jail commander Maj. Mike Henson.

    The first of two previous instances leading to lawsuits against jail food contractor ABL Management Inc. occurred Thanksgiving Day 2002 when a number of inmates became ill after eating cornbread stuffing that had been removed from tainted turkey, said Houston attorney Clement Aldridge Jr.

    Aldridge, who represented 186 inmates who claimed to be stricken after eating the stuffing, said ABL personnel discovered that turkey to be served for the holiday dinner was tainted.

    The turkey was taken off the menu, but the stuffing was removed and served, Aldridge said. Some prisoners were ill for as long as 10 days, while others suffered symptoms for only a few hours, he said.

    Aldridge said ABL agreed to settle the lawsuit by determining how much each prisoner in the lawsuit deserved.

    He declined to say how much inmates were paid, but a court document shows that ABL agreed to pay a maximum of $2,177 to each of 34 prisoners in the lawsuit.

    ABL did not respond to a request for comment.

    The second spate of illnesses at the jail occurred on March 27, 2004, after a lunch of tacos, Aldridge said. The second outbreak was less severe, and investigators from the Galveston County Health District were unable to determine whether food was the cause, Aldridge said.

    The symptoms were short-lived, he said, lasting a day or two in the worst cases.

    Aldridge declined to reveal the amounts in the settlement that ABL paid to the 67 prisoners he represented in the lawsuit, but said the individual settlements were smaller because of the shorter duration of the illness.

    In the investigation into the cause of the latest outbreak, health district investigators have sent stool specimens collected from 16 inmates to the Houston City laboratory to test for evidence of food poisoning, spokesman Kurt Koopmann said.

    He said testing was unable to find evidence of food poisoning in 14 samples, and investigators were awaiting results for the two remaining samples.

    Investigators also are examining the medical records of inmates treated by the jail medical staff for clues, but it's not certain that a cause will be found, Koopmann said.

    harvey.rice@chron.com

    Food Poisoning


    July 10, 2008

    Tainted food likely behind illness of 543 Galveston inmates

    By HARVEY RICE
    Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

    GALVESTON — At least 543 prisoners, about half the Galveston County Jail population, have been stricken with an illness, many of them vomiting and experiencing diarrhea, the Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

    Prisoners began complaining of stomach cramps and other symptoms about 5 p.m. Wednesday and county health officials were called to test food for contamination and help identify the cause, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

    Food test results are expected Friday.

    At one point Thursday, the stricken prisoners were complaining of nearly identical symptoms. One inmate was taken to an emergency room for treatment late Wednesday but has since been returned to the jail.

    Jail staff suspected that the illness may have been caused by an earlier meal and quarantined numerous food items.

    As of 4 p.m. Thursday more than 400 prisoners were still experiencing symptoms.

    Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo declined to say it was food poisoning, but said the illness was likely food related.

    Medical staff at the jail were closely monitoring stricken prisoners.

    harvey.rice@chron.com

    Tainted food


    JURISPRUDENCE

    Taste-Testing Nutraloaf

    The prison food that just might be unconstitutionally bad.

    By Arin Greenwood
    Posted June 24, 2008

    Nobody thinks prison food is haute cuisine, but could it be so bad it's unconstitutional? The question comes up more often than you might think, and there's one dish in particular that so offends the palates of America's prisoners that it's repeatedly been the subject of lawsuits: Nutraloaf.

    Nutraloaf (sometimes called Nutri-loaf, sometimes just "the loaf") is served in state prisons around the country. It's not part of the regular menu but is prescribed for inmates who have misbehaved in various ways—usually by proving untrustworthy with their utensils. The loaf provides a full day's nutrients, and it's finger food—no fork necessary.

    Prisoners sue over Nutraloaf with some regularity, usually arguing either that their due process rights have been violated (because they are served the punitive loaves without a hearing) or that the dish is so disgusting as to make it cruel and unusual and thus a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Typical of these suits is the 1992 case LeMaire v. Maass. Samuel LeMaire slit a man's throat before going to state prison and attacked his prison guards and fellow prisoners with sharpened poles, feces, and a homemade knife once inside. LeMaire was then put in a Nutraloaf-serving disciplinary unit. Among other complaints about the accommodations there, LeMaire argued that Nutraloaf was cruel and unusual and thus violated his 8th Amendment rights.

    A lower court agreed with LeMaire and ordered the prison to serve him something more delicious. The 9th Circuit, however, overturned the lower court's decision, holding that while Nutraloaf may be unappetizing, "The Eighth Amendment requires only that prisoners receive food that is adequate to maintain health; it need not be tasty or aesthetically pleasing."

    Prisoners in Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia, among other states, have sued over Nutraloaf or its equivalent. The latest court to hear a Nutraloaf case is the Vermont Supreme Court, where prisoners argued that Vermont's use of the loaf violated their due process rights. (In Vermont, the punishment is one loaf, served at normal meal times, for up to a week.) Oral arguments (MP3) were heard in March, and a decision is expected to come down by the end of the year. But it doesn't look good for the prisoners. The lawyer representing the prisoners noted that "Nutraloaf has been found to be uniformly unappetizing to everyone who has been served it." To which one justice replied: "Counsel, I've eaten Nutraloaf. And it isn't tasty. But many things I've eaten aren't tasty."

    Even unsympathetic courts seem willing to concede that Nutraloaf is pretty disgusting, but after reading through the court filings in these cases, I couldn't shake a nagging question—just how bad is it? Nutraloaf is made differently in different prisons. Vermont's penal cookbook calls for a combination of vegetables, beans, bread, cheese, and raisins. I recently spent $15 on a nearly identical dish at a vegan cafe in New York—and it didn't even have raisins. In a spirit of legal and culinary adventurousness, I decided to make some Nutraloaf of my own.

    I chose three test recipes that seemed representative of the various loaves served in prisons across the land: a vegan Nutraloaf from Illinois that is heavy on processed ingredients (and has been the subject of lawsuits); a meat recipe from California that favors fresh, natural ingredients (which has not been challenged in court); and the Nutraloaf from Vermont, the one most recently at issue before a court.

    I started with Illinois. I mixed canned spinach in with baked beans, tomato paste, margarine, applesauce, bread crumbs, and garlic powder. Together the ingredients became a thick, odorous, brown paste, which I spread into a loaf pan and put in the oven. After 40 minutes, I took the loaf out of the oven and sliced some off. It was dense and dry and tasted like falafel gone wrong. But instead of it making me feel pleasantly sated like falafel does, even the small test slice I sampled gave me a stomachache.

    I cooked up Vermont next, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Vermont was like Illinois but with raisins and nondairy cheese. I'm a vegetarian, so my sister-in-law Lori volunteered to cook the California loaf, which includes ground beef. As she mixed up the chopped cabbage, diced carrots, cubed potatoes, whole wheat flour, and beans, I realized that what she was making looked delicious, at least compared with the first two loaves. Lori kindly offered to make two California loaves—one with meat and one without, our only deviation from the Nutraloaf recipes.

    To test the loaves, I invited friends and relatives over for what I promised would be an educational dinner party. This being Washington, D.C., more than half the adults were lawyers, which I thought gave our experiment a nice jurisprudential twist. To keep the Nutraloaf test authentic, I mandated that my guests eat with their hands; plus, after sneaking in that taste of Illinois earlier in the day, I was worried someone might stab me if I let them use utensils.

    I thought I'd start out easy with the loaf that hasn't inspired a lawsuit—yet. California looked nice on the plate, though it didn't quite hold together as a loaf. I picked some off my plate with my fingers. It tasted a bit like vegetarian chili. Not bad. My cousin Steve, a mortgage broker who had sampled the California loaf with meat, disagreed. "It's what you imagine Alpo tastes like," he said. Lori said she liked it and said she'd even consider making it again, though she'd use more spices. Lee, a lawyer and her husband, asked her not to.

    Next came Illinois. I couldn't bear to try another piece; the others were divided about whether it was cruel or merely unusual. Lee described Illinois as "absolutely detestable." David, a lawyer, liked it and willingly ate a second piece. Steve summed up Illinois generously: "I think if you like baked beans, you like Illinois. I like baked beans. I wouldn't think it's fair to sue anyone over it."

    Last came Vermont. It looked the best of the three—it was moist—and the nondairy cheese and canned carrots gave it a fetching orange color. But it tasted terrible. Mike, a computer guy at NASA, said the raisins were disconcerting; you couldn't tell if they were supposed to be in there or not. Steve said he hated it, but it wasn't the worst thing he'd ever eaten. I asked him what was the worst thing he'd ever eaten. "Cat," he said. "But I didn't know it was cat." David, meanwhile, helped himself to another slice of Illinois, a decision he later came to regret. "The third slice sits a little heavy," he said.

    As the night went on, and wine washed away the taste of loaves, we discussed the Eighth Amendment and how bad food would actually have to be in order to be unconstitutional. Kim, a lawyer who works in asylum law and knows a human rights violation when she sees one, said the loaves would have to be extremely bad—considerably worse than any of the food we'd just eaten. Courts have nearly all found that prison food can be unappetizing, cold, and even contain foreign objects, and still not be unconstitutional.

    Inmates hoping for relief from the courts for their Nutraloaf punishments aren't likely to get it from the courts. They won't likely get it from the prison cooks, either. When the Vermont prison's lawyer was asked during oral arguments why Nutraloaf couldn't be made more appetizing, he answered that if it were tastier, then prisoners would act up for the privilege of getting Nutraloaf. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the rest of the prison menu.

    Arin Greenwood is a lawyer and freelance writer
    living in Washington, D.C.

    Article


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