June 24, 2008

Nutraloaf, the punitive food that prisoners argue violates their constititional rights.

Can it be "cruel and unusual" to serve a prisoner nothing but a nutrition loaf? Maybe you don't think the answer depends on how bad it tastes, but in case you do, here's Arin Greenwood taste test. He cooks up the Illinois, Vermont, and 2 versions of the California nutraloaves and swerves serves them to a bunch of "friends and relatives" (half of them lawyers):
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....

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....
This was an okay article — good enough to blog — but I'd much rather see this material in the form of a film documentary. There is a dimension here — the social setting and attitudes of Washington lawyers and others — that seems fascinating, but that Greenwood barely lets us glimpse. How did they really talk about law and prison and their own fussy tastes?

UPDATE: Uh-oh:
[T]he arts and culture writers at The Onion's A.V. Club did this same stunt last April!

The A.V. Club story of the Nutraloaf stunt is more entertaining, because it has more unappetizing photos and even a little video! ... They all agreed that it was gross, so this Slate version could've been much more Slate-y if they'd decided it was actually delicious.

18 comments:

the Rising Jurist said...

I used to work in a correctional facility, and ate at least one meal from the facility kitchen each shift. I often had the cook make me a loaf, simply because it was less greasy and fatty than the rest of the options. It tasted fine and got the job done.

Moose said...

If we had to invest our energies as a society on something to do with improving the life of prisoners in the penal system, I'd vote for eliminating prison rape, rather than over insane crap like "Nutri-loaf".

I like the idea that anything that someone does not like can eventually be associated with "torture" or that the least "cruel and inhuman" punishment.

Lordy...

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Funny typo: 'swerves' them to friends....

TMink said...

I was starved for a period of time as a teenager, and I find it alternately amusing and disgusting when people conflate bland food with no food.

Hungry people do not make that distinction. Hungry people will dumpster dive to get food. It is perhaps prima facie evidence that the people who are complaining are not being starved. They are complaining for goodness sake!

Benjamin Franklin said that people who love the poor will make the poor uncomfortable in their poverty. Prison and jail are uncomfortable. That is the whole point.

Trey

kimsch said...

Prisoners have right to be fed. They have a right to nutrition. They don't necessarily have a right that the food be palatable.

S said...

The author provided a link to Illinois, but I wish the other recipes had been provided.

Paul Brinkley said...

It appears that both of my trips to Philmont Scout Ranch were cruel and unusual punishment.

I sure hope none of my Scout leaders leave the country.

SteveR said...

For most of these people in most other parts of the world, having commited the crimes they have been convicted of, death or real "torture" would be their fate. Yes we should be a better place then the rest of the world and we are. Criminals not appreciating the opportunity provided, do not deserve much sympathy, just nutrition.

Tibore said...

"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."

Heh... I don't know if prisoners would actually accept all the other restrictions that come with being punished in prison just for the "benefit" of getting a tasty food... but I do see that the point about food also being part of the punative nature of prison is being alluded to here by accident. Making a food item more tasty doesn't necessarily make it a priviledge, but keeping it the way it is can make it a punishment.

Seven Machos said...

The Onion's very awesome A.V. Club did a taste test on this recently.

Kev said...

The loaf in the AV Club's article looks a lot like fruitcake. Maybe that's why some people find it so abhorrent...

john said...

I say we feed prisoners Soylent Green.

It's people food.

Freeman Hunt said...

What a bunch of coddled, whiny babies. It's punishment food. It's food for people who try to attack other prisoners or guards with utensils.

They should mix some bitter herbs in there to make it worse on purpose.

Fen said...

Fish heads and rice until the whining stops.

CW said...

Just for a break from the Nutraloaf, give the prisoners Spam. Condiments should include Vegimite (from salted, dessicated vegetables) and Marmite (from salted, dessicated marmots).

CW

Roadkill said...

I've often pondered the idea of eliminating food stamps and substituting a requirement that all food stores distribute govermennt-provided, 100% nutritional gruel. It would proivide good nutrition to those who need it while eliminating the misuse of, and illicite trade in food stamps. For those who don't like it, they can get a job/better job that enables them to by tastier albiet less nutritious food.
Perhaps nutraloaf has a future in food stamp program reform.

Simon Kenton said...

Roadkill, your idea was once (and may still be) followed. In California there was a Food Commodities program, even as elsewhere there were Food Stamps. So instead of food stamps that you could use on pretty much anything but tobacco, alcohol and chorepersons, you got issued a 25-lb bag of dried pinto beans. This passed one of what I think of as the two essential questions of management:

- what behavior do we want to discourage or encourage?

- what actions will discourage/encourage it?

At that time California obviously had gone long in dried pinto beans, and obviously wanted to discourage its welfare types. And at least among the welfare recipients I knew, it worked strongly to encourage getting a job that let you afford 'food.' Dried pinto beans, incidentally, after you have tried and retried all 2 Ag Dept recipes for them, are tempting as slingshot ammo, but are so ballistically unstable as to be quite worthless.

Ralph said...

They should definitely fatten convicts up, using whatever food it takes, to reduce their testosterone levels. Fat parolees will be less likely to harm society, and the psychopaths will die younger from natural causes.