Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gruel and Unusual Punishment

Photo courtesy Andy Duback for the Associated Press
The curious item in the picture to the left is Nutraloaf, a meal served in prisons and jails around the nation. Time Ideas has a piece today about a recent 7th Circuit case, in which Judge Posner thought that a Milwaukee inmate might have an 8th Amendment claim based on this meal.

A culinary review in Chicago Magazine reads as follows:

The mushy, disturbingly uniform innards recalled the thick, pulpy aftermath of something you dissected in biology class: so intrinsically disagreeable that my throat nearly closed up reflexively. But the funny thing about Nutraloaf is the taste. It’s not awful, nor is it especially good. I kept trying to detect any individual element—carrot? egg?—and failing. Nutraloaf tastes blank, as though someone physically removed all hints of flavor. “That’s the goal,” says Mike Anderson, Aramark’s district manager. “Not to make it taste bad but to make it taste neutral.” By those standards, Nutraloaf is a culinary triumph; any recipe that renders all 13 of its ingredients completely mute is some kind of miracle.

I ate two-thirds and gave up, longing for any hint of flavor, even a bad one. That night, my stomach’s rebellion against the loaf was anything but neutral. I felt so full and lethargic that I skipped dinner and the following breakfast. And let’s just say I finally had a lot of time alone to catch up on my New Yorker reading.

In the fall, we hosted a day about food deserts, and our panel included a CDCR nutritionist. The meals we were shown on the slide show looked a lot better than Nutraloaf, albeit our guest admitted they might not be representative meals. We also had a chance to talk about the importance of food for pleasure and comfort, not just a requisite for health. Have incarcerated Californians experienced Nutraloaf or anything like it? Tell us.

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