Nutraloaf: Cruel and unusual dinner?


Act up in prison and you'll lose precious privileges ... like food you actually want to eat.

The authorities at Cook County Jail have a new way to punish unruly inmates: Nutraloaf, a dense block of food-like stuff that meets the requirements of providing prisoners with daily calorie intake and nutrients, but deprives them of enjoyment. Chicago magazine sent food critic Jeff Ruby out to try it. He reports:

An employee from Aramark Correctional Services--a branch of the Philadelphia-based company that also provides fare for college dorms and NFL stadiums--presented me a Styrofoam container sagging with a blunt ginger-toned mass roughly the size of a calzone and with the appearance of a neglected fruitcake. It had nothing else in common with either.

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.

Turns out, there's a pretty interesting debate going on right now as to whether Nutraloaf—and similar dishes at other correctional facilities—falls under "cruel and unusual punishment". So far, Ruby writes, all the lawsuits brought against excessively bland food have failed.

Slate ran a Nutraloaf story a couple years ago, which gets into more detail about the legal side of the dish. Writer Arin Greenwood also tested out various Nutraloaf recipes—the details differ by state. That's her Illinois-style Nutraloaf pictured above.

Chicago magazine: Dining critic tries Nutraloaf, the prison food for misbehaving inmates


  1. Anyone remember Child of Fortune by Norman Spinrad? It’s been years since I’ve read it, so I’ll probably miss a few details (which I’m sure someone will be kind enough to politely correct).

    There was a culture in that book that basically said that the government would give you everything you need to survive without working or needing money or possessions, but the catch was that it was austere cement barracks housing, disposable paper clothes, distilled water, and a completely tasteless nutrient mush that had every vitamin, mineral, and nutrient needed to keep a person filled and healthy three meals a day.

    I think someone in the prison system must have read that book.

    IIRC, though, it wasn’t pictured as a bad thing, just a cheap base level of existence (I’m pretty sure most diseases were cured, but other medical care was free) that covered the bottom two layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. From there, you could choose what other needs or wants you wanted to fulfill without fear of not having a safety net.

    That being said, Nutraloaf sounds pretty gross.

    1. Yep, Child of Fortune‘s “fressen” was my first thought too.
      Interestingly, the modern underclass diet seems to have swung the opposite way, to food that sells on taste and appearance while having almost no nutritional value. You can starve yourself to death without losing a single pound!

    2. In the book Communitas by Paul and Percival Goodman
      something like Spinrad’s scenario is discussed as a
      policy option.

      One of the main arguments for it was that the basics
      of material life, if obtained at something like the cost
      of production, could be made available free to everyone
      at a fraction of the cost of the (then) current welfare
      system. Which, of course, supplies incomplete benefits
      to a fraction of the people who need them.

      To be fair, the current system – prisons included, does succeed
      admirably in employing armies of unproductive drones,
      enrichment of private contractors and providing
      rationale for ever increasing intrusion into people’s

  2. That looks like five-star fare compared to unsalted matzoh, garbanzo bean paste, and a vitamin supplement — or the ever-so-slightly-tastier unseasoned mashed potatoes and a glass of milk (Yes, that is a nutritionally complete meal).

    I’d take Nutraloaf over the bologna served to most inmates — when the bologna is deep purple, smells like bad perfume, and is well past the use-by date, /that/ is cruel and unusual.

    One quibble with the article: Food is not a privilege.

    1. I’m pretty sure the article meant “decent, edible food” is a privilege. The article points out the legal obligation to feed prisoners.

      I agree with you, prisons and jails (particularly county lockups) have been caught feeding prisoners dangerously nasty food and, in one case, about 500 calories a day because the Sheriff was pocketing part of the prisoner food stipend.

  3. It’s fascinating the lengths our prison system will go to in order to avoid actual humane reform.

    Most non-violent offenders are getting out of prison at some point in their lives, usually young enough to either contribute in some meaningful way or wreck havoc. What do you think they’re going to do when they’ve been stacked like cordwood and punished with infantile nonsense like this?

    The call for “more bars, more guards and harsher sentences” has put 1% of the US population behind bars. When are we going to stop basing our approach to crime on a medieval ethos?

  4. Uh, there’s nothing new about it, Maggie; note that Slate cites a case from 1992, and the practice had already been in place for some time.

  5. “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

  6. Aramark? Seriously? They provided food for my high school cafeteria. No joke. No one I went to high school with would be surprised to find they invented a flavorless, technically nutritious lump that has been accused of being cruel and unusual punishment.

    1. Looks like Nutraloaf is Confinement loaf 3.0.

      Frank Zappa talked about it back in the ’80s on the Broadway the Hard Way album.
      “FZ: Alright. CNN ran a story last week about this new product that has been developed for our prison system. It is called “Confinement Loaf.” Now what it is it’s, uh, bean by-products compressed into a loaf, which is administered to problem prisoners. Their diet will be a slice of “Confinement Loaf” and a cup of water, and it seems to mellow them out right away. So my question is: How long before “Confinement Loaf” appears in United States High Schools?

  7. Alcatraz had a similar punishment, When you were sent to the hole you received the same meals as the other inmates, only they put it in a blender first. Think I’d rather have the loaf.

  8. We have to keep inmates healthy so they can continue to work in our largest-on-the-planet prison labor system.

    I vote cruel and unusual. Not amusing at all. Bad enough we lock homeless people up for 25 years for stealing food (, but then we have to taunt them with novelty shit like this to amuse some bored and sadistic prison staff?

    That’s sick. Just feed them regular fucking food and let them serve their time with a modicum of dignity, if such a thing is possible in this nation.

  9. just wanted to say that the headline + pic made me start laughing uncontrollably. For a while. It’s gone now, mostly. Hehe.

  10. Also, Cook County Jail?

    History of abuse. This funny ha-ha joke-loaf is just the tip of their evil bullshit. That’s not hearsay or hippie-dippy trash talk. The Department of Justice “reached an agreement” (slap on the wrist, wink-wink) over civil rights abuses.

    >> An investigation in 2007 and 2008 found that the officials at Cook County Jail in Chicago systematically violated the rights of inmates through the use of excessive force, failed to protect inmates from harm by fellow inmates and did not provide adequate medical or mental health care.

    And please note, that was the DoJ under Bush in 2007. A jail system would have to rise to a rare and unprecedented level of abuse to merit a Department of Justice investigation under the most corrupt and systemically abusive administration in United States history.

    Sounds like they’re basically running the Midwest chapter of the Joe Arpaio system of correction and personal vendetta. Usually when you hear about a little ha-ha tidbit like this (like Arpaio’s clever tactic of making male prisoners wear pink underpants), it indicates a general atmosphere of arbitrary and sadistic punishment.

    When citizens are incarcerated, they do not become the personal property of prison leadership who may at their whim dress them in silly attire or make them perform humiliating acts for the amusement of staff.

    1. when a prison system gets privatized, inmates become an asset.

      as the attribute of being a citizen is not helping the productivity of the business, it is likely to lose its significance to economic perfection of the enterprise.


  11. America has a serious problem with being ok with torture – it’s not just for foreigners any more, and that’s the real price of normalising inhumanity and brutality. they’ve allowed that ethical cancer room to grow, and now it’s going to eat their people, and make those left cold and indifferent to suffering. What a terrible cost.

    1. Well, on a planet prone to so much human suffering even without the human-caused variety, indifference to suffering would seem to be a handy trait– rather like indifference to cold for an animal that lives in the arctic.

  12. >> Packed with protein, fat, carbohydrates, and 1,110 calories, Nutraloaf contains everything from carrots and cabbage to kidney beans and potatoes, plus shadowy ingredients such as “dairy blend” and “mechanically separated poultry.”

    “Mechanically separated poultry” is this:

    It’s used in many products, a primary ingredient in “chicken” nuggets. It does not have to originate from a single species of animal. It can be made up of hog, chicken, cow, whatever. Sick or so-called “downer” animals. It all goes into the paste. It is the liquified remains of the animals that cannot be sold. So tendons, organs, spinal cord, every last filthy bit. It has been illegal to put spinal cord or brain in those products because of BSE for years, but American corporations do it anyway. No one is watching, and American consumers mostly don’t give a shit.

    “Dairy blend” is probably some waste product from milk production that involves the most unhygienic and useless byproducts of that process. Remember, if they could sell those two substances for a higher price, they’d do it. Those two “food” stuffs are prohibited from human consumption in many nations (the civilized ones), but we feed them to our children in America.

    Also, the irony is that prison vendors like Aramark routinely use prison labor outside of the prison while the people are still inmates (as opposed to hiring them once they are released, which they also do). This allows them to pay pennies on the dollar and not have to apply basic labor laws to these literal slave laborers.

    And I bet you thought you’d only get a few snark remarks about some fucking bean paste and meatloaf. But Trotsky lives to serve, and Google is my bitch.

    1. So your objection is, basically, “Ew, it’s icky”?

      Rotten milk with cattle gut-contents left in a cave to mold? Fine cheese.
      Fish pulverized bones and all, squashed into nuggets and cooked? Delicious quenelles.
      Fatty pig gut-meat cured and smoked to add carcinogens? Succulent bacon.

      This stuff will work to keep someone alive. That, for most of the population of the planet, is good enough.

      1. Your characterization seems to be that it is a gourmet feast. My point is that the food is deliberately manufactured to be substandard, vile, and to induce revulsion.

        Yes, it will “keep someone alive.” But if that’s the standard you choose to apply, why even cook the product? Why not pour it into the urinal and have the inmates eat it from there? They’ll still be alive. Why not make the inmates dance a jig for their meal? Everyone loves music and dance. And exercise is good for all. Why not have the inmates eat the food off of the bare stomach of their cellmate? Or from their cellmate’s ass crack. It won’t kill them. They’ll still be alive. And who doesn’t welcome an opportunity to get better acquainted with a potential new friend?

        You seem to have rather glib and cruel indifference to how these humans are treated. Many believe that once a person enters the American prison system, they cease to be human. I am not one of those people. I am simultaneously ashamed and enraged at the contempt expressed by many first worlders who seem to think that as long as a human manages to live through whatever humiliation, prank, or punishment is inflicted on them, that all is acceptable.

        1. I’ve got a guess as to how this’ll go, so let me see if I can jump to the end (tell me if I’m wrong here)- you behave decently to other people because you think they have an innate, inalienable right to be treated decently.
          I think you are duty-bound to behave decently toward other people because of an implied reciprocal agreement to do so. Once the other party breaks that agreement, your duty to behave kindly is also lessened.
          So yes, they’re still human…but just being human means nothing– the person has to behave civilly before they earn the protection of civil society.

          1. Being civil is reciprocal. An authoritarian system which has become detached — contemptuous even — of the will of its citizens, has abandoned civility in exchange for raw intimidation and power. They do simply because they can.

            Further, you seem to be of the naive opinion that people who are incarcerated are placed there for just and civil reasons, and this is not an opinion I share, if we are discussing the United States.

          2. Of course they do because they can and because it pleases them. That’s the same reason anyone does anything. However, I’d note that since there’s a lack of massive outcry against conditions in prisons in the US, it would appear likely that in being inhumane to inmates the prisons actually _are_ enforcing the will of the citizenry.

            And yes, I am reasonably convinced that a great majority of the people incarcerated for rape, murder, robbery, etc, actually did the acts in question. Unless you postulate that there’s no good correlation between being convicted of a crime and having done that crime, that the prisons are full of innocents while the real perpetrators roam the streets, etc, etc.

        2. Why not pour it into the urinal and have the inmates eat it from there? They’ll still be alive. Why not make the inmates dance a jig for their meal? Everyone loves music and dance. And exercise is good for all. Why not have the inmates eat the food off of the bare stomach of their cellmate? Or from their cellmate’s ass crack. It won’t kill them.

          Sheriff Joe, is that you?

          Aramark is a wonderful company, out to squeeze every dime by testing processed food-like substances on inmates and then schoolchildren before selling it to sports fans for $8.50 a cup. Come to think of it, I think I’ve seen something like the above product, but sold as a “lobster roll” at Fenway.

          1. Ha! They may have alluded to this on SYFY’s Haven, wherein an episode involved ‘lobsterpups’ and they guy making a mint off them wouldn’t dare eat them.

    2. “dairy blend” and “mechanically separated poultry.”

      That brings up a question I’ve often wondered about: what about people who follow dietary restrictions for ethical (but not necessarily religious) reasons? I would assume failing/refusing to provide kosher or halal food would be pretty strong grounds for a lawsuit, but what about vegetarian or vegan food?

  13. I worked at L.A. County Jail for several years and the “nut loaf” was referred to as a jute ball. I had inmates that really didn’t mind them. They actually looked better than the regular diets. The baloney sandwiches were scary to even the most hardened felons.

  14. First they take the D&d, now they take food´s taste and enjoyment!
    What are they going to take next? Books? Natural light? The feeling of being an human being?

    Oh, lord*, the U.S. prision system is soooooo wrong.


    1. >> What are they going to take next? Books? Natural light?

      The first paragraph of that article answers your question.

      >> Inmates at Cook County Jail are allowed three privileges: television, books, and food. The staff has no compunction about denying its most difficult residents either of the first two, but under the Constitution, correctional facilities can’t withhold food.

      Inmates are frequently locked up for 23-24 hours a day as a matter of routine procedure, and denial of books and television common. So this is the prison system finding a way to push up against the one thing they still are compelled by the Constitution to provide. It is so very American that these prisons are bitterly abiding by the nagging and inconvenient Constitution, but working ever so hard to find a way to be as petty and odious as possible in doing so.

      America is brewing a population of literal psychopaths and sociopaths in its sprawling prison nation-within-a-nation.

  15. The way they are currently doing that is wrong, and certainly cruel. That bland loaf shouldn’t be the punishment food, that should be the regular diet. Real food should be a reward earned by working on improving one’s self, and active participation in their own rehabilitation.

  16. Prison itself is the problem, it leads to this prison guard syndrome BS.

    Historically prison was the outsourcing of people made slaves to pay off remaining civil and criminal damages after liquidating the convicted persons assets.

    Prison is cruel an unusual, jail or bail is reasonable in the short time before a trial.

    Prison might possibly consist of walled cities with a checkpoint at the entry points. Rent and taxes would be punitive but survivable and the sentence would be to pay off a dollar amount by obtaining employment. To get real businesses to open up there you would need to have big incentives like no taxes or freedom from some regulations. Finish work and come home to your family.

    How to punish for rape and murder, capitol punishment is troublesome, for assult corporal punishment combined with a civil payoff or prison town seem reasonable.

    Any penal system will be mostly abused so I don’t know what to say.

    1. >> Any penal system will be mostly abused so I don’t know what to say.

      Ah, but in America, prison is a business.

    2. I think you might still need some guards there in Prison City. Otherwise you’ve just dumped a large number of people who have demonstrated inability to play well with others into a walled enclosure.

      I think this idea has merit (re: Coventry), but I don’t think there’d be much work done.

    3. Prison might possibly consist of walled cities with a checkpoint at the entry points. Rent and taxes would be punitive but survivable and the sentence would be to pay off a dollar amount by obtaining employment. Finish work and come home to your family.

      Finland actually has some day-prisons where inmates are required to check in by a certain time each morning, and get to go home at the end of the day. Kind of reminds me of going to school in the USA.

  17. I’d be willing to try it, (and probably find it fascinating) if it wasn’t 1000+ calories. Then again, I actually liked MREs, so I might not be the best judge of food.

    1. @anon RE: MRE’s

      one MRE is good, and interesting. 2-3 a day for 3-6 months out of the year lead me to dread eating them in my 4th year of service.

      it’s been a decade since my last military exercise and i still dread the idea of MRE’s.

  18. The population of Houston is roughly 2.3 million.

    That is the total of all prisoners held in the US.

    We have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. No other nation comes close.

    China, much maligned in the US as a dystopian prison nation, has four times our population, and holds 1.6 million prisoners.

    And no other nation is increasing its rate of incarceration like the United States. Not Iran. North Korea. Cuba. Or any other place Americans care to slander to make themselves appear more civil.

    Also, this 2.3 million figure does not count our world-wide hidden network of Guantanamo-like rendition and indefinite detention centers where client nations and allies incarcerate or torture on our behalf. That 2.3 million figure only represents the prisoners we hold *INSIDE* the US.

    Like I said, this loaf thing is a burden and petty in and of itself, and, yes, all who endure it will indeed survive, but it is mostly the system that it represents and its anti-human contempt that is most troublesome.

    1. And the large number of prisoners means what, exactly? That we incarcerate the innocent, or that we just tend to give longer sentences than other countries?
      It’s not necessarily a slur against the US- we do next to nothing to restrain bad behavior before the fact- land of the free, after all. You may, if you wish, turn yourself into a total failure of a human being, and no one will left a hand to prevent you. Effective normative social pressure is really weak here (contrast with Japan, say). Afterwards, though, punishment does tend to be harsh.

      1. >> And the large number of prisoners means what, exactly?

        It means prison is a business, and business is good.

        Now, if you’re a citizen of the United States of Aramark, you’d call that a success story.

        1. You’re not stating it, but are you suggesting that the US keeps people in prison longer just to serve as slave labor?
          Given the difficulty of gaining election without being “tough on crime”, do you think this is the reason, or simply a convenient side effect of longer prison sentences?

    2. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the US incarceration rate at any given time.

      Sort of like when you look at unemployment figures and realize it’s just the number of people who got a check last week. When you expand the figure to properly include people who have served out their sentence and whose lives are still ruined, it’s far, far higher.

  19. Sounds like something Cetagandans would do to their prisoners of war.

    ( Lois McMaster Bujold, The Borders of Infinity in Borders of Infinity , 1987)

    1. Come to think of it, the original idea for the Genevea convention for POW was that they should get the same food as the army that captured them….

  20. If this is unconstitutional, all food served to prisoners is unconstitutional. It’s almost universally highly processed bargain basement drek. Unless it actually makes you ill, or is seasoned in such a way to make it so bad its difficult to swallow, it just can’t be much worse than what you get served 3 times a day anyway. According to the article by and large its just bland and heavy. No big change from the bland and leaves you hungry that was my personal experience.

  21. BTW, what do you think the odds are that the recipe the prison system hands out to the press (Beans! Carrots! Raisins!) bears little resemblance to what the staff actually prepares for the inmates? I’d place a sizable wager that the staff likely prides itself on putting as many “special touches” into the concoction as their sick imaginations can conjure. If the Slate author and lawyer friends are choking down a bean-and-margarine atrocity at their tasting shindig, you can bet it is not remotely similar to what the prisoners face.

    Also, this isn’t about taste. It’s about the prison system not fucking around with their most basic responsibility, which is just providing a secure, but mediocre, food source. The article mentions that other states are adopting this policy and it sounds like they are conducting a race to the bottom. Sooner or later, some genius in the political realm will get the idea that nutraloaf or some nutraloaf type almost-food is good enough for the “scumbags” in prison all of the time, who are inaccurately characterized as consistently primarily of rapists, pedophiles, and murderers, as opposed to non-violent offenders, drug users, petty thieves, the mentally ill, and the poor.

    1. Er…dude, generally the food in a prison’s prepared by the inmates.

      And the nutriloaf _is_ a stable but mediocre food source. It sufficies to maintain life and health. If it tasted good, it would be considered “good” not “mediocre”.

      1. >> And the nutriloaf _is_ a stable but mediocre food source.


        It does not rise to the level of mediocrity.

        It is meant to be repulsive. Again, the proponents of this are adopting the casual tone of the writers who focus mostly on taste while chiming in that the ingredients are “natural” (a BSE prion infested spinal cord taken from a downer cow is “natural.” So is arsenic. It’s a spurious and intentionally deceptive misdirection) without addressing the fact that what is really going on here is a substance that apparently makes the inmates nauseous or choose a hunger strike over eating. That’s not mediocre. Nor is it stable. It may be stable if one is considering Aramark’s bottom line, but not stable in terms of providing consistent health to the inmate. It makes the inmates sick.

        The taste angle makes the inmates seem like petulant children who don’t prefer nasty beans and raisins. That’s not what this is about, though that’s how it’s being spun. Who controls the terms of this debate? Not the inmates.

        The writer of that piece uncritically accepted the substance from Aramark and the recipe from same. Does it not even occur to this supposed journalist that there is more at issue here than a foul tasting loaf? Is he not able to locate and interview any inmate currently incarcerated or since released who has eaten this substance?

        Both of those articles *ONLY* quote Aramark employees and law enforcement who predictably downplay the subject.

        1. Except I’ve eaten prison loaf. I’ve even cooked it. Cooking it is repulsive– it gives off a smell before being baked that can only be described as “institutional.”

          On the other hand, eating it is… boring. It’s not repulsive at all; that would defeat the purpose. “Repulsive” implies that it triggered a reaction.

          Instead, it’s just so bland and boring that somehow, after eating it, you experience no satisfaction whatsoever. You don’t starve. You’re not hungry. It’s just that whatever abilities we’ve evolved to recognize “good food” have never been triggered. It elicits a reaction of such profound boredom that it’s describe.

          NPR posted the Maryland Correctional System recipe, a vegetarian recipe, under the name “Special Management Meal.” It’s even “food” according to the Michael Pollan definition: every ingredient is something your grandmother would recognize as food.

          I dare you to cook some up at eat it.

          1. >> I dare you to cook some up at eat it.

            Whatever I cook up will not be what the inmates are eating and so the exercise you propose serves no purpose.

            Further, *HUGE* difference between daintily sampling a few bites of a concoction I created with my own hands — with a six-pack of my favorite microbrew chilling in the fridge and the local Thai restaurant on speed dial — and being confined in a cell where that mysterious substance is one’s sole source of subsistence.

            There are a lot of snarky and flippant anecdotes online of people making merry at their own creation of nutraloaf-similar foodstuffs with various reviews and impressions. It’s clever and fun, but no one should make the mistake of applying that to the actual item served in actual prisons under completely different circumstances.

            I dare you to task an enemy with preparing you a nutraloaf of their own design and serving it to you for three days straight while you are locked in your bathroom. Then perhaps we can begin this discussion.

    2. The Lancaster County Prison (PA) is quite famous for its hearty and nutritious diet of cheese sandwiches. Also, for being a 600-man prison that tends to house up to 1,400 individuals.

  22. People are kept in prison longer and in greater numbers to serve as slave labor, because Americans have a zealot’s approach to drug enforcement, the persecuting inclination of religious fundamentalism, dismantling of the mental health infrastructure, “tough on crime” rampant bureaucracy and citizen apathy, even vindictiveness, an absurdly broad and casually abusive definition of sex “crime,” simple corruption, nepotism, suppression of dissidents, political prisoners, racism, criminalization of poverty, illegal immigration, the so-called broad and poorly defined war on terror, candidate expediency, the extraordinarily inferior quality of public attorneys and corrupt and cynical judges, lack of funding, disintegrated social network, a disastrously inadequate, even intentionally stultifying educational system, the exigencies of private enterprise.

    The short attention span of our citizens, and the glib and lazy dismissal of the suffering of other humans.

    That’s a start.

    1. So, basically, US society prefers to reject and isolate a relatively larger chunk of its population than other countries.

      I’m not sure that, as you claim in some bits of your statement above that it’s apathy- voters do seem to support longer sentences for crimes.

      As just an interpretation, we in the US do not view criminals as members of society who need to be adjusted and readmitted. We view them as outcasts from society who need to be expunged so the rest of us can get on with a safer life. We don’t want them rehabilitated, we want them _gone_.
      Of course, this conflicts with the lack of any true means of permanently expunging the criminals from society- transportation’s not an option, and life imprisonment or the death penalty still seems somehow excessive for minor offenses (so far). The result is a bastardized system where there’s neither rehabilitiation nor permanent removal.
      Nothing’s perfect.

        1. Of course it’s mediocre. It’s the middle ground between two incompatible philosophies on what to do with prisoners- rather like what happens if you tried to make an animal half eagle, half octopus. You’d get something that neither flies nor swims.
          Compromises are the inevitable consequence of democracy. Sometime any compromise is a bad one.

  23. OK, so executing mentally disturbed or handicapped people who have diminished responsibility for their actions isn’t cruel or unusual, but feeding scumbags nutritionally sound hardened gruel is? What an odd set of values the US penal system has.

  24. Natural has nothing to do with it– the item in question is safe to eat. Can you find me a case of an inmate who became sick from eating it, if you claim that it causes illness?

    And yes, choosing a hunger strike over eating nutritious food _is_ being petulant. And of course the inmates don’t control the terms of the debate- they’re prisoners– by definition, they don’t get to control what they do, or what is done to them.

    1. >> by definition, they don’t get to control what they do, or what is done to them.

      You are misinformed. Even in prison, citizens have rights. Since we are speaking of definitions, perhaps you are not adequately conversant in the term “inalienable.”

      1. And the nature of those rights is determined by…wait for it…not the inmates. Note that the right that you or I have to wander around freely, do business, communicate with those we wish to, to arrange our own mealtimes and such has been- arbitrarily- abrogated in the case of the inmates.
        Such rights as are left to them are only there because external authority didn’t choose to abrogate them as well.

      2. Well… your rights are limited when you are in prison. Even your inalienable ones. Like the obvious one, liberty.

    2. “choosing a hunger strike over eating nutritious food _is_ being petulant”, Really? Gandhi was being petulant? American suffragettes were petulant? And if prisoners – by definition- don’t get to control what they do or is done to them, then there are 2.3 million organs just wasting away incarcerated, and I could really use a new kidney …

  25. Here’s the deal with “loaf”. I’ve worked in the Michigan prison system, all security levels for 24 years. A prisoner will ONLY “earn” nutraloaf by behaving in a threatening or dangerous manner with a regular meal tray or the eating utensils.
    Some prisoners throw feces or urine at staff.
    Some will break the plastic trays their meals come in and use the sharp edges to try to injure themselves or others. For those inmates loaf is temporarily ordered due to safety concerns. They never get nutraloaf for some unrelated offense.
    No, it’s not the most yummy stuff you’ve ever eaten, (I’ve eaten it) but that’s partly due to nutritional requirements. A certified nutritionist plans the prisoners meals to ensure they get proper nutrition and we are required to give prisoners on loaf exactly the same meal as the others. For safety, all the ingredients are put into a pan and made into something which can be served in a plastic bag and eaten without utensils.
    If everyone gets chicken, de-boned chicken goes into the loaf. If everyone gets peas, peas go into the loaf and so on.
    I’ve been whacked in the head more than once by those trays. It hurts. Also, if a prisoner likes to throw his food at people I’d rather get hit by a chunk of loaf (which is pretty dry) than a plate of regular mashed potatoes and gravy.
    Generally a few days on loaf and the guy’s back on regular meals assuming he can eat it instead of throwing it at people. Nobody’s gone hungry. Nobody’s been injured or had coffee thrown in their face and we can all go back to doing our time as usual.

    1. Thanks for the insight from someone who’s had first hand experience.

      I would just hope there’s some mechanism for determining who’s “on loaf” other than an individual guard’s word, or it could indeed be used in a capricious, sadistic way. But, as an easy, non-violent means of encouraging civil behavior, sounds like one of the better tools in the arsenal.

    2. I feel for you, sir. I have met a great many prison guards; at one time a hobby organization I belong to had an entire chapter composed of guards from Camp Hill, and I’ve known a dozen more (although two have been murdered).

      Being a prison guard is a debilitating, brutalizing career. Jefferson observed that slavery hurts the slaveholder as well as the slave; similarly, being a part of the prison system damages the guards. There’s a great deal of research on this and the conclusions are pretty clear: you have to be a special, very unusual human to be able to work in the prison system without becoming severely fucked up in your head. We’re taking people who are willing to do the hard work of enforcing our society’s sanctions and then systematically degrading them, often breaking their families in the process.

      I hope you’re one of the special ones that Temple Grandin identified in her studies of slaughterhouse workers; a person who can detach from the ceaseless brutality of the job when you’re home with the family. If not, I hope you don’t have kids. Either way, I’ll pray for you and your family.

    3. >> I’ve been whacked in the head more than once by those trays. It hurts.

      Of course, no one is suggesting that inmates or prison staff should have to endure assault or abuse. Punishment or a measure of behavior modification is appropriate. However, a few considerations: First, the nutraloaf seems to intentionally communicate a petty, arbitrary, and infantilizing humiliation. Its purpose is to provoke. Therefore, it would seem to me that doing so makes a population more resentful, less stable, and therefore more dangerous. Even if the inmate who is punished with the substance does not re-offend, others are given the message that they are children. That’s also where Arpaio’s pink underwear stratagem (if strategy is even a consideration) fails most disastrously. It provokes. And not a provocation to rehabilitation or introspection.

      Is it logical to assume that inmates who have lost family, career, liberty will respond to petty provocations with anything other than more rage and more violence? A person who smears feces in their cell or who flings it at others is either mentally ill or they have literally reached the point where they have nothing to lose, or both. What use can then come of further taunting this person with novelty substances that barely pass for food?

      I have respect and empathy for the sincere and truly professional (as opposed to the unprofessional and cynically vindictive) prison staff who labor under these miserable conditions. And I have the same for many of the inmates. But, in my view, policies like this food manipulation do not make the lives of that staff easier, quite the contrary. Anything which further pushes the inmates to desperation and irrational outbursts of violent frustration is not helping anyone who has to deal with these humans on a daily basis.

      Apart from the simple cruelty of forcing people to eat vile and nauseating substances, I simply have a hard time believing this nutraloaf actually or ever meets its intended purpose. To curtail violence or assault in the dining area or wherever or however this nutraloaf is arbitrarily applied.

      The other thing, is based on what I have read, there doesn’t seem to be any formal process for applying this punishment. It seems like it can literally be applied for any reason, though the articles lead one to believe (erroneously, I think) that it is primarily applied for food related violations. That’s another reason why this is a poor idea. It is allowing prison staff to find ways to punish without any structural oversight or accountability. If applied by an honest and sincere staff, that’s one thing. But someone who is vindictive or petty can use this with no record kept or any need to justify their decision.

      1. I just came to share some information from my daily experience. I have no desire to debate with you the realities of the environment in which I’ve spent the last 2 decades.
        I will say this. There are over 1,500 prisoners, many of them lifers and violent offenders in the facility where I work and between 35 and 55 custody staff at any given time.
        We do not carry guns, tazers, nightsticks or any other weapon which might be taken away and used on us or other prisoners. Most of the prisoners are not locked in their rooms and could assemble as a group around me at any time if they decided to.
        If one of our co-workers does things to needlessly humiliate or anger the prisoners we put an end to those actions VERY quickly. It’s a philosophical debate for you. For me it’s survival.
        Believe as you wish. Keep enjoying those movies and have a nice day.

          1. >> It’s a philosophical debate for you.
            > No, it’s not.

            Until you’re willing to cook it and eat it: yes, it is.

            Your attempt to dodge that simple challenge by posing an infeasible alternative as a prerequisite was transparent and unconvincing, and demonstrated zeppo’s point.

            You’ve got basically four choices that I see:
            – Cook it, and eat it.
            – Try to weasel out again.
            – Demonstrate other firsthand, personal knowledge of the matter, rather than just “Google is my bitch”.
            – Accept that it’s just philosophical to you, as it is to the majority of us here.

          2. >> Your attempt to dodge that simple challenge by posing an infeasible alternative as a prerequisite was transparent and unconvincing, and demonstrated zeppo’s point.

            Thou sayest.

            Unfortunately, as it is unlikely “Dewi Morgan” is a pseudonym for Jehovah, you do not possess the ability to speak reality into existence.

            As I mentioned quite clearly, the recipes being handed out by Aramark and prison staff (and consumed at tasting parties by ironic hipsters) do not bear a resemblance to the actual product being consumed by inmates. In the articles cited, we’ve heard from prison staff, from Aramark, but not one word from inmates. Same thing here.

            I’m interested in what they have to say. And I’m interested in what they have to say absent the control mechanism of the prison system, so I’d suggest that the only way we’d get any valuable insight on this is if we were fortunate enough to have prisoners post anonymously here. Of course, staff or sympathizers could disingenuously play the role of inmate, but I think that ruse might reveal itself rather quickly.

            In America, wanting to hear both sides makes one unreasonable. Unbalanced. And silly. Why would a sane and reasonable person want to hear the words of scum?

          3. >> “As I [assumed quite loudly], the recipes being handed out by Aramark and prison staff (and consumed at tasting parties by ironic hipsters) do not bear a resemblance to the actual product being consumed by inmates.”

            So, we went for option 2, then?

            A shame: I’d really expected to get an option-3 smackdown so bad I’d be picking bits of me off the floor for months. Seems the most common response to a post like mine.

            But I’d hoped for option 1, and a writeup. The most interesting outcome, though I’d have to eat my words, which I’m sure would taste even worse.

            Option 4 was never likely.

            > “I’m interested in what they have to say.”

            Me too. It’s just a philosophical thing, but those are interesting.

            But your argument (as I understand it, which may be wrong) is that Nutraloaf cooks are, for unspecified reasons, more likely to habitually taint, exchange, or short-change that recipe than any other jailhouse recipe.

            But there’s nothing to support that point of view, until someone with firsthand experience [i]has[/i] contradicted the firsthand statements above, or someone links to such a contradiction, or someone presents at least the tiniest scrap of evidence that it might be true.

            Without that… it’s tin-foil-hattery.

            Personally, I think your statement “this loaf thing is a burden and petty in and of itself” is bang on… if it’s used as punishment for anything other than food-related stuff.

            But if you asked me what, morally, I’d feel best about serving someone who couldn’t be trusted to behave civilly towards me if I gave them eating utensils, a tray, or even wet food… I’d say probably a dried cake of whatever the others were eating, on a foam plate.

            I don’t see why that would need to taste awful. If they deliberately make it awful by policy, and spend man-hours testing recipes to make them taste that way, then I definitely agree: that’s extremely petty.

  26. I suspect the Cruel and Unusual nature of this punishment exists largely in the manufactured and directed expectations of the Loafers. Sorry, i think this is funny. I’m confident i could live on the nutloaf stuff for a very long time with no problems nor complaints. Only in America…

    I’d love to have the recipe!

  27. I’m perfectly OK with feeding them all nutloaf seven days a week while we work on enforcing prisoners’ right not to be raped.

    The menu can be addressed later. Sorry for the topic drift.

    1. Hi Charlotte,

      I can’t speak for the rest of the country but I can tell you that in Michigan prisons we do our best to keep rapes from happening. I won’t pretend it doesn’t happen. It does but it’s not as common as people might think.
      If a prisoner feels like he’s in danger all he has to do is let one of us know, (slip a note under the door, yell, whatever) and we move him to a different housing unit or even a segregation block where he has his own room if need be.
      If there’s reason to believe the man is still in danger we very often will move him to a different prison.
      The place I work right now has a large number of sex offenders and violent types so I deal with this a lot. Prison is not a nice place to be and it can be dangerous but in all honesty, we really do try to make it as safe as we can.
      I’m not speaking as any sort of Department PR person. I’m just an old C/O (Guard) but I can tell you the people I work with take the danger of rape VERY seriously. There’s nothing trivial or funny about someone being violated like that.
      Whatever a guy might have done on the outside the judge didn’t sentence him to that kind of humiliation and possible exposure to disease.
      Believe it or not I get along pretty well with most of the guys in my cell block and I want the same thing they do, a nice quiet safe place to do my time.
      I don’t feel any better about a guy that would rape another prisoner than I would about one that would rape someone on the outside.
      It’s a difficult thing knowing it’s still going to happen sometimes but we DO care and we DO try to be watchful for signs of this sort of crime.
      Many of us have relatives who are doing time somewhere. People screw up. That’s the nature of humanity. I try to run my block like I’d want it run if I had to live there.
      I’d have a hard time living with myself if someone got violated because I didn’t do something I should have.
      I know more could be done but believe me, I’m very sympathetic to this problem. It effects not only the prisoner but those who care about him. Every prisoner is someone’s son.

      1. Thank you for the great post, zeppo. Sounds like you and your fellow COs are people of integrity.

  28. My brain rejected the word “nutraloaf” as being correct, especially in correlation with the image. Instead, I began to think, “Nutrialoaf? Really? Jumbo river rat pie? I swear, people will eat anything.”

    After reading about nutraloaf, the rat pie doesn’t sound too awfully bad. At least it would have some kind of flavor. Nutraloaf sounds like a brick of upchuck. Serve with whole milk on a summer day and make your inmate go running, and you’ve got the very definition of “cruel and unusual.”

  29. Thank you, Trotsky, for putting into words how I feel about our prison system. It is the biggest of stains on this country, the one that proclaims over and over that it is the “land of the free”.

    Most of the people in prison are poor, or drug abusers, or petty criminals. Many of the ones that are violent come from backgrounds where the so-called American Dream was wholly unrealizable.

    And the commentators on any US news site will show a vindictiveness and judgment of criminals that I can scarcely believe. The self-centeredness of our marketing has driven away our compassion, even while more Americans claim themselves as “Christians” than ever before.

  30. …and remember, the prisoners aren’t “slaves” in the usual sense. To the prison industrial complex, they exist only as bodies who enable the laundering and theft of our tax dollars. That fine “industry” passes laws and destroys human beings’ lives in order to take the money of society.

    And we call the prisoners antisocial.

  31. Reminds me of those pellets you buy at petting zoos, except the inmates there look forward to eating them.

  32. Seems like a good way to punish unruly inmates. I wouldn’t want it to be the standard prison meal though. It does look like the remains from a previous inmates dirty protest.

  33. Nutriloaf has a few variant recipes, not all of which involve rendered meat products. NPR posted the recipe for a vegetarian version, used in Maryland’s prisons, several years ago. The Maryland Correctional Office refers to the meal “Special Management Meal,” and being a brave soul– and invited to a “potluck of weird foods” one night– I cooked some.

    When we eat, we take in nutrients. But evolution hasn’t taught us about nutrition, instead what’s evolved is a correlation between tasty foods and our nutritional needs. We like apples, and cooked meat, and even wine, because these are things available in nature (or immediately so through relatively simple labor) that are conducive to our well-being.

    Nutriloaf is designed to be highly-frangible and non-staining. It can’t be used in a food fight, it can’t be effectively thrown at a guard, because it’s not wet enough to convey stains and it breaks apart with all the force of foam peanuts when it hits something.

    Nutriloaf is not revolting, or disgusting. It’s rather easy to eat. What it is, however, is fundamentally, somehow profoundly boring. It targets absolutely none of our taste centers dedicated to satisfaction– no salt, no discernible sugar, no discernible fat, absolutely nothing that matters to the ancient lizard brain, absolutely nothing that targets the satisfaction of the brain. At the end of a meal– and I ate an entire slice, much as one might eat meatloaf– I was full, but my body insisted that, no really, I had to find some food. I had to find something with flavor. Something with texture. Some taste dammit. Not even a glass of wine could convince my brain that my instinctual needs for nutrition had been met.

    Everyone at the weird food potluck more or less agreed with this assessment: it was bland and boring to the point where, if they had to eat it for a week, after that week they would have done just about anything for a taste of food. Nutriloaf qualifes as food under Michael Pollan’s definition: there isn’t a single ingredient in it your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. But it’s not something your brain believes is food. And therein lies its effectiveness.

    So, in the spirit of Makers and Happy Mutants everywhere, follow the links above, find the recipe, make some, and try it. You’ll at least be fully informed.

    1. The link to a “Special Management Meal” gives a recipe that could easily be a 1970’s veggie loaf recipe, except for the lack of spices.

      So, if that recipe was accurately followed – no mechanically-separated meat as referenced above – but included salt, pepper, and a few herbs, would it be acceptable food?

      Oh, and Zeppo, could you answer Jackie’s question from your experience in Michigan: how are vegetarian and vegan prisoners fed? Because it seems likely that it might be this “punishment” nutraloaf.

  34. Shit, I ate this stuff EVERY DAY when I was growing up! Mom, you workin’ for Aramark now?? ;-)

  35. I made this for a work potluck once. A coworker even asked for the recipe. It should be mentioned this food doesn’t require utensils which can harm the mentally ill in segregation (which is actual torture). Bon Appetite.

  36. @Rhonan – #26

    While I think that is a great idea myself, it goes against everything the criminal justice system is about and in the end the problem isn’t the ‘prison industrial complex’, corrections officers, private contractors, judges, juries, or any of the rest of that. The problem is the indignant voter. They don’t want the criminal to turn out better in life, that only generates more competition. They want them worse off, hopefully to the point that they are left impotent in any professional or civic capacity.

    That’s why we take the vote away from them, limit their employment opportunities, have the constant threat of sending them back, constantly work towards increasing sentences (who doesn’t run on the platform of ‘getting tough on crime’?) and remain ever vigilant in the pursuit of making everything under the sun illegal.

    We wrap it up in ethics, ‘justice’ or even simple satisfaction, but in the end we are just one cat growling at another cat for a scrap of food.

  37. @zeppo_nightshade: Thanks for the comment- it serves as a reminder that many(most, hopefully) COs are decent people who do their best to keep the worst aspects of prison life(violence, rape) to a minimum. It’s unfortunate that it’s the other ones that we hear about most often.

  38. I just made a cursory review of comments so I may have missed that someone already pointed this out.

    I am surprised to see that no one has made a connection with a similar loaf promoted by M. F. K. Fisher in her book, How to Cook a Wolf. Her slant on it was that it contained nutrition for those in war-time. A great book, by the way. It includes cultural literacy information…

  39. It reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher’s recipe for “sludge” from her famous book about cooking frugally during wartime “How to cook a wolf”

  40. Frank Zappa talks about “confinement loaf” for prisoners/high school students in the intro to “Dickie’s Such an Asshole” on the LP/cassette version his 1988 live album, Broadway the Hard Way. Unfortunately the intro was cut out on the CD.

    ZAPPA: “Alright… CNN ran a story last week about this new product that has been developed for our prison system … it is called ‘Confinement Loaf’. Now, what it is is bean by-products compressed into a loaf … which is administered to problem prisoners … their diet would be a slice of ‘Confinement Loaf’ and a cup of water … and it seems to mellow them up right away … So my question is: How long before ‘Confinement Loaf’ appears in United States high schools?”

  41. I wonder if it would be considered child abuse to feed only Nutraloaf to a child for, say, several years? It doesn’t seem on the same level as forcing children to eat dirt or vomit, which would clearly be abuse, but if it were considered child abuse to feed only Nutraloaf then maybe the prisoners would have a legal basis to challenge.

    It seems like the prisoners only get fed Nutraloaf for a week or so, and I know that prison isn’t meant to be pleasant. But people who commit crimes are usually pretty messed up and abused anyway; it seems odd to get them in a space where we are arguably trying to rehabilitate them and then abuse them some more. The prison system in this country can’t decide whether it’s there to rehabilitate people who commit crimes, or punish them.

  42. I SO wanted this to turn out being a nutria-loaf. It still looks awful, but had the key ingredient been delightful nutria then this would have turned into a comedy goldmine.

  43. Your characterization seems to be that it is a gourmet feast. My point is that the food is deliberately manufactured to be substandard, vile, and to induce revulsion.

    Not exactly. I got a sample once from my wife the CO, and it’s not gross. It’s just bland and monotonous and not very exciting. I could eat it if I had to, but I wouldn’t want it for every meal. It’s the kind of stuff one might feed an animal that is prone to becoming fat on too much of its regular diet, so that it eats when hungry, and stops when satisfied.

  44. Wait, I recognize those ingredients, that texture, that very picture.

    It’s cholent! Which means, do not light matches or stand downwind of a prisoner being fed this stuff.

  45. Given the current costs of incarceration, including the costs of recidivism, it would be cheaper to hire each offender a “Jimny Cricket” pal to follow them around 7/24 offering them good advice.
    Be happy you’re in the States, where it is legal to criticise the prison system or cosy ties between the courts and the cops. In Canada it is illegal to do so as it “offends the dignity of the crown”. Given the medieval dungeons that we pass off as “prisons” here you can understand why the powers that be don’t want them discussed. See also the case of Harry Kopyto who “scandalised the court” in a midnight phone call from a reporter and thereby lost his license to practice law for a year.

  46. Very late suggestion– the title of this post should be “Nutraloaf: Cruel & Unusual Nourishment?”

  47. Not an acquaintance, not a friend, not a stranger, not someone who merely finds you distasteful. Find someone who regards you as scum and have them prepare a nutraloaf in secret, unaccountable to no one, and serve it to you while you are locked in your bathroom (or for the purpose of accuracy, someone else’s bathroom) for 72 hours. Be sure to take copious video footage. I’m sure Boing Boing will be keen to give you a feature spot once you’ve competed the stunt.

    I am sincere. I think it would be instructive.

  48. Also, please be sure to construct and sign a waiver completely releasing that person from any legal penalty or accountability for any ill effects you should suffer in the short or long term.

  49. In process inmates at the county lockup (pre-trial, pre-arraignment) here get four slices of whole wheat bread, two slices of bologna, two slices of processed American cheese, four “sandwiched cookies” (frosting center, but not anything like Oreos), an orange, and a half pint of 1% milk — in a brown paper bag.

    That’s the meal, three times a day, every day.

    “Suicide Watch” get stripped naked, given a heavy quilted, padded jacket. Nothing else, no glasses, no hearing aids, no dental appliances (false teeth), no bedding, no mattress. Just a concrete cell w/ toilet (They’re required to ask for toilet paper.)

    And the cell is cooler than is comfortable when stripped essentially naked. This and no bedding, no mat/padding on concrete makes sleep extremely difficult.

    Someone who is suicidal, for whatever reason, really needs isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation.

    Unlike prisoners who have “acted out” — Most suicide watch prisoners have clinically demonstrable psychiatric disabilities.

  50. Lest we forget: Prisoners being fed this loaf aren’t getting it for good behavior.

    And then getting back to MY issue: Treatment of potentially suicidal prisoners is criminal.

    1. >> Lest we forget: Prisoners being fed this loaf aren’t getting it for good behavior.

      Lest you forget, we only have the word of prison staff on that account, since the primary issue surrounding this practice is not beans and raisins, but the fact that application of it as “modification” is entirely outside of the system of accountability and record keeping.

      The staff can use it for whatever reason seems most relevant without having to justify it in any formal manner. According to a staff member up-thread this is not a problem because the staff supposedly polices each other.

      That’s not good enough.

  51. I believe that some State prisoners, those incarcerated in prisons with large farms, eat better than the general run of free folks. I believe it’s in Virginia (?) that the prisoners get grass-fed beef, raised by themselves.

    1. >> I believe it’s in Virginia (?) that the prisoners get grass-fed beef, raised by themselves.

      Lucky Ducky!

      1. What’s lucky ducky about that? The prisoners raise their own food to eat it. That’s a lot of hard work. That doesn’t sound lucky or even unreasonable; you can do the exact same thing right now.

        It’s a good idea in my book. It seems like a good path to go for recovery, instead of revenge and punishment.

  52. The Lucky Ducky remark was a reference to Bolling’s Lucky Ducky character who is constantly exacting insignificant concessions or Pyrrhic advantages from an outraged patrician.

    My remarks could similarly be translated as: “Who gives a flying fuck about some alleged grass-fed beef, the prisoners are still behind motherfucking bars.”

    Additionally, I would wager that 99% of that grass-fed beef is not consumed by the inmates, but rather sold at a premium cost outside of the prison to specialty markets. In other words, it’s a scam, but the criminals who foist off the charade onto the public, package it as a decadent luxury enjoyed by the fortunate and pampered inmates. It’s just another prison labor exploitation playing dress up.

    Sort of like… for every 1,000 shirts the prisoners sew, they get to keep one.

    Lucky Ducky!

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