Nutraloaf: Cruel and unusual dinner?

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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