The south's latest culinary trend: inadequate, rotting prison food, supplemented by cattle feed

One of my favorite podcasts is Gravy, from the Southern Foodways Alliance, where highlight hidden and fascinating changes and progress in southern food — from disappearing "community canneries" to Mahalia Jackson's once-booming chain of fried chicken restaurants to the strange story of the Tennessee hippie commune that pioneered vegan food in the USA to the Klan's Texas BBQ rallies of the 1920s.

This week, Gravy devoted its episode (MP3) to food in southern prisons, noting that America leads the world in imprisonment and the south leads America in imprisonment — and austerity-happy, punitive Red State governments have made southern prisons into food nightmares, with some prisons full of starving people on two meals a day, other gripped by obesity epidemics thanks to low-grade, high-carb food. Prisoners fed on rotting food are subject to waves of food poisoning, or on cattle feed in packaging that reads "NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION."

All this means that prisoners leave their incarceration sick, malnourished, and hobbled in their attempts to re-enter life after they have served their time.

In the U.S. nearly 1.5 million people live in state and federal prisons. About a third of them are imprisoned in the South. As the population of incarcerated people has soared, budgets haven't followed, leaving food managers to provide more meals with less money. Two formerly incarcerated people, Lupa Brandt and Zahara Green, tell us the results are often physically and mentally unsatisfying. Inmates end up feeling sick and devalued. Lupa and Zahara argue that's a public health problem everyone should care about because 95% of inmates return to their communities.

Are prison diets punitive? A report from behind bars [Gravy/Southern Foodways Alliance]