So we’re working on a very interesting story about prison. The show will talk about different aspects of the topic, including a one-on-one interview with a former inmate of a high-security prison, a professor who believes America is addicted to incarceration, and prison food, which is only the second most dreaded aspect of being locked up for heterosexual males.
One of the simple joys of life is good food. I’ve been known to say many times that I would prefer death to being stuck eating only one particular type of food for my entire life, say from a particular culture. In other words, food, for me, makes life worth living. The variety of food and the ability to try new foods is one of the simple pleasures I live for and without it life would quickly start to lose it’s luster.
However, in prison, simple luxuries like a variety of food is one of the many things that are taken away from you. That and other things, like freedom. It’s no wonder that no prison has ever received a Michelin rating.
In fact, one of the many punishments you can look forward to, as part of your “rehabilitation” once you are convicted, is the food. It is typically bland, boring, tasteless and sometimes downright disgusting. Then there’s the problem inmates… They get something special. It’s called Nutraloaf (or Nutriloaf), but it’s also sometimes referred to as prison loaf, disciplinary loaf, food loaf, confinement loaf, seg loaf, mystery meat, or special management meal. It’s unclear who thought up this monstrosity of torture, but it was probably a warden somewhere, and if I had to guess, it would be somewhere in Texas.
In any case, we at Sword and Scale wanted to know what this torture-food tasted like, you know, for science! We decided to dig up the recipe, make some, and try it for ourselves. If you’re thinking about doing some “hard time”, you may want to try it yourself, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
- 6 slices Whole Wheat Bread, finely chopped
- 4 ounces Non-dairy Cheese, finely grated
- 4 ounces Raw Carrots, finely grated
- 12 ounces Spinach, canned, drained
- 4 ounces Seedless Raisins
- 2 cups Great Northern Beans, cooked and drained
- 4 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 6 ounces Tomato Paste
- 8 ounces Milk, powdered, instant nonfat/skim
- 6 ounces Potato Flakes, dehydrated
- 1 pound Ground Chuck (Optional)
The ingredients make about three loaves which is enough for three meals for a large man. The cost of these ingredients at my local grocery store was $21.21.
Mix the ingredients together in a mixing bowl with your hands until all the ingredients are completely combined. The mixture should be stiff but moist enough to spread without crumbling apart. Butter a pan or use some non-stick spray, then form the loaf in the pan. You should have enough for three bread loaf-sized pans. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes until each loaf reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees. The loaf will start to pull away from the side of the bread pan when it’s ready.
We used cupcake pans to make individual servings, which are great for parties! That is, if you hate everyone at the party. Actually, for weeks after doing this, I had weird dreams about bringing Nutraloaf cupcakes to my former employer’s Thanksgiving Potluck. Happy dreams. I need to call my therapist.
So back to the story… What I wanted to do is capture regular peoples’ reaction to eating this prison food that was supposedly worse than regular prison food. The first “subject” was my close friend, and regular contributor to Sword and Scale, Jesus Rodriguez. Jesus is… how do I say this gingerly? A BIG fan of food. Keyword: BIG. Maybe that wasn’t gingerly.
In any case, I didn’t really let him in on the purpose of our meeting until the last minute. He wasn’t pleased. In fact, all he did for an hour was complain about the lack of seasoning that was clearly not being added to the loaf mix.
I expected him to react badly to being served a punitive dinner. What I didn’t expect was that he actually liked it.
“It’s pretty bland, but at least the meat gives it a nice touch. It is not as bad as I expected.”
Next i solicited the services of my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Their trepidation was palpable, but eventually I turned on the portable recorder and let them in on why they had been invited over. Oddly enough they seemed relieved, which worries me to be quite honest, because what the hell else could be worse than a prison food taste test?
“It’s not that bad,” said my sister in law.
Even her boyfriend, the picky eater, tried some and didn’t vomit immediately.
In all, the Nutraloaf got surprisingly high marks, which was quite surprising. That’s probably due to the fact it was straight out of the oven, when it was tasted, and still had that “fresh baked-goods smell” about it. It was also served on a nice Crate and Barrel plate in a freshly remodeled kitchen rather than in an 12-foot by 8-foot cell housing two grown men. Maybe taste is more about the experience than the actual thing in your mouth.
Personally, I didn’t mind it, and actually ate more than I thought I would. The taste of fresh-baked “something” is almost always pleasant. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite as bland and tasteless as I’d heard. You could definitely make out the different flavors of the ingredients and the combined flavor wasn’t really bad. Would I make it again? Probably not, but then again, there’s always next year’s potluck.
Don’t forget to listen to us sample our Nutraloaf recipe on Episode 13