Prison seems like a fascinating place if you watch Orange is the New Black or Oz. Fascinating and awful, I guess. But one thing every prison movie and show assures us of is that prison food is somewhat less than gourmet.
Nutraloaf is what happens when prison officials get a clever yet insidious idea. Sure, prisoners are required to be properly fed with a diet that meets nutritional requirements, but how you achieve that goal is never specified in any particular rule or law. That lack of specificity is where Nutraloaf comes in. It can be anything – beans, rice, vegetables, meat, something called “dairy mixture,” all ground into a paste, and baked into a loaf.
A food critic from a Chicago newspaper drove out to his nearest maximum security prison just to give it a try and was startled to discover just how bizarre a food it is. It’s not that loaf tastes bad, or that it tastes weird, it’s that it doesn’t taste. It’s a veritable stew of ingredients that prison cooks somehow bake into a log of nothing but texture. Like the world’s most rubbery meatloaf, it has no taste of anything at all. It’s just a thing to eat and give you calories, removing any potential joy from the act of eating at all.
So hated is Nutraloaf that it’s been accused of being “cruel and unusual punishment” in the past and lawyers have argued for it to be banished altogether. Unfortunately, every prison has their own recipe and none are denying inmates the nutrition they need, so it’s a hard case to make.
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Not sanctioned in any way whatsoever, but vile in ways that is hard to understand, pruno is prison hooch. It’s like moonshine, only more disgusting because you have to make it on the sly with limited ingredients.
So what goes into a batch of pruno? Anything you can scavenge behind bars – apples, oranges, milk, bread, ketchup, fruit cocktail, whatever. You’re taking the most fundamental approach to booze making here which is sugar and yeast reacting as fruit (or ketchup, whatever) ferments.
A prisoner may use a trash bag and toss in some fruit cocktail they stole from dinner. Bread provides the yeast. Toss in some water and wait. As the fruit ferments, a sock helps keep the fermented fruit stay separated from the liquid. The taste has been described as vomit flavored win an you can pretty much guess why.
Creamed Chipped Beef
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An institutional favorite, sometimes called shit on a shingle if it’s served with toast, creamed chipped beef is something like slime with chewy bits swimming in it. Because it’s institutional grade, this stuff often comes dried in packages to be reconstituted on site. Beef in a cream sauce should probably never be dried and reconstituted, but here we are.
If you’ve never had chipped beef, it’s basically the leftovers from making anything good with beef that you press together and partially dry to make new slabs of beef. Hormel, makers of various processed foods including Spam, have described chipped beef as “an air-dried product that is similar to bresaola, but not as tasty.” When the maker of Spam says it’s not tasty, you have an issue.
Lettuce and Tomato burger
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Commit a crime north of the border and you may end up in a Toronto prison where you get to choose to eat off the vegan menu, because Canadians are progressive like that. What kind of advanced menu do Canadian vegan felons get? A leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato on a burger bun. Not sure how many days a week you have to eat this, but it’s literally the only vegan menu item I could find reference to, so you may have to eat this for your entire stay in prison.
If you’re not a vegan, you of course get the tasty alternative of eating a cheese sandwich, so that’s something.
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Prisons in Korea took a page from the old school approach to prison management and provide prisoners with Kongbap, a mix of rice and beans that’s the rock bottom cheapest crap you can serve to someone. In theory it doesn’t even sound that bad, rice and beans are a staple of cuisine all around the world, except that sometimes you end up with rocks in the rice and there’s literally nothing else included to spice it up, and you eat it three times a day potentially forever.