The long-awaited return of Orange is the New Black last month brought so many good things with it: The incredibly talented cast, the heartbreaking, hilarious, and sometimes hokey plot lines, and the renewed public interest in the US prison system, which is devastatingly, terribly broken. At first glance, Buzzfeed's "People Try X Food for the First Time" video format may seem an odd venue to discuss the systemic failures of prisons. But I think this video of people trying a prison food item called "Nutraloaf" gives a good and (pardon the expression) digestible example of the day-to-day indignities of prison life.
So, about Nutraloaf. Basically, it's everything you would get in a meal — meat, vegetables, grains, fruits, sometimes dairy — but instead of those things being served to you the way a normal human person would eat them, they're all blended and baked into a loaf. It's kind of like meatloaf ... but, like a meatloaf your mom would make if she hated you or it was April Fool's Day or something. It's so bad that it's actually used as a punishment in some prisons. According to Wikipedia, the American Correctional Association discourages the use of food as a disciplinary measure. But even though the ACA accredits prisons, the recommendations are just that: recommendations.
So, does this stuff sound appetizing? Just take a look at this example from Idaho.
(And seriously? You're Idaho and you don't include potatoes? Come on now.)
And the taste test?
About what you'd expect.
Look, I'm not saying prisons should serve lobster, to be washed down with a fine champagne. Even my liberal bleeding heart isn't that bloody. But what I do think it's important to recognize is that food holds psychological weight and power over us. From individual experiences that form our nuanced relationships with food to the animal part of our brains where the pack leaders decide who eats what and when, food is more than merely nutrition. Most of us don't think about what a fundamental part of our emotional well-being food is because we have the privilege of not worrying where our next meal is coming from.
Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Vermont have all seen prisoners bring up lawsuits against Nutraloaf, some citing its punitive use as "cruel and unusual punishment," though no case has yet been able to prove the loaf is unconstitutional. Personally speaking, I don't quite know where I come down on that particular question, but I will say unequivocally that I think it's representative of the larger, troubling trend of dehumanizing prisoners, which ultimately leaves inmates in a worse psychological state than when they began their sentence. If you continually treat someone as inhuman, they're going to start acting that way, which is bad news for everyone behind prison walls, as well as for everyone else once these people reenter society.
The full, much more depressing than you might think video can be found below.
Images: YouTube (3); Giphy