Hollywood has done an admirable job of portraying prison food as some murky looking slop that contains mystery meat served with a slice of one week old bread. Most of us now believe that what is served in the prisons across the country is wholly inedible, and while that used to be the case, the menu is beginning to change just a little. While it’s agreed that inmates shouldn’t be treated to meals that are better than the average family is able to afford on a daily basis, they still have a right to be served food that is somewhat healthy and completely edible.
In the past, prisons pretty much ran their own food programs, meaning that the food served could vary wildly from one correctional facility to another. What it all basically boiled down to was to how much money per day was allocated to each inmate for food. The less that was budgeted for food, the more likely it was that slop was going to be on the menu on a recurring basis. This led to cries of unfair treatment from inmates and led to the implementation of a national menu that most federal prisons are now following.
The goal of the national menu is to provide inmates with a balanced meal, as well as offering options for those who seek a healthier diet or one that fits in with their religious leanings. The three meals that each inmate receives per day are usually of the low-sugar, low-salt variety, with calories also very much taken into consideration. Meat, bread, fruit and vegetables, and dessert are usually portion controlled, whereas carbs like potatoes and rice are usually open to the inmates to take as much as they want, within reason of course. While that seems like a fair amount of food, it does not include the snacks and treats that most of us crave.
In addition to the cafeteria meals given to the inmates every day, they also have access to the prison commissary where they can buy snacks such as soda, ships, and candy bars. The money spent here is taken from the personal accounts of the inmates, but it’s often money well spent since they can also purchase clothing and hygiene items that would not otherwise be available to them. Also included on the commissary shelves are such items as rice, ramen noodles, and tortillas, all of which can serve a purpose for the aspiring inmate chef.
Food is a hotly traded commodity behind bars, with the black market very much alive and well in every prison. Everything from coffee to fresh vegetables are fair game in this market, with inmates routinely swapping items to get their hands on a piece of food that they crave. They then use their own items and those that they traded for to create prison food concoctions that are unlikely to appear on any restaurant menu, but which are the equivalent of a 5-star meal on the inside.