When You Eat As if
There’s No Tomorrow
Billions will sleep hungry tonight; many won’t even wake up again. Food waste is rampant globally, and despite a booming ‘dumpster diving’ movement, the brutally unequal distribution of resources seems irreversible. Still, we obsess about death row inmates’ last meals.
It’s fitting, though, as the U.S. leads the world in jail population – although China’s executes the most -, and food and obesity are a national, self-flagellating narrative. Nourishment’s beside the point here; the last supper is arguably a prisoner’s finest hour.
For the record, we didn’t start this fire, er, tradition, which has some noble, some not so much, origins. But we did with that what we do with everything else: we’ve turned into a for-profit, politically charged issue. The piety tinges of its inception are now all but lost, though. And what most of Europe consecrated as a pseudo-humanitarian gesture by the state, warding off the ire of revenants in the process, has become a contentious debate over whether it’s setting the ‘wrong’ example.
Yeah, who wouldn’t commit a gruesome crime and spent years in subhuman conditions, to be finally ‘rewarded’ with a steak and eggs meal? 18th century England had set the puritan tone of the age: the condemned shall have only bread and water until hanged to death.
In 2011, after one Lawrence Russell Brewer didn’t touch his food, Texas, No. 1 in executions and likely the earliest adopter of the last meal custom in the U.S., has graciously abolished it. No such concern for 20 other states, including New York, that don’t have the death penalty.
Among so-called Western societies, the U.S. stands alone on the issue, joined only by several African, Asian and, for some types of crime, Latin American nations. Obviously, this sort of stats does not include death by paramilitary groups, secret government squads, or drones.
Still, the following post is neither about the death penalty nor an inmate’s choice of last meal, even if it touches both subjects. Published four years ago, it’s still fresh as everyone’s food should be, and just like it, to be enjoyed a few times a day. Bon Appétit.
Their Last Meal Plus
Your Foods for Survival
Here are two captive groups whose appreciation for food may vary wildly: death row inmates and hostages.
We won’t say that’s the worst of their problems, but in the event you find yourself in either predicament, you may find what you’re about to read useful, perhaps even life-saving.
Don’t worry, we’ll be here to collect your gratitude in case you pull through it and live to tell the story.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
There are very few certainties, though, once you become a resident of the most heavily guarded antechamber of any U.S. prison. Let’s face it, your chances to walk out are pretty slim. And shopping for food is simply out of the menu.
Luckily, the state provides you with one last wish. What would you have? At that stage, concerns about keeping your ballerina silhouette are, of course, all behind you.
So you do have the choice to enjoy a lard-laden dinner, without worrying about indigestion, heartburn, or packing those extra pounds.
What about those kidnapped, or held for ransom? The heir to a wealthy family, perhaps? Or you’ve rubbed a sinister kingpin the wrong way?
Whatever the circumstances, everyone needs to eat at some point. So, again, what would be your choice of food?
Fear not, brave speculators. There’s no harm to imagine such a terrifying prospect happening to someone such as, say, that middle management prick who fired you a long time ago? Yeah, he would do. Just don’t test your luck and mention something about it the next time you run into him.
Who knows? The U.S. spends about $100 million every year putting people to death. It wouldn’t be a stretch finding room for you, who’d naturally claim innocence. As it goes, that usually doesn’t make a difference either.
STEAK AND EGGS
From a cheeseburger and fries to a few cookies and a Pepsi, the choices inmates make say a bit about who they were or what kind of life they led before that fateful, but ultimately useless, choice of meal.
That’s one of the things that Jonathon Kambouris’s book, “The Last Meals Project,” seems to indicate. It shows, for example, that Ted Bundy, the infamous psychopath who slaughtered a lot of people, chose steak and eggs for his last meal. Nothing is as deceptively simple as this staple of American cuisine.
And that Aileen Carol Wuornos, the only female serial killer ever caught in the U.S., preferred a simple cup of black coffee. The rape victim who killed a few of her violent Johns wanted to be alert until the last minute.
The book also shows that pseudo-patriot Timothy McVeigh indulged in a couple of pints of ice cream, before paying with his life for the mass murder of 168 people.
TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
But Kambouris is interested in pointing to the high cost and relatively low efficacy, as a crime deterrent, of the death penalty, rather than simply show the eating habits of highly doomed people.
And before you get any ideas, Last Meals also includes a few handy tips to help you make an educated choice of what to eat before your big date with the lethal injection if, heaven forbid, you’d be in the same situation as those portrayed in the book.
Your meal can’t exceed $40 and it has to be made locally. Which means, delivery from your favorite Italian place is out of the question. That’s a fraction, by the way, of the practical costs of putting people to death. Just the price of the injection is higher than that.
In Texas, for example, the U.S.’s champion of executions, funding for rushing someone to what will inevitably happen to every one of us someday, could build hundreds of much-needed classrooms. But you won’t hear that from the mouth of any of the past governors of that state.
Moral considerations apart, a site such as Dead Man Eating also lists death row’s culinary choices along the years, and after reading a few of them, you may finally ask yourself the question that’s on everyone’s mind.
And the answer is yes: despite the gruesome years spent in jail, and the grim prospect waiting for you just around the corner, people still do get hungry and, in some cases, may even enjoy their last meal. Bon appétit.
YOUR PRIVATE WARDEN
Lucky them; at least, they’re given the option of whether to eat, never mind what comes up next. If your particular brand of nightmare, though, is to be locked at home or in some damp basement with no food supplies available, boy do we have a few tasty choices for you to get by.
You may be the victim of a psycho, for instance, who decided that you’re perfect to play a part in his peculiar gory theater, one that includes a secret hole in the ground and him as your very own self-appointed warden.
Or you may be held for ransom and, until your greedy relatives make up their minds on whether you’re worth paying for, you’re destined to be locked up somewhere within thick walls and no food to munch.
Coming to think of it, there are many possible ways that people may find themselves forcibly deprived of traditional sources of nourishment. That’s when creativity and a good dose of sangfroid may be to your advantage.
HAVE THE CHICKEN LIVER
For the sake of this post, we’re leaving cannibalism alone here, and if that’s your cup of tea, we’re not sorry to disappoint you. Let’s move on people, the show is over, there’s nothing to see here, etc.
Back at your quandary, let’s say you’ve finally freed yourself and have just raided the entire place without finding anything edible. What then? Elementary, my dear trust-fund baby: aren’t you using a belt, a leather belt? Eat it, then. Just chew it raw, and thank your lucky stars for once.
That’s the kind of handy advice you’d find in Survival Food, a site dedicated to preparing you for an emergency, both personal or of a planetary scale. It has loads of tips and advice on how to keep yourself going when everything around is falling apart.
It also lists household objects one could eat in the event of a serious catastrophe. And to eat a belt is not the most outrageous of them.
Have you tried eating oven grease? Oh, forget about your diet for once, ok? We’re pretty sure that when the right conditions arise, your instinctual aim will be to survive at any cost and to lick the trays of a dirty oven may sound extraordinarily appealing then.
The site teaches you to take a hard look at everything around you, not for their appearance or production quality, but for their nutritional value. Cat food, anyone? That’s right, in such conditions, your pet isn’t likely to be fool enough to linger around, especially with you looking at him like that.
But the food you’ve been serving him for years will be great for you too. Which reminds us of an incident a few years back, at the opening of a very chic nightclub in New York City. The chosen few ate, drank, snorted and partied the night away like it was 1999 (it actually was very close to it).
Even the hors d’ouerves received raging reviews on Page Six of the following day. The only thing was, what tasted like an expensive French paté was, actually, pet food. But if anyone got sick from it, we never got to know, of course. Which was funny. Or not. Guess you had to be there. Anyway.
RAID THE BATHROOM CABINET
Where were we? Ah, that’s right, you’re hungry. Try the plant. It seems obvious but, note to thyself, don’t buy anything poisonous for the house. Still feeling the munchies? Have you raided the garbage bin? What humiliation? You’re way past that, now.
The list goes on. You’re just about scrolling it down in your mind when you hear some noise at the front door. Your tormentor is back. And is that a pair of rubber gloves that he’s putting on? Oh no, not again. Sorry, there’s nothing in the whole site about that kind of captivity experience.
But relax: if even self-confessed, but regretful killers, can enjoy a box of Junior Mints (“they’re very refreshing”), and food-deprived people will eat soap, no problem, to survive, you should do just fine.
After all, as we said, this is just an instructive exercise of your sick imagination.
Originally published on Aug. 15, 2011.