Visitors sample nutraloaf in historic prison cellblocks
May 7, 2018
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site brings back its popular Prison Food Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3. On these days, visitors can sample five states’ versions of nutraloaf, the “food product” issued as punishment in many American prisons.
Nutraloaf ingredients vary by prison system, but recipes generally consist of meat, vegetables, beans, and grains blended together and baked into a loaf. This “disciplinary loaf” is served to prisoners for meals as a punishment for extreme or unruly misbehavior, sometimes as frequently as 21 meals in a row.
Courts have generally upheld the rights of prisons to serve nutraloaf, but the practice remains controversial. Eastern State Penitentiary will serve nutraloaf samples using official recipes from five U.S. states, three of which have discontinued the practice in recent years:
Washington: Washington’s nutraloaf is unique because it is served in two 11-ounce patties rather than the traditional loaf form. The recipe includes salsa, rice, oatmeal, and various vegetables like cabbage, corn, and peas.
Delaware: Prisoners on an “alternative meal plan” in Delaware receive this punishment loaf, which combines pineapple chunks, cheese sauce, wheat bread, rice, and vegetables. The Delaware Department of Corrections faced a lawsuit by a prisoner who claimed he was "constructively starved" after being placed on a nutraloaf diet for five straight weeks in 2009, but the lawsuit was later dismissed.
Maryland: This recipe included whole wheat bread, imitation cheddar cheese, and dehydrated potato flakes. This nutraloaf had been served three times a day as a behavior modification tool; however, prison chief Stephen Moyer discontinued the practice in 2016, noting, “There are other disciplinary options.”
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s vegetarian nutraloaf incorporated cooked rice, dry oatmeal, and mashed garbanzo beans. In Pennsylvania, nutraloaf is called a “behavior modified meal.” It was discontinued in October 2016 as part of an “overall look at ways to humanize how the department handles its most dangerous inmates,” according to a spokesperson.
Idaho (Breakfast): Most prisons serve the same punishment loaf at every meal. Idaho may be the only state with breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes. The breakfast nutraloaf used traditional morning foods, blending cereal, milk, toast, and even orange juice into a single baked loaf. However, a recent memo from the Idaho Department of Corrections, dated April 28, 2016 reads, “Eliminate use of nutra loaf.”
Visitors to the historic site can taste these five versions, record their thoughts on a tasting card, and decide for themselves whether serving nutraloaf is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
Visitors can also sample food prepared by prisoners in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ Culinary Arts Training Program. The program works to provide service training to prisoners in an effort to reduce recidivism. Chef Todd Lewis, instructor of the course, will be on site to discuss the program with visitors.
Also on view will be sample menus, archival photographs, and reports of the prison food throughout Eastern State Penitentiary’s 142-year operational history.
All Prison Food Weekend activities are included with standard admission. Regular daytime programs, including “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour narrated by actor Steve Buscemi, guided Hands-On History tours, history exhibits, and artist installations, are also included in admission. Tickets are available online at EasternState.org or at the door subject to availability.
About Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world's first true "penitentiary," a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America's most notorious criminals, including bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.
Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is located at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue, just five blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The penitentiary is open seven days a week, year round. When purchasing online, admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students and children ages 7 - 12. When purchasing at the door, admission is $16, $14, and $12, respectively. (Not recommended for children under the age of seven.) Admission includes “The Voices of Eastern State" Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi; Hands-On History interactive experiences; history exhibits; and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations.
For more information and schedules, the public should call (215) 236-3300 or visit www.EasternState.org.