WHAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST MEAL?
By Li-Anne Dela Vega x @nattobean
What would be your last meal?
The question is a foodie’s ultimate fantasy, a final stop in a lifetime of gastronomic conquests. One, like Mario Batali, might indulge in an all-out seven-course sampler of the best chefs in the world. Or like Joël Robuchon, the last meal might simply be good, crusty bread and a bottle of ’45 Bordeaux. It is, and should be, a pleasurable exercise in futility.
But for roughly 46 Americans awaiting execution each year, it’s a choice they actually have to make. The rite of the last meal started out as a symbolic gesture to prevent the ghosts of the executed from haunting their executioner. In France, a condemned man is given rum. The Bible even says to, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.”
So what do they eat? There are dozens of art exhibits, books, and websites that catalog their choices. For starters, no alcohol. As a recent study found, mostly comfort food. Timothy McVeigh ate two pints of mint chocolate ice cream. John Wayne Gacy had a bucket of KFC chicken, deep-fried shrimp, French fries, and a pound of strawberries. Food that perhaps remind them of better times.
by Henry Hargreaves
Jackie Lee Willingham, 33, was executed by lethal injection on July 24, 2003 in McAlester, Oklahoma for the murder of a 62 year old woman. Willingham spent 8 years on death row. By Julia Ziegler-Haynes. Today’s Special, 2012.
But a death row inmate’s desire for the Proustian madeleine is rarely, if ever satisfied. Some states deny items like steak. Most states cap the cost of the last meal to around $20 dollars. For years, Texas limited inmates to only items that could be made in the prison kitchen. Often, prisoner’s requests are completely ignored, as saint-cook, Brian Price illustrates:
“Instead of lobster, they’d get a piece of frozen pollock. Just like they would normally get on a Friday, but what I’d do is wash the breading off, cut it diagonally and dip it in a batter so that it looked something like at Long John Silver’s — something from the free world, something they thought they were getting, but it wasn’t.”
By James Reynolds. “Last Suppers,” 2011. Unknown inmate.
These substitutions never make it to the media. Extravagant meals, like triple-murderer Allen Lee Davis’s medley of lobster, shrimp, and clams, are the anomaly. Shit gets more complicated when you consider that their last meal is often the only meal a death row inmate gets to choose in decades. And the food is shit. In order to feed the ever growing number of incarcerated Americans, many prisons, like in Arizona, brag about how they can keep inmate meal costs down to just 40 cents a day.
It costs Arizona $1.15 a day to feed the department‘s dogs.
Despite Price’s offer to continue to cook last meals for free, Texas decided last year that prisoners no longer deserve the privilege of a last meal.
Why are so we so morbidly fascinated with a murderer’s last meal? We shit ourselves over the politics of capital punishment, whether murderers and rapists even deserve a last meal, how much that food should cost, or what it should look like. We look at their last meal as if a bowl of mac and cheese will give us insight into the life of the condemned, into the mind of a monster.
Or maybe that mac and cheese tells us more about ourselves then we’re willing to admit.