There is something inherently cruel about punishing somebody with food.
We need it to survive, and to force an unpleasant diet on someone with the goal of modifying their behavior is a particularly sadistic way of wielding power. Aside from a hunger strike—also not uncommon in prisons—there is no way to refuse the very thing on which our survival depends, no matter how unappealing the food may be.
While this kind of treatment might sound like the stuff of a military prison or CIA experiment, it's still commonplace in prisons across America. But as of this week, it will be present in one less state.
Penn Live reports that Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections (DOC) has discontinued the use of food loaves, also referred to as "behavior-modifying meals," a term which has a nice "enhanced interrogation" ring to it. Food loaves are used to punish inmates "whose behavior is a security concern that may jeopardize the health and safety of him/herself or staff," according to one DOC document, and served without utensils.
So what's in a prison food loaf? According to a 1978 Supreme Court judgement, wherein Arkansas inmates successfully sued the state for cruel and unusual punishment, "their meals consisted primarily of 4-inch squares of 'grue,' a substance created by mashing meat, potatoes, oleo, syrup, vegetables, eggs, and seasoning into a paste and baking the mixture in a pan."
And while recipes can vary from state to state, these loaves are all horrible, and intentionally so.
Last year, New York also banned its punishment loaves, which had consisted of shaved carrots, skin-on potatoes, whole and all-purpose flour, one-percent and dried milk, yeast, salt, margarine, and a large serving of sugar. Yum! The new punishment breakfasts include a piece of fresh fruit, two hard-boiled eggs, two slices of American cheese, and four slices of bread.
Back in the Keystone State, John Hargreaves, director of volunteers for the Pennsylvania Prison Society, which advocates for inmates, told Penn Live that, "Inmates weren't happy with food loaves. Nobody will miss them."
There's no word on what will replace the loaves, but it's hard to imagine that it can get worse.