Prison food has long been a subject of discussion between taxpayers, prison inmates and community officials. Taxpayers and community officials want to spend as little as possible on prison food, and inmates generally want food that is good to eat. At the same time, health officials remind everyone that providing prison inmates with food that is healthy reduces the added costs of disease in future years. The type of prison food varies from prison to prison and country to country, but generally a focus is being put on healthy meals that incorporate fruits, vegetables, low carbohydrates and low sugar. In recent times, meals that are vegetarian or kosher have show up on prison menus as well.
In the United States, the dollar amount spent per day on an inmate’s food varies from state to state. The same is true for other countries. The primary focus is spending the least amount of money to feed a large quantity of people a meal that is as nutritious as possible.
Many prison systems have found that involving the prisoners in the growing or raising of their food has had a positive overall impact. Not only do the prisoners actively participate in the cultivation of their prison food, they also learn valuable life skills such as farming, animal care and food packaging. A prison in Italy taught inmates how to operate wine-making equipment, and one in the United States taught inmates how to raise tropical fish such as tilapia.
An ever-growing number of inmates have special dietary needs that must be met. Some do not eat pork, others are vegetarians, and others eat only kosher foods. Prison systems have had to adapt to these diets, and some completely abstain from certain products for all prisoners.
Prison commissaries are another source of prison food for inmates. At the commissary, prisoners are allowed to purchase items such as snack foods, rice, tortillas and other foods, as well as personal hygiene items. Many inmates take items purchased from the commissary and create complete meals out of them.
Another source of prison food is the black market operating throughout many prisons. Prisoners who work in the kitchen areas might smuggle food items back to their cells, where they can create a seemingly endless array of food for fellow inmates and charge a hefty price to do so. Many items such as sugar, cooking oil or fruit are restricted to prisoners except in the lunch room. Items also might be brought in by visitors to the prison.