Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What would your last meal be?

(A semi-recycled post from years ago, but it was on my mind. Again.)

My friend Ben gave me a copy of "Schott’s Original Food and Drink Miscellany" a few years back, and among its random, fascinating,and useful factoids is a listing of a half-dozen or so of the final meal orders of inmates executed in places like Florida or Texas.

Turns out there's a book on the topic, with a twist: 50 great chefs from around the world (the list of names is staggering in its who's-who-ness, if I may) share their ideas and recipes for their last meal experience, including guests, music and more.

There's also a Web site that has a complete listing of the last meal requests of 300-odd Texas inmates executed since 1982.

My friends are likely sick of hearing me bring this up, but I find these meal orders fascinating for a number of reasons:

1. I’m a foodie, and as such, am thoroughly engrossed in matters of dining. Why order, say, a dozen fried eggs and two pounds of bacon? What sort of capabilities does the prison kitchen staff have? What ingredients or tools are at their disposal? Are the orders placed far enough ahead of time that inmates’ requests are guaranteed (within reason, of course)? Is there any discernible emotion on the part of a chef preparing someone’s last meal? Is it saddening? Does a chef take special pride in it? Could they care less, because it’s just some chow for someone who’s committed a crime heinous enough to merit the death penalty? Do they spit in it? Worse?

2. One’s final meal is the ultimate expression of one’s earthly desires ( I can think of one other, but will leave that for another post, perhaps). As such, would a person choose food items that remind them of someone, somewhere, or something? A childhood favorite, perhaps? Do they choose expensive, luxurious items that might help them forget for a moment that they’ll be dead in less than 24 hours? Are their orders based simply on a craving at that moment?

3. Let’s assume that at least half of those executed for crimes are, or have been, career criminals or have spent most of their lives in jail. They may come from poor urban or rural backgrounds where they may have been exposed only to certain cooking styles or ingredients. They would not have access to or knowledge of modern food trends or ingredients. As such, many of their choices might be traditional dishes or items. If they’re held in a facility far from their home towns, would those chefs necessarily get it right?

Check out the Wikipedia entry on last meals - there's a list of meals served to well-known criminals who were executed. Interesting stuff...

Even if you hadn’t done something heinous and weren’t in jail, even of you were just plain old dying and you knew when you were going to go, what would be your last meal, and why?