A decades-old, deeply unsavory prison instrument of punishment known as Nutraloaf, or sometimes “disciplinary loaf” will be removed from use in New York prisons, the state has decided.
Nutraloaf, a joyless mass of ingredients that meets the barest of federal nutritional guidelines, is used throughout the United States penitentiary system as punishment — typically for inmates who throw food or display particularly violent behavior while incarcerated, like assaulting guards or fellow inmates.
What constitutes Nutraloaf, also known simply as “the loaf,” can vary widely across prisons, though a typical ingredient list might include ground meat, vegetables, and bread crumbs. The New York state recipe includes flour, milk, sugar, potatoes with skin, and shredded carrots, but no meat.
No consideration is given for whether a given combination of ingredients should, indeed, be prepared together. The taste, if there is one, is universally described as foul. Its purpose, after all, is to serve as punishment.
One former inmate, Aaron Fraser, who was given Nutraloaf at a number of different prisons between 2004 and 2007, described the loaf thusly to NPR: “They take a bunch of guck, like whatever they have available, and they put it in some machine. I would have to be on the point of dizziness when I know I have no choice [but to eat it].” Another inmate told the New York Times, “I would taste it and throw it away. You’d rather be without food than eat that.”
Nutraloaf itself has been the subject of a number of lawsuits filed by inmates, who contend that the meal is a violation of human rights. Civil rights activists, like those in the American Civil Liberties Union, have long campaigned against its use in U.S. prisons.
Now, after a long battle against the much-loathed loaf, inmates of New York State prisons will no longer have to subsist on Nutraloaf as a disciplinary measure, a welcome decision that comes as part of the state’s overhaul of solitary confinement, which includes better living conditions. The removal of Nutraloaf is expected to offer significant relief for inmates. One expert even suggested that Nutraloaf’s very existence might be to blame for a cycle of bad behavior in prison.
“Food is very important to prisoners in a deprived and harsh environment; it is one of the very few things they have to look forward to,” said David C. Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, told the Times. “And when you mess with prisoners’ food, that leads to unhappy prisoners, which leads to management problems.”