See How Prisoners Around the World Eat

Here’s a peek at mealtime in prisons from the U.S. to Germany to Kyrgyzstan.
Diners sample the fare during a previous Prison Food Weekend. (Photo: Courtesy Eastern State Penitentiary)
Jun 6, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Beginning on Saturday at the Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison-turned-museum outside Philadelphia, visitors are invited to sample food served to inmates in states across the country. Or, at least, one kind of food: Nutraloaf, a dry block of grains, beans, and whatever else is available that has been the subject of lawsuits claiming that feeding it to prisoners is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The loaf—described by some as chalky and tasteless—will be prepared by staff using recipes from prisons in Vermont, Idaho, and Pennsylvania at the museum’s annual Prison Food Weekend.

No matter where you live, who you are, or what you do, there’s one thing you have in common with your global neighbors: We all eat. The same is true for our neighbors in prisons, jails, and detention centers. But with prison comes a lack of choice in the matter, unless an inmate happens to be able to purchase food from the correctional center’s commissary or canteen store. The limited options have long made for a contentious subject ripe for legal challenges. When prisons in the U.S. began looking for ways to trim budgets, some began to introduce an excess of soy into prisoners’ diets, because it’s cheaper than meat. Prisoners in Washington, Florida, and Illinois have sued, saying diets high in soy are unhealthy. In other cases, the battle has been for religiously appropriate food: An Orthodox Jewish prisoner in Nevada sued the department of corrections for failing to provide him with a kosher diet, but the lawsuit was dismissed.

Amid the lawsuits and complaints, food is prepared and eaten in prisons and jails around the world. Here are some images that capture the experience of eating behind bars.

A prisoner grabs a hamburger lunch from a cafeteria inside the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas. (Photo: Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Lebanese prisoners share a plate of food during lunch at Roumieh prison, one of the largest detention centers in the Middle East. (Photo: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate prepares breakfast at the Maricopa County Tent City Jail in Phoenix. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the standard daily breakfast at the facility. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Women prisoners in Kyrgyzstan prepare food at a prison outside Bishkek. (Photo: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate at a jail in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador, receives a stack of tortillas. (Photo: Ulises Rodriguez/Reuters)

Egyptian inmates gather with their children for an Iftar meal during Ramadan at a prison in Cairo. (Photo: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

A young prisoner in Iserlohn, Germany, checks out his meal. (Photo: Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)