Academics have landed on a new way to study the appetite ids that reign, ravenously, in our stomachs: some scholars are analyzing the last meal requests of prisoners on death row. Such requests are fantasy fulfillment; the consequences of consumption (an extra inch around the waist, a spike in blood pressure), are needless to say, irrelevant.
In “Death Row Nutrition: Curious Conclusions to Last Meals” published in the journal Appetite, three scholars–two with Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and one with Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab–analyzed the requests of 247 prisoners in the U.S. who were executed in 2002 through 2006. Prisoners were generally allowed a budget of $40 (and, of course, couldn’t receive alcohol). On average, last meals were 2,756 calories and included 2.5 times the daily recommended serving of protein and fat. The most frequently requested foods were “calorie dense: meat (83.9%), fried food (67.9%), desserts (66.3%), and soft drinks (60.0%), and 39.9% requested branded foods or beverages.”
But one thing these requests really reveal, the paper argues, is stress. When the future is closed, there are no caloric consequences. Rich comfort foods are chosen to calm the nerves (to “mediate feelings of stress and distress”). The same phenomenon was evident in the weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks: New Yorkers and those across the country, fearing that they lived in an unpredictable world with an uncertain future, started consuming more calories and picking up the pounds.
Notably, Texans and Oklahomans, requested and received approximately 750-1,000 more calories than those in most other states. While Texas discontinued last meals a year ago this month, here are five spreads, analyzed in this paper, that Texans requested between 2002 and 2006:
Appetizer: 12 green olives, butter beans, cabbage, broccoli tomato, lettuce, onions, french-fries, onion rings
Main meal: 3 large Southern fried chicken breasts, ground beef, two grilled pork chops, four deviled eggs, two BLTs, three enchiladas, and six corn tortillas
Appetizer: Bowl of grits, bowl of thick white gravy, 10 biscuits, French fries
Mail meal: 6 eggs “over easy,” 12 pieces of bacon, fried chicken
Dessert: Chocolate meringue pie
Appetizer: Onion rings, guacamole
Main meal: 2 large double cheese burgers, fajitas, 4 pieces of pizza, French fries, tortilla chips
Drink: 2 Mountain Dews, 2 Dr Peppers, 2 Cokes
Dessert: 1 chocolate chip cookie, 2 slices of double chocolate cake, 2 pints of ice cream
Appetizer: Two large baked potatoes with butter, onion, and chives; chef salad with blue cheese dressing, two ears of corn on the cob
Main meal: Two 16-oz. rib eye steaks, one lb. turkey breast (thinly sliced), 12 strips of bacon, two large hamburgers with mayo
Drink: Four Vanilla Cokes or Mr. Pibb
Dessert: One pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream
Appetizer: Hash brown potatoes and gravy, six pieces of buttered toast, French fries, six slices of bread, sliced peppers, and, onion rings
Main meal: 4-egg spinach omelet, cheeseburger, pork chops, and gravy fried chicken
Drink: Pitcher of ice, 2 Cokes, and a gallon of milk
Dessert: Peach cobbler, ice cream
And here’s a more general break down of all the prisoner’s requests:
No one requested tofu? Really? Well then who the heck put that on the list?
Here’s calling for a follow-up study, into the appetites of academics.