Last week in, Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Your Last Supper Fantasy, I wrote (dreamed) about what I’d have for my last supper – which basically amounted to a LOT of Pillsbury goodies and cheese. But why read that, when you can read Death row nutrition. Curious conclusions of last meals – an entire catalogue comparing the composition of 247 actual last meal requests from executed prisoners (245 male, aged 26 to 77) in the US during a recent 5 year period. For a visual reference, photographer Henry Hargreaves’s fascinating exhibit No Seconds brings these meals to life.
WHAT’S IN A (LAST) MEAL?
As the study’s abstract beings:
The growing macabre fascination with ‘‘last meals’’ offers a window into one’s true consumption desires when one’s value of the future is discounted close to zero.
So what do death-row inmates hanker for on the eve of their extinction? Granted, the prisoners could only have up to $40 dollars worth and no alcohol, but here are the trends. Let’s just say, no one was reaching for veggies and yogurt.
- Average Calorie Intake: 2756 calories
- 4 of the meals were notably 7200+ calories (that sounds like me!) (IE: 12 pieces of fried chicken, two rolls with butter, two sodas, one pint of strawberry ice cream, one pint of vanilla ice cream, and mashed potatoes with brown gravy.)
- Most Frequent Requests: 83.9% requested meat (37.3% chicken, 23.8% hamburger, 21.8% steak, 17.3% pork/bacon, 8.8% fish/seafood), 67.9% requested fried food (with 40.9% being French fries), 66.3% requested dessert (24.3% ice cream, 23.8% pie, 16.1% cake), and 60% requested soft drinks (31% wanted a specific brand, with my former lover Coke in the lead.)
- Least frequent requests: Only 1 meal requested nuts, and no meals requested yogurt, tofu, or explicitly “vegetarian” food. Few people requested fruits and veggies, although 26.9% requested salad.
- Nearly all grain/starch requests were for French fries (40.9%), other potato sides (20.7%), and bread (17.1%). Only 3 individuals requested pasta, and only 3 requested rice.
- Pizza Requests: Only 5.3%
- Branded foods/beverage requests: 39.9% (The study researchers seemed confused that some people would request Diet Coke, saying “It is plausible that the requests were motivated by diabetic concerns; however, even if the three people were diabetic, it remains noteworthy that diet beverages would be selected in such an ultimate circumstance.” I had to laugh. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! As a former Diet Coke addict, I know some people just love the taste of Diet Coke. I even have a shirt from adolescent which proclaims “Diet Coke: For The Taste, Not Cuz I Need It”)
- 21% declined a last meal entirely, while one person notable requested “a single pitted olive.” Check out the slideshow for why he said that!
- Average Dessert Requests: 1.6 desserts per meal. Chocolate was an addition to 17% of the meals as a “modifier” rather than as a stand alone. (IE: chocolate milk, chocolate malt, chocolate pudding, chocolate cake, etc.)
- While their weren’t many regional differences, those in Texas and Oklahoma requested 750–1000 calories more than the rest of the US.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The study concluded that hyperpalatable comfort foods are used to deal with feelings of stress and distress, which has implications for our waistlines. As noted:
“From these findings, it is clear that when selecting a last meal, people tend to want foods that are familiar, consistent, and comforting. In some people, a fight-or-flight response seems to be activated causing them not to eat food in stressful situations. Knowing how one reacts and manages stress in terms of eating behavior could prevent against unwanted weight gain or loss.”
As for those who declined the last meal, the study notes:
At a certain rational level, declination of the last meal makes sense since – unless there is a late, unexpected pardon – there is no biological need for energy. At other levels, declination of the last meal makes little sense since the person voluntarily foregoes a final sensory experience over which they have some degree of control. While we found no patterns among those who declined the offer of a last meal, we can imagine that flight-or-fight responses in such a situation might generate sufficient fear and anxiety that eating is the last activity on a person’s mind.
Since stress can lead to eating, the study extends an interesting proposition: Maybe we shouldn’t use death threats and scare tactics to promote healthy eating?
As a final word, one prisoner’s dying words were ‘‘I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s, I got spaghetti! I want the press to know this.’’
Priorities people. Priorities.