In many U.S. prisons and jails, punishment can come in the form of a bland, brownish lump. Known as nutraloaf, or simply “the loaf,” it’s fed day-after-day to inmates who throw food or, in some cases, get violent. Even though it meets nutritional guidelines, civil rights activists urge against the he brick-shaped meal, NPR reports. Prisons and jails are allowed to come up with their own version, so some resort to grinding up leftovers into a dense mass that’s reheated. Other institutions make loaves from scratch out of shredded and mashed vegetables, beans and starches. Benson Li, former president of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates, estimates that more than 100 facilities serve it, including at least 12 states such as California, Texas and New York.
Law enforcement says the loaf isn’t so bad. “It’s a food source, it contains all the vitamins and nutrients and minerals that a human being needs,” says Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has used the loaf in his jail for five years. “It’s been approved by the courts. I’ve had it myself — it’s like eating meatloaf. ” Li, food service director at the Los Angeles County Jail, surveyed association members and found that 40 percent of facilties responding said their use of the loaf is diminishing, 30 percent said they do not use nutraloaf and 20 percent said their use was about the same or slightly growing. Li says that overall, the results suggest that the loaf is gradually being phased out. David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union says this is part of a bigger transformation happening in the industry. “The fading of the use of nutraloaf is part of a larger long term trend toward professionalization and in most respects, more humane conditions of confinement,” he says.