Saturday, January 12, 2008

Soylent Brown



Dinah wanted me to talk about the alleged Texas cannibal that PETA is using to promote vegetarianism.

I have to say, cannibalism is not nearly as interesting as what's being served on the prison menu these days.

I've eaten in the officer's dining room, and it's an experience. Most of the bugs stay on the walls but occasionally you see a little baby bug crawling along the edge of the salad bar. The inmate workers who serve the food all wear gloves and hair nets. I really don't notice the tattoos anymore. They're friendly and polite. They ask if you want the soggy vegetables or the dry white bread or they'll ladle a few scoops of thick sludgy soup into a styrofoam cup for you. On fried chicken days the line is always long, but they still ask if you want extra fries with that. There's always enough little ketchup packets to go with the fries. On non-chicken days, they have a brown square of some meat-type thingie. I'm still working on that one, trying to figure out if it's from the land, from the sea or from the air. At this point I just call it Soylent Brown.

One of the kitchen cadre workers told me that Soylent Brown is a staple of the inmate diet. It's from the food contractor, who I guess buys it by the truckload. For inmates who want a vegetarian diet I guess they can be reassured---my cadre worker tells me Soylent Brown is 90% soy and ten percent meat flavoring, according to what's listed on the box.

Several years ago there was a science fiction movie called Soylent Green. Like all great science fiction movies it starred Charlton Heston. It was set in the future when human overpopulation and global warming had killed off all the world's resources, and the entire human race was dependent on a type of food called Soylent Green. To make a very long story short, Heston played a detective who eventually discovered that Soylent Green was made out of recycled humans. I've included a UTube link to the crucial scene at the top of this post.

(Incidentally, when people talk about physician-assisted suicide I always free associate to the euthanasia scene from Soylent Green.)

So anyway, most of the civilian staff bring their lunches to work rather than risk the food in the officer's dining room. That worked fine until some unspecified employees (whether civilian or custody staff, I don't know) started smuggling contraband in inside their lunch bags. So then all the employees were required to bring their lunches in using clear plastic containers to make it easier to inspect the food on entry. So fine, everybody gets a clear plastic container.

Then more stuff gets smuggled in. Security rules change. There is a proposal to ban all outside food from coming in to the institution. The civilians are horrified that they might have to choose between starvation (only having a half hour for lunch means you can't really go out to eat) and eating Soylent Brown. We're talking Survivor-type reality show here. We're talking 'I may be forced to eat my co-worker' decisions. Fortunately, the no-outside-food rule gets voted down. Somehow the warden's office still gets to bring in catered food for special events; don't ask.

The bottom line is that news stories about cannibalism aren't nearly as interesting to me as the ever-changing security rules related to prison food. It's one of the things about my job that makes the work consistently challenging.