This month’s Gastronomica magazine has a fascinating article on the prison phenomenon of “spread.” It’s only available in print, so I do recommend –if you’re not a subscriber already– hitting the newsstand for a copy.
The article documents how prisoners are creating “home-cooked” meals using filched and de-constructed ingredients from meal-time as well as processed snacks available from the canteen. It’s an amazing testimony to the desire for self-expression through food preparation; to the basic human need to create community around a meal; and to the individuality of each of our palates, based on culture, biology, and taste. Almost each and every version uses ramen noodles as a base, with wild and unlikely add-ins, like super spicy Cheetos, fruit drink mix, and jelly.
Also fascinating: to hear the ingenious ways some inmates have for breaking down highly processed foods into their component parts. It’s a wacky cycle–foods are processed, sold to prisons, who sell them to prisoners, who in turn break them back down into basic elements (like sugar, oil, etc.). The naive idealist can’t help but think: couldn’t you sell them these basic ingredients at the canteen? Instead of Cheetos, couldn’t you sell, er, cheese?