For prison inmates, this is one of the most terrifying words you can hear: nutraloaf.
"It’s bland, like cardboard. They take a bunch of guck, like whatever they have available, and they put it in some machine," former Pennsylvania inmate Aaron Fraser says. "I would have to be on the point of dizziness when I know I have no choice [to eat it]."
The taste is so bad that the ACLU and a number of other civil rights organizations have protested its use in prisons, calling it a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
"You have seen a lot of different inmate claims and lawsuits against the Eighth Amendment in different states," former president of the Association of Correctional Food Service Affiliates So Benson Li said. "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.”
But nutraloaf is not without its supporters. A number of law enforcement officials say the dreary blend of milk, rice, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, oatmeal, beans, and margarine actually helps keep inmates in check when used as a punishment for bad behavior.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is one of these supporters.
"If you're up on a first-degree murder charge, or some serious sexual assault of a child, you don't have much to lose in jail," Clarke says. "But when we started to use this in the disciplinary pods, all of a sudden the incidence of fights, disorder, of attacks against our staff started to drop tremendously. The word got around — we knew it would. And we'll often hear from inmates, 'Please, please, I won't do that anymore. Don't put me in the disciplinary pod. I don't want to eat nutraloaf.'"
Lawsuits brought against the food have yielded mixed results. Most recently in 2010, infamous Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio won a federal judgement in favor of the constitutionality of nutraloaf.