The Loaf

While you were ringing in the new year with a traditional helping of black-eyed peas, some inmates were “enjoying” another day of nutraloaf.

As this recent NPR story explains, “[i]n many 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.” The recipe for nutraloaf varies, but it is usually a mash-up of beans, vegetables, and fat, sometimes with a bit of meat or dairy. It is designed to be nutritionally complete and completely tasteless. It is often served room temperature in a paper bag.

The story reports that it is used in at least twelve state prison systems as well as in local jails, though not in the federal system. It has spawned at least 22 lawsuits since 2012 – I suspect many of them pro se efforts by inmates – but apparently has gone 22-0 in the courts.

Nutraloaf is used in the North Carolina prison system. The prison procedure manual provides for the use of “a nutritionally balanced loaf-style form of nourishment. . . to address inmates on segregation status” who engage in specified “disruptive behavior[s],” most of which relate to the misuse of food or serving tools. The manual states that the loaf is “not intended as punishment, but rather as a behavior modification tool.” Medical approval must be obtained before placing an inmate on the loaf, and an inmate can’t be fed the loaf for more than seven consecutive days without a one-day reprieve.

The only North Carolina appellate case I could find involving nutraloaf was Stevenson v. N.C. Dep’t of Correction, 212 N.C. App. 425, 2011 WL 2226344 (June 7, 2011) (unpublished) (affirming dismissal of prisoner’s negligence claim where he alleged that he was wrongly served nutraloaf as punishment for three days). There might  have been cases brought in North Carolina’s federal courts, but I didn’t look. Vegetarian food writer Susanne Havala Hobbs discusses here her 2008 experience sampling North Carolina’s loaf, which she deemed “not bad,” though not as good as her mother’s cheese and nut loaf. I don’t know whether any local jails in North Carolina use nutraloaf.

I’m not giving up my black-eyed peas, but I have trouble getting too worked up about the short-term administration of nutraloaf. Other stories about the loaf can be found here (Chicago Magazine food critic tries Illinois nutraloaf), and here (Slate writer cooks up three different nutraloaf recipes for a dinner party).

1 thought on “The Loaf”

  1. A colleague pointed me to 10A N.C.A.C. 14J.0902, which provides in part that local confinement facilities must provide at least two hot meals per day to inmates, and three total meals, and that food may not be used as a reward or punishment. The line between a punishment and a behavior modification tool is not a clear demarcation.


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